It doesn’t take much know-how to pull off a phenomenal barbecue meal at home. Really. So how come it doesn’t happen that often? To turn around hockey-puck burgers or shoe-leather chicken, knowledge of these fundamentals will turn your next bout with the grill into a triumph.
Heat. Start with briquettes, make a hill and smooth out when glowing. Move on to dry fruitwoods, or add small chunks soaked in water for a smoky perfume. It will be hot – you shouldn’t be able keep your hand a few inches above the grate for more than a second. Gas grills are great for even heat – keep the temperature between medium and medium-high.
Keep it clean. Invest a few bucks into a grill brush with a long handle and strong bristles. After leveling out the coals, put the grate on and give it a few minutes to come up to temperature. Then brush vigorously in the direction of the grate to remove any food particles. If you don’t, the food being cooked is more likely to stick to whatever is on there. Treat the grilling like you would a cast-iron pan: clean as needed and oil frequently. A rag dipped in vegetable oil works perfectly to swab the surface in between cooking, making turning easier.
Turning. Most meat becomes tougher the more it is poked, prodded and flipped. Move your meat or fish as little as possible while on the grill. A long-handled pair of tongs is perfect for chicken and a large metal flipper is essential for burgers and fish. Chicken likes at least two minutes undisturbed, then check to see how dark the grill marks are. When chestnut brown, it is time to move the meat to the side 90 degrees, searing in a lovely diamond-shaped pattern. Continue on that first side until the color is perfect, then turn over, repeating the procedure.
Basting and marinating.Chicken loves a good marinade. Prepare early and allow the meat to soak up the flavors in the fridge for a few hours. Always make plenty (the ingredients are cheap) so there is enough to brush onto the meat while cooking. Chicken breasts, especially, need a generous mop of marinade after each turn to stay juicy and flavorful. Never baste after cooking. Any marinade that has come in contact with raw chicken must be thrown away to avoid cross-contamination.
Seasoning. If you don’t have salt and pepper, don’t bother. Rub steaks with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper and put directly on the grill for a simple, clean flavor. The seasoning helps seal the natural juices in; burgers, chicken and fish all need a generous sprinkle before hitting the heat.
Time to come off. Knowing when your dinner’s done can be the biggest challenge. Overcooked meat is tough, dry and the flavor is long gone. There are three solutions. A thermometer is an inexpensive, foolproof way to know the internal temperature quickly and allows anyone to turn out perfectly cooked burgers and steaks for a crowd. A few important numbers: cook chicken to 165 degrees, but no more. A rare steak or burger is 120 degrees. Cook fish to 130 degrees.
Next, a solid standby is to pick a sample and cut into the meat, ensuring it is cooked inside. Finally, kitchen professionals use the pressure test: touch the thickest part of your steak and feel how firmly it springs back at your touch; very firm and it is well-done, soft and it is rare.
Yum! Delicious recipes
Basic chicken marinade
3 T dijon
1/3 c. white wine
1/4 t. sea salt
1/2 t. fresh cracked pepper
Juice from 2 lemons
1/2 T fresh thyme
2/3 c. vegetable oil
2/3 c. olive oil
Whisk all ingredients together in large bowl, except for oil. Add oil slowly to emulsify. Will marinate 3 lbs. of chicken.
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef (20 percent fat is best to keep juicy and moist)
1 cup button mushrooms, minced
1 small onion, small dice
2 T BBQ sauce
1/4 lb. cheddar cheese, shredded
2 T Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce
2 t. fresh cracked pepper
2 t. sea salt
Combine with hands in large bowl, mix until evenly distributed. Shape into large, flat disks, and refrigerate until ready to cook.
Note: The mushrooms make this burger incredibly moist and forgiving – they almost melt away, leaving their richness behind. Try this even if you don’t like mushrooms!
Grilled fruit with lime ginger rub
Zest of 3 limes
1/4 c. grated fresh ginger
1/2 c. brown sugar
Mix ingredients together and set aside. Juice limes and reserve.
Use any solid fruit that can be cut into large chunks: pineapple, melon, mango, peaches, plums, apricots. Lay in a single layer in large, flat, shallow dish. Sprinkle rub onto fruit and allow to sit at room temperature until ready to grill. Grill on hot, clean grill before cooking meat or fish. Remove from grill when slightly charred, and toss with limejuice and fresh berries. Serve when cool.