Step up your grate game
Anyone can toss a few pieces of meat over a hot fire. The hard part is making sure you end up with tender, juicy, succulent meat. No one wants to eat bland burgers and chewy steak. A great barbecue doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. You just have to know how to work your flames and source your protein. Clean grates, a good fire and quality meats are the key ingredients to making the most of your weekend grilling. We rounded up the best advice from expert chefs and seasoned pit masters for you here. Grab a few spatulas and tongs and start flipping some superb grilled eats.
1.Start with a clean grill
You wouldn’t eat dinner off of dirty plates, so why cook on a filthy grill? Regular grill cleanings will make your barbecue and grill maintenance more manageable. Food and oil stick to your grates after each barbecue, and all that gunk can transfer onto whatever you cook next. Last week’s charred remains can produce a bitter seasoning for your new round of burgers. Cleaning your grates will preserve the integrity of your meat’s taste and appearance. It’s also important to oil your grates, according to Melissa Cookston, Pitmaster and owner of Memphis Barbecue Company, “This will help prevent sticking and give you professional grill marks.”
2.Choose your charcoal carefully
When was the last time you ordered a burger seasoned with lighter fluid? A good grilling session should produce quality meat that’s not chemically-flavored from propane or accelerants. Propane, while easier to regulate temp and flame intensity, can impart a funky taste in your meat, so skip the gas for charcoal briquettes. Next, while it may take a few extra minutes to get your fire to roar, skip the lighter fluid. Burger aficionado Brad Farmerie of Saxon and Parole suggests investing in a starter chimneyand using natural hardwood lump charcoal instead of instant lighting charcoal, which often contains lighter fluid. The lump charcoal will add a great smokey flavor, he says.
While briquets are okay, some contain chemicals and compressed paper that could alter the taste of your meat. Using better quality charcoal takes a little more time to come up to temp, so remember to get your grill going long before you actually cook. “Start your coals a while before putting your meat so the fire has time to burn down and the heat is nice and even,” advises Farmerie. “This will prevent you from burning your meat on a bed of hot flames.” How do you know when you’re ready? “When your charcoal turns an ashy gray color, you’re good to start,” says Cookston.
3.Learn your grill’s hotspots and how to use them
You can control your grill temperature by creating specific heat zones in the middle and edges of your grill. The center of the grill, or directly over the coals, is the hottest, while the edges are cooler, using indirect heat. This allows you to cook various foods requiring different temperatures. “For most items, a two-zone fire is the best set-up: one hot side for searing and one cooler side for allowing items to cook more slowly,” recommends Cookston.
Pay attention to the hue of the smoke, too. It’s important to cook with clear, blue smoke rather than thick foggy white smoke. Jonathan Fox of Fox Bros. BBQ in Atlanta, Georgia explains, “Dirty smoke can leave your meat or veggies dark in color and give you a heavy bitter smoke taste.” Unless you want the entire neighborhood to know you’ve seriously charred your meat, avoid sending out smoke signals.
4.Buy the perfect burger
A deliciously juicy burger is just as easy to make as it is to screw up. Because you’re grilling, the meat tends to dry out faster than if you’re cooking on a stovetop, so you want to be sure you get just to right amount of fat in your burger. Opt for an eighty/twenty percent of meat to fat ratio. Any less than that will make a dry burger, any more than that will be too greasy, and cause your flames to flare-up from the fat drippings. Chef Farmerie suggests using top-notch grain-fed black angus for the beginner barbecuer. “Grain-fed beef tends to taste slightly creamier and richer and can also withstand slight overcooking, so it’s a good choice for the novice burger slinger.”
5.Skip the slew of seasonings
Simply sprinkle on a little salt just before placing the burger on the grill. This will enhance the natural flavor of the burger without going overboard. For juicier burgers, Farmerie suggests not packing your patty too tightly as looser-formed burgers will have more nooks and crannies to hold the juices. Also, don’t forget to let the meat rest after grilling to retain all that juice. Two minutes should do the trick.
6.Source the best steak
Pony up extra cash for a good, tender cut. You don’t have to go broke on ribeyes or strip steaks either, says Trevor Bundy, COO and Butcher at Fleishers Craft Butchery“Flank, hanger, skirt, flat iron, bavette, and Denver steaks are all fantastic alternatives to the classic steakhouse cuts.” He notes the trick to better tasting beef is sourcing grass-fed or pasture raised beef from a local butcher rather than buying it from a conventional grocery store counter. And always go bone-in for a more tender cut.
7.Nail the ideal temperature
If you aren’t sure when you should take your meat off the grill and don’t have a meat thermometer, there is an old trick you can try. Farmerie suggests inserting a cake tester or metal skewer into the steak just until the tip reaches the middle. After a few seconds remove it and touch it. “If the tip of the tester is cold, your steak is rare, warm will be medium rare to medium, hot to very hot will be medium well to well done,” Farmerie says.
8.Make a quick, no-effort sauce while the steak rests
When it comes to grilling, Bundy advises “searing a few minutes per side over the flames, then move off the fire and finish with the lid on.” For optimal results, he suggests letting the meat rest for a few minutes on a plate of olive oil or butter with some fresh herbs, “As the meat rests, the juices will mix with the fats and aromatics, making an instant sauce. All you have to do is spoon it over the meat before you serve.”
9.Leave chicken on the bone
Chicken is a one of the most forgiving meats and an optimal choice if you still consider grilling a practiced sport. Flavored within its own skin fat, it’s hard to mess up, but there some tips for firing up a better bird, according to Bob Brazell, chef and co-owner of Byrd & Barrel in St Louis, MO. You can either throw in the whole chicken or parts, but “always go bone in, which adds more flavor. I prefer thighs over breasts, but both are great,” says Brazell. Once you have it on the grill, remember to work your hot zones. “Sear on the hot side of grill then move to warm side,” Brazell notes. Brining your poultry a day ahead of time will also add some flavor.
10.Grill fruit for a healthy, simple dessert
Grab a few peaches for a quick treat will send your guests home feeling warm and sweet. Brazell’s grilled peaches with mascarpone cheese, honey, and crumbled cashews is an easy crowd pleaser. “Slice peaches in half. Rub the cut sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill peaches until you have nice grill mark and they start to soften. Garnish with a dollop of mascarpone, a drizzle of honey and crumble cashews.”
BY CONCETTA SMITH