10 Mistakes YOU Would Never Make When Grilling
As we in the foodie world know well, there are certain things you can fake without having your foodie status called into question. You can sip a glass of red wine and call it "full bodied with a hint of oak and blackberry", and eat raw fish at least once a week. People will buy it. You can insist on eating locally sourced kale without a carbon footprint. You can call ugly food "deconstructed" and call mushy fruit "macerated", but there is one thing you can't fake, and that is true grilling skill. Here are all the things you need to know to turn yourself into a barbecue master so legit, your mom will even take photos of the food you cook on her 2003 flip phone.
1) Don't overcrowd the grill. Don't make the rookie mistake of favoring quantity over quality. Yes, everyone is hungry, but by crowding that meat you are compromising on the best part about cooking over open fire: the crust. Don't succumb to peer pressure! Cooking in shifts might take a little bit longer, but no one will be complaining when they bite into the steak you just grilled perfectly.
2) Don't jump the gun. The enemy of mess-free grilling is a cold grill. If you've just turned the fire on and are itching to get going, DISTRACT YOURSELF. Defer to the nearest toddler for inspiration on messes that take 10 seconds to make and 10 minutes to clean, because you'll need at least 10 minutes to heat a gas grill and 20 to heat a charcoal grill. We repeat: heat the grill fully before you start cooking, or your food with stick so badly, you'll want to throw your grates out and start over. Be patient. It will be worth the wait.
3) Skip the sauce. We know, it's called barbecue sauce. Ignore that compelling logic and avoid using sugary sauces at all cost. You're so great at grilling that you don't need to hide your meat behind sweet, heavy sauces that coat your grates and cause ugly flare ups. Use spice rubs to flavor your meat, and if you MUST use a sauce, use it only at the very end.
4) Menu Plan. We get it, you're gaining confidence and embracing your inner grill master, and that's awesome. Do yourself a favor though, and plan for some non-bbq items on the menu. It's a good idea to make sure you have some food that can be cooked indoors or prepared in advance, so you don't overwhelm the grill, or the griller. If you're entertaining, having food that's ready to go right away will take a load of pressure off, so you can man the fire, stress free.
5) Start with a clean machine. But seriously, even if your grill isn't a machine (aka, charcoal, for the purists out there), making sure your grates are clean before you get started will help you avoid any firey accidents or food that sticks to the grill. You wash your pots and pans in between uses; same principle. We shouldn't have to explain this one too hard. Invest in a new grill brush whenever you see loose bristles.
6) Leave the lid alone. Have some confidence in yourself. You are well on your way to grill mastery, so don't stop now! After searing your food on the hot section of your grill, move it to the cooler section and close the lid. Don't peek, either. You know how your grandmother used to get annoyed at you when you would crack the oven open to look at her sponge cake? Same thing. A watched steak cooks unevenly, or however that saying goes.
7) Let your meat rest. You did it. You cooked a steak that is so beautiful, it rivals any Instagram photo you've seen all day. Fight all urges to slice into it for at least 10 minutes. Yes, ten whole minutes are necessary for your meat or chicken to rest before you start cutting! The juices that got released during cooking need to redistribute in order to give you a juicy, flavorful protein. Skipping this step WILL result in dry meat. (The only exception to this rule is meat that's been cooked sous vide and then finished on the grill. No wait time necessary, and consider that a reward for cooking sou vide like a regular pro.)
8) Grill beef at room temperature. Ever been to a restaurant (you know who you are!) or cooked a steak that had a perfectly charred crust, cooked for the right amount of time, but when you cut into it, the interior was a hint away from still mooing? Firing a cold steak will result in meat that's cooked unevenly. Allow your meat to come all the way to room temperature before cooking for best results every time.
9) Cut against the grain. There's no chance you haven't heard this tip before, so stop ignoring it. Meat muscle fibers generally run in one direction, and you want to slice the meat across those lines of muscle fibers. Yes, it makes a difference! Even if you have one of those weird cuts of meat that has a grain that switches direction half way through, do it. The difference between shoe leather and melt in your mouth could literally be the angle that you are holding your knife.
10) Use the right tools. Thinking you can grab those handy tongs you use in your kitchen to flip those burgers? Think again. You need tools that are formulated to keep you safe while grilling, primarily by keeping your hands away from fire (profound, we know.) Use long handled tongs and spatulas only, and be on guard to swat away wandering plastic forks attached to people who are itching to get their hands on one of your famous burgers straight off the grill. Pro tip: use a thermometer with a non contact infrared sensor for bonus points and perfectly cooked meat.
If you follow these steps, you're well on your way to the best grill season yet. Remember the most important tip of all: outdoor cooking is awesome, so chill out and have fun!