Memorial Day officially fires up the summer grilling season. Yet, there’s a number of failed backyard grillardins (grill chefs) who are shaking their tongs at their fire pits, tormented by the inedible slabs of carbonized leather they produce for their family and friends.
Fear not, frustrated ones. After consulting — at no small personal expense — with numerous Maître de Gril (Grill Masters), we have assembled for your cooking edification THE definitive La Grande-Grande Liste d’ Griller Astuces! That’s The Great Big List o’ Grilling Tips, for all you non-French-speaking folks. Now you too can redeem your singed cooking reputation among your friends and family by preparing tender, fire-kissed succulence merely by following these 11 simple grilling maxims.
1) Talk with the butcher. If you’re planning a cookout for friends and family, then by all means take a few minutes to talk with butcher at the grocery store. They’ll be able to make some recommendations about different meat cuts and some grill recipes that work with them.
2) Always check out your local meat producers. Local meat producers tend to have smaller operations, have free-range or organic animals, and produce leaner animals in better health. Local producers often sell at farmers’ markets or local meat lockers. Yes, you might pay a little more, but the quality and taste really are a cut above what you find at most commercial grocery stores.
3) Grill veggies, too. Just like meat, grilled veggies taste completely different from being boiled, baked, microwaved, or prepared raw. For example: brush some fresh asparagus with olive oil, lightly coat it with sea salt, and then grill for a few minutes. It’s a whole new dining experience. Try grilling mushrooms, peppers, and even squash.
4) Try out recipes for brines, marinades, and rubs. Marinades are typically used for toughter cuts of meat. Brines are seasoned salt solutions for keeping meat juicy. Rubs are dry seasoning mixtures that you rub onto the meat before grilling. All of these effect the flavor of the meat in different ways, so you’ll want to think about which one to use before pairing it with a selection of side dishes.
5) Clean the grill before your cook on it! Week-old (or months-old, if you don’t clean your grill regularly) rancid, blackened fat can really impart a disgusting flavor to an otherwise nice piece of meat. Soak the grill in warm water and dish detergent for a few minutes. Scrub and rinse thoroughly.
6) Hot Grill + Cold Oil = No Stick. Hate it when you go to turn the meat, and it’s stuck to the grill? This method takes care of that. It’s also very easy to do safely. Heat up the grill, then using a metal spatula (or other long-handled grilling implement) remove the grill well away from the heat. Spray with cooking oil or brush on an herb-infused olive oil. Replace grill on fire and start cooking.
7) Use a spray bottle to put down flare ups. Depending on what you are cooking, flame flare-ups can burn or leave soot on the meat. Spritz the flames with a spray bottle filled with water (or any other non-flammable, low-sugar beverage). A little usually goes a long way.
8) Cook meat thoroughly. Nothing ruins the afterglow of a cookout faster than food poisoning. Always make sure you cook meat thoroughly. Juices should be clear and there should be no raw or pink color showing in the center. Sure, there’s some folks that like medium-rare meat; however given the recent meat recalls due to ecoli, listeria, allergens, and other contaminants, it’s always safe to err on the side of caution.
9) Use a meat thermometer. Cooking meat thoroughly is important, but you still don’t want to over-cook it to the point where all taste is lost. That’s where a meat thermometer comes in. Different meats are done cooking at different temperatures. The Food Network Kitchen has a useful chart here.
10) Let meat rest after cooking. The idea is that once you’ve taken the meat off the heat there will be some residual heat continuing to cook on the inside for a few minutes. Since the juices move away from the surface while cooking to the center, you want the meat to cool a little bit to let the juices re-disperse evenly again. That’s the theory anyway, and there’s a LOT of debate about it. For the most part, the trick is not to wait too long. Five to ten minutes (-ish) for a steak, 20 minutes for a roast.
11) Foil is your friend. Aluminum can be used all sort of ways in grilling. Wrapping veggies, pasta, and fish in foil are standard fare for grilling. But you can also use foil to hold wet hickory or fruit wood chips to impart an aromatic smokey taste to food without burning the wood (great for propane grills). Just be sure the foil doesn’t catch fire.
Header Image barbie_i.jpg by kenny123 courtesy of Morguefile.com.