By Mia Brabham
Nothing says summer and quality time with loved ones quite like a cookout with family and friends. But if the intimidation of grilling holds you back from throwing the full-on party you’d prefer, you’re not alone. This year, instead of letting someone else man the grill while you set up the games or make the fruit salad, conquer your fear of the grate. Take a culinary journey with us to become a better griller, and declare
grilling anxiety no more!
Whether you need a few reminders as summer heats up or you’re grappling with the grill for the first time, here are some pointers for a perfect grilling session — from before your food hits the fire to cleaning up with a satisfied stomach. Cheers!
Let your meat meditate for 30 minutes. As tempting as it is to grab your meat straight from the fridge and pop it on the grill, don’t put cold foods straight on the fire. Unless you plan on doing a rare sear for a meat or fish like tuna, give your food time to come to a more even temperature outside of the cold so it cooks more evenly as well. Plan ahead and set it out on the counter for about 30 minutes.
Use a rub or marinade for superior taste. Don’t be afraid to make an event out of grilling. Giving yourself time to prep is key if you want an extra tasty outcome. When you jazz up your food with marinade or a rub at least an hour before you grill (although overnight is ideal), this allows the flavor to sink in. Marinades,
perfect for chicken, are liquid tenderizers and keep everything moist while also adding flavor. Rubs also add flavor, and texture as well, by providing a nice crisp and crunch. Local Manassas stores like Manassas Olive Oil Company and Dizzy Pig BBQ Supply offer innovative and delicious balsamic oils, seasonings, hot sauces and rubs like Pineapple Head Sweet Tropical Rub, IPA Hop Infused Seasoning and Red Eye Express Coffee Infused Rub that pack the flavor for you.
If you aren’t using a gas grill, know your charcoals. There are two main categories of charcoal: briquettes and lump. If you’re making brisket or pork, briquettes are better, because they burn longer and with a steadier temperature, perfect for slow cooking. If you’re looking to grill up the perfect burgers, steaks, chops or chicken, lump charcoal is excellent because it lights quickly and burns hotter and faster.
Cave and buy a meat thermometer. It’s natural to want to take the easier route and visually estimate when your food is done. But unless you are an experienced cook, it’s tough to get the temperature right by just looking at it or even touching it — and temperature is something you don’t want to get wrong. Thermometers are typically inexpensive and easy to find at local stores. The correct way to check for doneness and get a more precise reading is to move the meat to the side of the grill to prevent overcooking, insert the thermometer into the side of the meat — not the top, which will be hotter — and aim the tip towards the center.
While you’re at it, get a sturdy grilling brush. It’s important to always start with a clean grill. Why? Because old ashes can block air circulation (Your fire needs air circulation to start!) and leftover charcoal absorbs odors that can transfer to food. A solid metal brush will get between the grates and clean all those hard-to-reach places so your grilled chicken today doesn’t taste like your grilled salmon from last week. It’s easiest to scrub these loose pieces of food when the grill is hot, so be sure to put your brush to use after you finish grilling or while your grill is preheating. This also prevents your food from sticking to the grill!
GET TO GRILLING
Preheat properly. Preheat your grill with the lid closed for about 10 to 15 minutes until it reaches a temperature of 500°F. This is an important step for two reasons. One, in addition to cleaning your grill with a brush, this temperature helps prevent food from sticking to the grate. Two, you want your grate to get hot enough to achieve the most excellent sear.
Do NOT touch the food. Got your attention? Good! Of course, you’ll need to place your meats and/or veggies on the grill, move it to the edge to take the temperature and take it off when it’s done. The real secret, though, is that once you put your food down, you don’t want to flip or move it unless absolutely necessary. You need two things: the right temperature and patience. The fewer times you flip or touch something, the better. One flip is a good rule of thumb. This is how you’ll get the magnificent, desired sear, browning and caramelization that people grill for in the first place!
Don’t flatten or squeeze your meat. We see cooks doing it on TV shows, but undo this habit. There’s nothing like the sizzling sound and sight when you press your burger into the grate, but all you’re doing is squeezing out the delicious, juicy fat at the expense of obtaining those bold grilling lines. Don’t press or squeeze your meat if you want to keep its taste and moisture. Knowledge is power!
Keep the lid closed whenever possible. You don’t have to press your meat to get those aesthetically pleasing grilling lines, because if you keep your lid closed, the grates will stay hot enough to sear the food to perfection. Keeping the lid closed also speeds up the cooking time, prevents the food from drying out and stops fire flare-ups by limiting oxygen. When you trap the smokiness that is born from the fat and juices oozing from your meat, it only tastes better.
Undercook foods slightly. Food does continue to cook after it leaves the grill — especially after it was sizzling at 500°F! You can expect your food’s temperature to go up about 5° after leaving the grill, so leave some room for things to heat up.
AFTER THE ADVENTURE
Don’t act on your meat right away. Once you remove your food from the grill, don’t get to slicing or eating just yet. Allow it to rest and sit undisturbed for 5 to 15 minutes after cooking. When you do this, juices will have some time to redistribute, and you’ll have the best grilled food yet. The bigger the piece of meat, the longer it should rest. Bon appetit!
Mia Brabham is an author, writer, foodie, and media host. Her debut book, Note to Self, is a short collection of life lessons that is in the hands of readers all over the world. Mia is also the host of Two In The Morning, a podcast that explores and unpacks the cultural questions that keep us up at night. Learn more at bymiabrabham.com.