By Mary Ann Hatchitt
Beyond the thermostat, nothing says summer like the mouth-watering scent of barbecue on the grill, and it helps to have a chef who knows their way around the smoke.
Eyeballing meat cuts old school is passe, especially with soaring beef and poultry prices. You don’t want anything to go awry, ruining your purchase. The smart way to grill involves a meat thermometer and letting the meat rest after it cooks. It also helps to have a basic understanding of searing, spritzing, juice sealing, marinading, and rubs. Here are some tips collected from top-notch amateur grill masters in Albuquerque, personal experience, and an internet search on best practices:
Do not be in a hurry. This is not a fast-food operation (unless you are opting for a tabletop grill).
The kind of grill and fuel you use affects the taste. Gas grills are easy and fast (provided you remember to fill the propane tank), and they have temperature controls; a charcoal grill gives the food more of an authentic smokey flavor. There are some helpful YouTube videos that show how to efficiently light charcoal. Allow at least 20 minutes for the coals to glow or about 10 minutes to heat a gas grill. Throw some barbecue-grade wood chips – like applewood, hickory, or mesquite – on the charcoal to enhance flavors. Hamburgers, hot dogs, and veggies cook best on a Hibachis (open grill); bone-in meats, steaks, and chicken do better on covered grills.
Get your coals or grill hot before putting your food on. While the grill is hot, get out a wire brush and clean off residue from your last barbecue. To keep from contaminating your food, use one plate to transport raw food to the grill, and use a different plate and utensils to transfer the cooked food to a serving plate.
Try to flip the food just once to seal in the juices. If you have a special sauce you prefer to use as baste, wait until the meat or poultry is almost done before applying it.
Use a meat thermometer made for meat and poultry, readily available in most supermarkets. These gadgets really make all the difference between dry, overcooked food and moist, juicy melt-in-your- mouth food. Stick the stem in the thickest part of the meat and check the temperature. Do not let the thermometer touch the bone. The internal temperature of poultry should be 165 °F (74 °C). Pork and fish should be 145 °F (63 °C). Beef ranges from 140 °F (60 °C), which is rare, to 170 °F (77 °C), which is well done.
Once the food reaches the perfect temperature, remove it from the grill. It continues to cook for about 10 minutes or so once removed, so let it sit for a few minutes before cutting into it.
A giant portobello mushroom basted with a little red wine vinegar, olive oil, and garlic can be grilled to taste without using a meat thermometer since these vegetables can be eaten raw. Veggies take anywhere from five to 10 minutes to cook, depending upon their density; potatoes require longer.
Veggie burgers have cooking instructions on their packages.
And don’t worry about dessert. Just grill pineapple and banana slices to top off the meal perfectly.