It’s grilling season and, in lieu of a recipe, I thought I would go out, talk to some local butchers, do some research, and find some helpful tips. Let’s start with some common grilling mistakes. By knowing the mistakes and how to avoid them, your food will, of course, be better, but also, your time will be better spent and the whole grilling experience will be more fun.
1. Let’s start with the grill itself. One common mistake that will definitely affect the flavor and look of your grilled food is not cleaning your grill properly before and after each grilling. If you don’t want your food tasting like last week’s burnt burgers, you should always keep it clean. Before grilling, let the grill preheat for 15 minutes and then scrape all the charred remains off the grate with a tough, bristled brush. After grilling, repeat the same procedure.
2.Whether your preference is gas or charcoal, allow your grill to heat thoroughly before starting to cook. Let the whole grill warm up, not just the grate where you’ll place your food. Just like an oven, close the lid and let the entire grill heat to a uniform temperature. This will help prevent overcooking or undercooking and allow for a nice tender, juicy, uniformed cooking throughout the meat.
3. Flame-ups on the grill are not only dangerous, but they can leave a burnt, sooty taste on your food. The best way to avoid flame-ups is to allow the grill to come to an even heat. If you’re using charcoal, allow them to heat fully and become gray with ash and glowing with embers. It’s also a good idea to make a “cool spot” on the grill; a place where there are no coals or heat where you can safely move the meat to marinade without causing flame-ups or just to keep it safe if a flame-up occurs.
4. Prepping your food before you bring it to the grill is a great way to ensure that your grilled food will be getting all the attention it deserves. If you have to keep rushing back to the kitchen to retrieve or prepare items, you aren’t watching what’s happening on the grill. Be “all in” when you’re grilling and you’ll have great food and more fun.
5. Grill with a meat thermometer. It’s the best way to ensure foods like chicken, which can be dangerous if undercooked, are completely done. Monitoring temperature will keep you from cutting into your T-bone to check its doneness and releasing all that lovely, juicy flavor into the grill where it will burn away (just like all your hopes for that steak!).
6. Let your meats come to room temperature before you begin to grill. If you don’t, the outside will cook too fast and the inside will still be cold. You’ll either end up with an undercooked piece of meat or a burnt, overcooked one, neither of which is good.
7. Turning up the heat on the grill to make your food cook faster is a no-no. Don’t let yourself get impatient when you’re grilling. More heat will make your food cook faster, but only on the outside. What you will end up with will be burnt and not very edible.
8. When cooking items like burgers, steaks, or chicken, don’t close the grill. This will just make it taste smokey and that’s not what you’re looking for. Closing the grill is best left for foods that you would normally cook for longer periods of time.
9. Most butchers agree that over seasoning is one of their biggest pet peeves when it comes to steaks. Try not to over do it with the seasonings. Let the true, delicious flavor of the meat come through. If you want, you can offer sides of dips or sauces but, try seasoning the meat with just a light dusting of salt and pepper and garlic powder first.
10. A big no-no (that I was guilty of for a long time) was making my burgers flat. It turns out that burgers tend to swell in the center while they’re grilling, so a good rule-of-thumb, literally, is to make an indentation with your thumb in the middle of each burger. They will hold their shape better and cook more evenly. And pressing the beef patty into the grill grate with the back of the spatula does nothing but squeeze out the juices and flavors, leaving you with a dry, flavorless burger.
11. Basting too soon is a bad habit, too. If you begin to baste your food as soon as you put it on the heat, the sugars in the sauce tend to burn immediately, which means your meat is not cooking half as quickly as the marinade is. The meat is either going to be underdone or the outside of it will taste like the charcoal you’re using to cook it. Both options sound inedible to me. So always begin your basting towards the end of the cooking time. That will ensure even cooking for both sauce and meat.
12. Don’t flip your meat too soon. If you’re having a tough time getting your food to release from the grill, it could be because you’re turning it too soon. Meat will release itself naturally when it’s ready to be flipped. If it doesn’t, you may be dealing with problem number one again: the dirty grill.
And to make this an even bakers’ dozen, or more appropriately, a grillers’ dozen…
13. Don’t rush your food to the table. Meats need at least ten minutes to rest after cooking. This allows the juices in the meat to redistribute throughout for a tastier, juicer bite every time.
I hope this post helped you as much as it did me when I researched these tips. I feel like a better grill cook already. Here’s to a better, brighter and, one might say, smarter summer of grilling.