The weather is getting warmer, baseball season is underway and people are starting to think about the summer. That can only mean one thing -- barbeque season is upon us! As a professional barbecue chef and a seasoned veteran of hundreds of Qs, I'll share a few things I've learned.
Barbecue is both a method of cooking and a type of sauce used. It's also regional and it can mean different things to different people, depending on what part of the country they're from. Down south, barbecue is large cuts of meat slowly roasted over smoldering chunks of wood at low temperatures, usually between 200-225 degrees, for many hours until almost all the fat has been rendered and the meat has been permeated with the flavor of the smoke. It's finished with a tangy tomato and vinegar based sauce -- sometimes added during the final stages of cooking, sometimes strictly served on the side for dipping. It's a long, slow process where cooking times of 14+ hours are not unusual. Here in the northeast, where people are known for having.....ummm.....slightly less patience, barbecue is smaller cuts of meat cooked quickly at very high temperatures, usually 500 degrees or more. Sauce is optional. Folks down south derisively call this "Yankee Barbecue" though a more accurate term for this method of cooking would be "grilling". I'm reasonably sure most of you who are reading this right now are grillers and not smokers so lets fire up those backyard bbq grills and we'll talk about smoking next time.
Chef Elliot's Top 5 Grilling Tips
1. Start With A Clean Grill - Before you can even think of slapping those burgers and steaks on the grill, make sure your equipment is ready to go! Heat up the grill, get a good, long handled grill brush and clean those grates. It's also a good idea to periodically clean out the grease and charred food particles that build up in the grill housing and on the burner itself. A clean grill results in better tasting food and is less likely to flare up and create all kinds of cooking problems.
2. Control Your Temperatures - If you're using a gas grill with multiple burners, try to establish temperature zones ranging from screaming hot to medium. You want to start the meat off with the temperature as high as possible to get a good sear on the meat, but you don't want to grill that way the whole time or you'll end up with an unedible, charred, dry wreck. Once you've got the sear and are seeing those pretty grill marks, move the meat to a lower temperature zone to finish more slowly.
3. Patience My Young Padawan - Certainly you should keep an eye on whatever you're grilling, but don't move the meat around too much. Give the grill time to work it's magic. Don't play with your food by flipping it over and over and over. This only lengthens the cooking time and results in drier meat. One flip, halfway through cooking should be enough. And for heaven's sake, DON'T press down on your burgers with the blade of the spatula! Close the lid. Walk away. When the meat comes off the grill, don't cut into it right away. Let it rest for a few minutes so the internal juices settle evenly throughout the entire piece of meat.
4. Boost Flavor - Very lightly coat almost everything you grill with a teeny bit of oil. It helps keep the natural moisture inside the meat, promotes caramelization and gives you a nice sear. Then season it liberally with kosher salt and a little black pepper, which will form a nice crust over the initial high heat. You can easily take it to another level with simple marinades or spice rubs. Supermarket shelves are bursting with pre-made BBQ seasonings and marinades. I've included recipes for a couple of my favorites below.
5. When Is It Done? - A guide for grill times can be found on the Joy of Kosher website here, but keep in mind that these are estimates. "Doneness" is a function of the meat's internal temperature, not a specific length of time. Grilling is an art, not a science. It's done when it's done. The type of grill, weather conditions, type of fuel and other factors all play a part in determining when done is done. To be absolutely 100% certain, invest in an instant-read digital thermometer. With time and practice, you'll soon be able to determine visually and by touch when it's ready to come off the grill.
Lastly, BBQ is about hanging out with family and friends, great weather and good times. Experiment and have a little fun with it! You aren't limited to burgers, dogs and steaks. You can grill side dishes, vegetables -- even fruit and desserts. To add some zing to your grilling try my Meat Rub and my Apple Honey Marinade for Chicken. Happy Grilling!
If you don't have your grill it, don't miss my article on How to Choose a Grill.