Grilling is an age old tradition and we’ve managed to learn a few tricks and tips to help elevate the process since the days of yore. Sure, the basics have stayed the same. You’ve got your heat, your meat, and your deliciousness. But even with such a simple formula for success, there are bound to be little mistakes here and there. You may not even know you’re making these errors, because you’ve never been taught otherwise. The grill may be basic, but a true grill master needs to know all of the ins and outs of the trade in order to get the best possible results. You owe it to your cookout guests, but most important, you owe it yourself. You’re the one putting in the time, standing in front of a hot flame on a sweltering summer day, so to avoid the letdown of lousy food, take a look at our list of the five grilling mistakes you’re already making, and how you can fix them.
1. Get That Dirt Off Your Grill. The last thing you want to do after cooking a nice meal and stuffing yourself full is to go out and clean your grill, but if you want to keep your grill in top shape, you need to do it. But more important than keeping your grates in good shape, you’re going to want to keep them clean in order to keep your food tasting the way it should. Grill grates, especially cast iron, can pick up funky flavors and form rust spots if you don’t keep them clean. On top of that, the stuff on your grill can make your food stick to the grates, leaving your nicely browned crust all ripped up and ragged. That defeats the whole purpose of everything you’re doing, right? To get around this, the solution is simple: clean your grill while it’s still warm. Not searing hot, but warm enough that the food and grime hasn’t had time to set into the metal. For steel, use a wire brush to clean it off, and with cast iron you can use a scouring pad. Make sure you season your cast iron with oil between uses in order to keep rust spots from forming!
2. Don’t Always Use Direct Heat. A grill is great when it comes to quickly cooking thinner cuts of meat. There’s little thought involved; you can turn it on, throw on the meat, and a few minutes later it’s done. But when you starting getting into bigger things like roasts, or stuff that burns quickly like pizza crust, things get tricky. Guess what? You don’t have to char food over flame in order to get that great grill flavor. Instead of lighting every burner on your gas grill, or filling your whole pit with charcoal, use only a part of the grill to fire up the heat. Then you can put your food on the grill in the area that doesn’t have the flame underneath it. You’ll still get a hot grill, but the flame won’t scorch your food. For stuff like veggies, fruits, or any type of bread, this is practically a must.
3. Let That Meat Rest! This applies both before you cook, and after you’re done cooking. Meat needs a chance to come up to room temperature prior to being thrown on the grill. Why? Well, because if you throw a piece of meat straight from the fridge to grill, you’re going to get uneven cooking results. This is especially true for thicker cuts of meat, but even thin steaks will benefit from being given the chance to warm up. Just take your meat out of the fridge about a half an hour prior to cooking, and the whole piece will be one uniform temperature.
Now, when it comes to letting meat rest after cooking, the reason is simple: when you cook meat, the juices warm up and start moving from the center of the meat to the exterior. If you cut your meat as soon as you take it off the grill, all of that delicious liquid flavor is going to spill out over the plate. Give the meat a few minutes for the juice to retreat back in, so that your cuts stay juicy. By the way, that red liquid that comes out of beef is not blood. It’s the red pigment that’s in the muscle tissue mixed with water. All cows are bled dry long before they ever hit the grocery store, so don’t worry about any blood being in your food!
Tip: “When grilling steaks, remove them from the refrigerator half an hour before you plan to grill. Pat dry with a paper towel and discard. Rub both sides with a good Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Sear both sides of the steak (approximately 2-3 minutes per side). Remove from the heat and brush both sides with extra virgin olive oil. Return the steak to the heat and cook to desired doneness.”
– Butcher Nic Ottomanelli, Ottomanelli Brothers, New York
4. Be Careful With Sauces. Barbecue sauce and grilling go hand-in-hand, but too many people apply the sauce after the meat is off the grill. By doing that, you’re eliminating the chance for the sauce and the meat to mingle during cooking, and your flavors won’t be as rich. Warm your sauce slightly to make it easier to apply, and then use a sauce brush to coat your meat while it’s still on the grill. You need to watch out though, because those sauces usually have plenty of sugar in them, and sugar will burn and char with too much heat. Turn the heat down or use indirect heat methods in order to avoid this. When done right, the results are much better than applying the sauce after the fact.
5. Don’t Cut To Check For Doneness. The future is here, folks, and that means we can leave behind the days of cutting open your meat to check how cooked it is. Not only is it less appealing to your guests if you serve a piece of chicken that’s been hacked open to check its color, you’re also losing valuable flavor. All of that liquid is going to spill out, possibly leaving you with dried out meat, and maybe even causing flare-ups that will scorch your meat. A little fire is okay, but too much is no good. Instead of cutting, use either a meat thermometer which makes only a small opening, or get the hang of pressing the meat to gauge its doneness. Try pressing your finger into the flesh on your palm, near your thumb. That’s the consistency of medium-rare beef. Once you start figuring out how meat should feel, you’ll never need to slice your meat open again!