Like most guys, I used to think I was inherently good at grilling. I was proud to show off how I could test the doneness of meat by poking it with my fingers. I used to get excited when flames leapt up through the grates and baptized my meal with smoky essence. Over time, I eventually lost my flare for the theatrical (pun intended). I simply got tired of overcooked chicken, bland pork and dry steaks. Since then, I’ve realized that there’s no need to leave anything to chance. When you pay good money for clothes and electronics, you take care of them, right? So why is it that we all pay good money for meat and then blithely torture our feasts over fire without knowing what’s going on beneath the surface of the meat?
I’ve come to rely on a few techniques for grilling that has elevated my outdoor cooking to an almost professional level.
- Set up the grill correctly
- Clean and grease the grates
- Measure the temperature
- Let the meat rest
- Carve correctly
You’re probably thinking this is all common sense, but I never see friends do it right. Everyone does one or more of these steps correctly, but almost no one nails them all.
Set up the grill correctly
Whether you use a gas or charcoal grill (I have both), you must build at least a two-zone fire. That means that one side of the grill should be at full heat while the other side is cooler. The cool side is your safe zone. It allows you to sear the meat over direct heat and then bake/roast the meat over indirect heat until the middle comes up to temperature. But it’s more important than that; when you grill something like asparagus, you can place the thicker stalks over the direct heat and keep the fragile spear tips over the cooler grates. The same rule holds true for meats and fish that have an uneven thickness.
Clean and grease the grates
This is the easiest step. When the grill is hot, scrape it with a good brush. If you’re using gas, just turn off the heat for a second and spray some PAM all over it. Turn the heat back on and let the smoke burn off before you toss on your meat. If you’re using gas, scrape and then brush some sunflower oil over the grates with a folded paper towel.
Measure the temperature
You can brag about your high-tech grill all you want, but this is the most important tool in good grilling: Pyrex Digital Probe Oven Thermometer & Timer
Any jackass can learn how to leave charred hatch-marks on a piece of meat, but good grillers know that grill marks are mostly superficial. Sure, the seared surface makes for a great crust, but you risk drying out the meat if you leave it over direct heat for too long. So use the first five minutes or more to develop a crust and then move the meat to the indirect heat. Insert the thermometer to the thickest part of the meat and then roast your dinner until it’s about ten degrees below where you want it. How many times have you taken meat off the grill before it’s finished cooking? How about when it’s overcooked? Why not use a tool that tells you exactly where you are in the cooking process? I also use this tool to monitor my smoker whenever I cook barbecue. It’s indispensable.
Let the meat rest
Before I remove the meat from the grill, I pour about a quarter cup of water onto a plate and microwave it on high for a minute or two. The purpose is to heat up the ceramic. Then I discard the water, dry off the pate, and place the grilled meat on it. I immediately cover the plate tightly with foil and let it sit for at least ten minutes. This is critical. If the plate is cold, the meat will expel a lot of moisture. If you cool the meat at room temperature, it won’t achieve the proper doneness. And if you cut into the meat too soon, the flavor will run out all over the plate. Plus, making guests smell their food before they eat it builds anticipation.
If you’ve grilled something that has to be carved, like a flank or skirt steak, then you must carve against the grain. I’ve mentioned this before. If you carve it incorrectly, even the most perfectly cooked meat will seem a little tough and chewy.
As long as you follow all of these steps correctly, here’s a temperature guide to follow:
Remember, these are around 8-12 degrees below where the meat will end up once it’s finished resting.
- Beef: rare 118°, medium-rare 125°, medium 131°
- Chicken: 153°
- Pork: medium-rare 143°, medium 150°
- Fish: 135°
Follow these five simple steps and you can’t go wrong. The only problem is that you’ll lose interest in eating some foods at a restaurant. Why would you pay $18 for a thick, center-cut pork chop once you learn how to cook a better one at home?