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Flame On: 5 Hot Grilling Tips

Few subjects can incite an argument as quickly as how best to grill food. It seems that everyone has a preferred, sure-fire method for grilling the perfect meal. And that’s especially true for men.

There’s just something about cooking outdoors over an open flame that fires up our machismo and stirs our competitive caveman spirit, even while wearing a bib apron and saying less-than-manly things such as, “Honey, I can’t find my tongs!”

Despite all of the well-rooted, highly subjective feelings you might have about outdoor cooking, here, are five grilling tips that every backyard chef should practice. And note that these methods can be used regardless of whether you grill with gas or charcoal.

1 Let It Be—Patience may be a virtue, but it’s not practiced all that often at the altar of the Church of Saint Weber. And it’s impatience that causes the Number One grilling mistake: Messing with the food before it has had a chance to cook.

According to professional chefs, you should avoid testing the food the minute you put it on the heat, which includes picking it up to see if it’s done on the bottom, moving it around, and turning it over every 10 seconds.

Instead, lay the food on the grill and give it time to cook. This allows the food to sear on the bottom so that it naturally pulls away from the grates. If you try moving food before it’s seared on the bottom, it’ll definitely stick.

2 Precook Poultry—When grilling chicken, you can save a considerable amount of time and fuel (gas or charcoal) by first partially cooking the chicken in a microwave oven.

The amount of time you need to nuke the bird will take a little experimentation. For example, I’ve found that in my 900-watt oven, I must microwave cut-up chicken parts on high for about three minutes per pound. (Note that they must be arranged in a single layer.)

For a whole or half bird, I usually microwave on high for about four minutes per pound. And be sure to leave the skin on during microwaving and grilling to prevent drying out the meat.

And how do you know when poultry is grilled to the proper doneness? Well, you could take its internal temperature with a food thermometer (it should reach 180 degrees), or try this tip: Place the grilled chicken on a white plate and pierce it with a fork. Any juice that comes out should be clear. If it’s pink or red, put the chicken back on the grill for a couple of minutes, then check again.

3 Go to the Basket—Delicate foods, such as fish fillets and sliced vegetables and fruit, are difficult to grill because they tend to fall through the cooking grates. However, you can easily solve this problem by using a grilling basket or grid, which you place directly on the grill.

Grilling baskets are sort of wok-shaped and have flat square bottoms and slanted sides. Grilling grids are flat rectangular pans that resemble cookie sheets. The surfaces of both baskets and grids are perforated with dozens of holes or slots, which allow the flames to grill the food.

It’s best to spray or wipe down my grilling basket with vegetable oil prior to use. That way, food doesn’t stick and clean up is a breeze.

4 Forego the Fork—Every set of barbecue tools comes with an extra-long, two-prong fork, which, I admit, is fun to wield; there’s no better way to punctuate a heated conversation than by pointing a 14-in.-long fork at someone. However, a fork should never be used to turn over meat.

Every time you pierce meat with a fork, moist juices flow out, and you run the risk of ending up with a steak as succulent as a flip-flop. So, forget the fork and pick up a pair of tongs to lift and turn meat. By using tongs you’ll not only grill juicier steaks, chops and chicken, but you’ll also gain much more control when moving meat.

5 Wait Before Slicing—There’s nothing quite as enticing or tasty as a big slab of grilled beef. However, most backyard cooks are an impatient lot—me included—and they start slicing into the meat the instant it comes off the grill. Big mistake.

You should let grilled meat rest for three or four minutes to allow the juices to redistribute and thicken. If you slice into grilled meat too soon, all those moist, tasty juices will flow out, leaving the meat dry and chewy.

By the way, this wait-to-slice rule should be observed for pork, lamb, chicken and other meats, too.

Here’s one more pro-chef steak-grilling tip: Before bringing the steak to the table for slicing, drizzle a little olive oil or smear a pat of butter over the steak to give it a handsome sheen and spectacular flavor and finish.

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