Here are some helpful things to keep in mind when grilling outdoors:
1. Wash everything after handling raw meat, and don’t reuse the plate that you used for holding or preparing uncooked meat.
2. Have a spray bottle full of water nearby your grill – in case of flare-ups.
3. If using charcoal briquettes, then light the coals about 30 minutes before cooking. If you’re using lighter fluid, make sure the fire is completely out before putting the meat on the grill, or else you’ll have the harsh fuel taste in your meat. The charcoal should be mostly an ash-gray color with a little bit of glowing red underneath.
4. If you’re using a smoker, light the charcoal with a chimney starter. It’s relatively quick to get some hot coals going and you won’t have to worry about getting the lighter fluid fumes in your smoker.
5. For charcoal grilling, line the inside bottom of your cooker or grill with a couple of sheets of aluminum foil before you put the briquettes in. This will give you a quicker and easier clean-up of the gray coals and ash once you’re done barbecuing. The only downside to this is that the opening holes in the bottom of your cooker will get covered up. So when you first light the fire, make sure it gets plenty of oxygen to stay lit longer, giving hotter and longer-lasting coals.
6. If using a smoker, minimize the amount of times you open it. Opening it frequently will not allow the smoker to stay at the necessary heat level. The old adage says, “if you’re looking, it ain’t cooking”.
7. When removing the grill lid during cooking, lift to the side, rather than straight up. Lifting straight up may create suction, drawing ashes up onto your food.
8. Cooking chicken? If you intend to eat the skin, rub the outside with a little butter or oil and then lightly season it. It’ll give the chicken a nice, crispy, savory skin. Not eating the skin? Don’t season the outside, as it can’t penetrate the skin anyway.
9. Cooking steak? Although thick bands of fat may be undesirable, try to pick a steak with thin specks and strands of fat in between the muscle tissue. While cooking, these small amounts of fat will melt (in a process called marbling) and make the meat juicier.
10. Trim the steak of large amounts of excess fat. Any strips of fat should be no more than 1/4” thick. Also, cut through the fat strip about every 1 1/2”. As it cooks, fat shrinks faster than the meat and can cause your steaks to curl.
11. A light coating of oil will help brown your food evenly and keep it from sticking to the cooking grate. Always brush or spray oil on your food. If using a salt crust, oil the grate.
Hints and Tips – BBQ Grilling – cont.
12. Don’t leave meat out at room temperature for longer than one hour. This will cause bacteria to grow at a very high rate, plus it will make the meat less fresh. If you need to thaw out meat, preferably do it overnight or all day in the refrigerator.
13. Don’t pierce meat with a fork. The juices will escape, making the meat more dry and less flavorful. Use a spatula or tongs to move and flip your food.
14. Resist the urge to use a spatula to press down on foods such as burgers. You’ll squeeze out all the great flavor.
15. Get a dutch oven or a pan with a lid when transporting your cooked meats inside. It will help keep your barbecue juicy, and warm until it’s time to eat.
16. Here’s a quick and easy way to grill veggies such as potatoes and ears of corn: coat heavily in butter, sprinkle on some seasoned salt, wrap securely in aluminum foil, and throw it on the grill.
17. To reduce the amount of browning or blackening of meat, only apply barbecue (or other tomato-based sauces containing sugars) during the last 10 minutes of grilling.
18. Lots of people like steak rare, but don’t do the same for hamburgers. There is more bacteria present in ground beef, so cook it until it’s well done and there is no pink in the middle. If in doubt, grab a meat thermometer and make sure the temperature reaches at least 160 degrees in the center of the patty.
19. Want a little smoke flavoring but don’t have a smoker? Line the charcoals on the bottom of just one side of the grill. Place some hickory or mesquite wood chips on top of the hot coals for extra flavoring. Place your meat on the side of the grill away from the coals (indirect heat), and keep the lid closed as much as possible. *This will increase the cooking time quite a bit, but it will be worth it.
20. Marinades tenderize and flavor meat. If possible, marinade overnight; but if you can’t, try to allow at least an hour of soaking in the marinade sauce.
21. A generous sprinkling of salt (kosher or coarse sea salt) and cracked black peppercorns applied just prior to grilling gives you the savory crust and robust flavor characteristic of the best steak house steaks. Season steaks right before they go on the grill. Don’t season them hours ahead or the salt will draw out the juices and make the steaks soggy.
22. Tired of the same-old BBQ sauce? Test out some new sauces you might have never thought of using, such as teriyaki, hot sauce, chipotle, Caribbean “jerk”-style sauce, and others. Mix in some honey, brown sugar, or paprika. Put in lemon juice, chopped onions, red peppers or chile peppers to perk things up.
Hints and Tips – BBQ Grilling – cont.
23. Not all steaks are created equal and each requires its own special way of grilling. Thin ones, like skirt and flank steaks, should be grilled quickly over a hot fire. Thick steaks, like a porterhouse or T-bone, require a two zone fire – the hot zone for searing, the medium hot zone for cooking the meat through. Tough, fibrous steaks, like flank steaks, should be scored on the top and bottom to tenderize them and thinly sliced across the grain when served. Lean steaks, like filet Mignon, require added fat, either in the form of an oil-based marinade or a wrapping of pancetta or bacon.
24. Place each steak on the grill for one minute. Turn and grill on the second side for an additional minute. Turn and rotate 45 degrees and grill for half the remaining cooking time. Turn again. If you do this right you will get a nice diamond pattern of grill marks. Remove when done.
25. The direct method of grilling means that the food is cooked directly over prepared coals. For even cooking, food should be turned once, halfway through the grilling time. Use the direct method for foods that take less than 25 minutes to cook: steaks, chops, kabobs, vegetables, and the like.
26. Use the indirect method for grilling foods that require 25 minutes or more of grilling time or for foods so delicate that direct exposure to the heat source would dry them out or scorch them. Examples include roasts, bone-in poultry pieces, and whole fish as well as delicate fish fillets. To set up for indirect cooking, prepared charcoal briquets are set on either side of the food. Heat rises, reflects off the lid and inside surfaces of the grill, and circulates to slowly cook the food evenly on all sides. There’s no need to turn the food over.
27. Use the pressure test to check steaks. When getting close to having a done steak, press it with your index finger or the flat side of a grilling fork to get a feel for it. A rare steak will be soft. A medium steak will be firm but yielding. A well steak will be firm. Once you get the hang of this trick, you should be able to remove steaks from the grill at just the right moment.
28. Like most grilled meats, a steak hot off the grill will taste leathery and dry. You need to let it rest for a few minutes on a warm plate before serving. This allows the meat to “relax,” making for a juicier, more tender steak.
29. For flavor, sheen, and succulence, drizzle a little extra-virgin olive oil, melted butter, or beef fat over your perfectly grilled steak before serving.
30. Keep your grill grate clean with a stiff wire brush. Clean it after starting the fire and after you’re done grilling. After grilling, no need to wash, just scrape and wipe with a towel.