Barbecue has traditionally been the realm of the American man for generations. Now, Im not saying that women can’t Im just saying that it is definitely an American tradition for men too. This time of year, with the 4th of July just around the corner it seemed like a good time to get into how to do it right. When it comes down to it whether its over an open fire, charcoal briquettes, a gas grill or in a pan on your stove there is an art to cooking a piece of meat correctly. That being said, with a few tricks it is not hard to master and wow your friends.
I have broken it down into three sections. First being your cooking medium. Sometimes you don’t have a choice but, when you do what are the options and what are the pros and cons of each. The second is prep. In almost every type of cooking the prep work is usually what will make or break your dish. Lastly, the seemly easy yet elusive sense of when your meat is finished, whether you want it charred or bloody. But, before you do any of that you need to select your meat. It is worth spending a little bit more for a good cut of meat and it will make your job a million times easier. The best cuts for the grill are laid out below…
WHATS THE DIFFERENCE: Gas vs. Charcoal, Direct vs. Indirect
There have been many debates as to what the best way to grill is but, when it comes down to it if you know what your doing you can do well with anything. There are a few things to consider when getting started though.
First and probably most obviously is the charcoal vs. gas debate. This really only applies if you are using good quality true hard wood charcoal as opposed to those compact synthetic briquettes. The debate generally hinges on two major factors. First convenience. Gas grills light with the touch of a button, heat up in a matter of minutes, are relatively simple to clean up and will burn for a whole day if need be. On the other hand, charcoal is finicky to light and to keep a consistent fire takes constant tending. A charcoal fire will own burn for so long before you have to light new coals and at the end there is a bucket of ash to deal with. The second point people always bring up is flavor. These days you can add smoke boxes to gas grills and chips to charcoal briquettes to get that smokey flavor that people crave. The nice thing about true hard wood charcoal is that it is inherently smokey and there is not need to add anything.
Here is more in depth about charcoal and gas
Next is the question of direct vs. indirect heat. You can think of direct heat like when you are cooking over a camp fire or on the stove where the heat source is coming from only one direction. When using direct heat the fire is hotter and and generally cooks faster. This is how we cook burgers, hot dogs, and generally thin cuts and filets. Anything that will cook fast and flip easily. Indirect heat is like an oven where the low ambient heat cooks your food slowly over a longer period of time. It is best for large roast and thick cuts because it gives the meat time to cook through before burning. This is the basic idea behind grilling with the lid down. You create an ambient environment.
More about direct and indirect heat here
SEASONING: the Super Secret, Secret of Spice and Meat
When it comes to seasoning meat there are really three main choices; to marinade, to rub, or to sauce. Personally, I think if you have a good quality piece of meat there is little need for elaborate spicing and saucing. For the most basic and pure experience with a good cut of meat simply brush it with a good quality flavorless oil and massage some course sea salt and ground black pepper into it. Now you have the best base for anything you want to do. In my opinion thats all you need, just toss it on the grill like that and don’t over cook it but, some need a bit more so, on we go…
The easiest way to marinade is to just put all of your ingredients in a Zip-Loc with you steak. Mix it up and make sure the meat is completely coated, then lay it out flat for a few hours. Check on it sometime and re-coat the meat. The nice thing about marinades is that the acidic base not only flavors but, it also tenderizes.
A dry rub is exactly what it sounds like, a mix of herbs and spices which are rubbed into the flesh. Aromatics and textural spices are popular because they toast over the heat and create a flavorful shell around your meat while imparting flavors while it cooks.
Sauce is a time honored tradition. Many people have personal recipes that they won’t share no matter how much you give them. People have killed for less. Generally with sauce you want to keep a bowl next to the grill and brush it on layer after layer as it cooks. Making sure to cover all sides. Sauce doesn’t permeate the meat like other spice techniques but, it makes for a moist delicious coating.
WHEN IS IT DONE: How to Cook So People Will Like You
With things like chicken and pork you really want to cook them all the way through but, a good cut of beef or a nice fish filet can be amazing a little on the rare side. There are really two ways to do it right. The first is to use a instant read thermometer. Stick it into the thickest part of the meat and make sure the temperture is correct. In beef…
Blue at around 115º - not for the faint of heart. It is important to trust where you meat is coming from for this. It comes down to a quick sear and a little warmth and thats it
Super rare is around 120º - this is really only for beef-o-philes. At this point it’s
almost still alive
Rare should sit around 125º - people who are serious about their steaks will probably enjoy this. Mostly red and pink. Still full of bloody goodness but a bit warmer through
Medium-Rare is about 130º - this is generally how I order my meat. Pink in the center but not red with a nice browning on the outside. Still a nice tender piece of meat but, with the variety of texture
Medium should be 140º - a medium steak should be pretty consistent all the way through with little to know pink left. Its starting to lose some of that moisture and tenderness
Medium-Well sits around 150º - at this point there will be no more pink and the meat will start getting tough. Some people insist on it but, if its a friend of yours and a good piece of meat maybe undercook it a little or give them the Safeway steak
Well Done is really anywhere over 160º - a “well done” steak is really the opposite. Closer to a charcoal briquette then to a nice piece of meat. I would be very sad if I was ever served something “well done” or in my mind BURNT
Very Important Tip!!
Steak (and all food) keeps cooking when you take it off the heat! So be sure to undershoot a little. You’ll have to play with it a bit but, over time it will become like second nature. If you want your steak medium-rare then cook it on the rare side and let it sit for a minute and check the temp. If its not quite there throw it back on the grill for a second. Don’t forget you want to let most food sit for a minute after cooking anyway to let all those juices and flavors settle in.
Also undercooked foods can make you very sick so, make sure especially when cooking chicken or pork it is done before you serve it.
If your interested in cooking you have probably heard this before but, your hands are the best tool you have in your kitchen. They are more dexterous then anything else, they can feel heat and texture and can with stand a lot without being damaged. That being said with a little practice you can tell when your food is done with just a touch. Heres the quick guide…
Very rare – squishy. Poke the steak when it’s raw. If you’ve seared it a bit on both sides and poke it again, it’ll feel almost the same. That’s how not cooked “very rare” is!
Rare – will feel like your earlobe. Still pretty squishy, but firmer than very rare.
Medium – feels like the tip of the your nose. Definitely not squishy.
Well done – essentially feels like your forehead or charcoal.
For a more in depth analysis of how to be the king of the BBQ check this out
In the end the key is to get out there. Enjoy the summer. Enjoy your friends and eat well. Don’t worry to much about it because that will take the fun out of it. Get the things you like with a good beer and some good people and you will have fun every time. I know thats what Ill be doing as soon as the sun comes back out.