"That outdoor grilling is a manly pursuit has long been beyond question. If this wasn't firmly understood, you'd never get grown men to put on those aprons with pictures of dancing wienies and things on the front..."

William Geist, New York Times Magazine


Just in time for summer, we present our guide to grilling. By no means is this an easy topic to cover; entire volumes have been written on the art of grilling. So, what we’re going to do is give you what we think are the top 5 lessons to learn. Understand and implement these five pearls of wisdom one-by-one and you will no doubt be on your way to becoming a Master Griller.

LESSON #1: Know the product you are grilling.

A prime cut such as a Rib Eye, New York Strip, or Tenderloin should be treated differently than a tougher cut such as a Flank, Blade Steak or Eye of Round. In last month’s Live to Eat (available at http://www.thehealthybutcher.com/archives.html), we butchered a beef and learned that lesser used muscles are more tender than more used muscles. As a result, the more tender cuts don’t require much prep work.  Of course you can marinade a New York Striploin and achieve a phenomenal end meal - but you don’t have to - a dry rub will suffice. On the other hand, without marinating a Flank steak in an acidic base to break down the connective tissue, you might be left with a sore jaw at the end of your dinner.

If you were to walk in to our butcher shop and ask for something to grill, we would divide up your options into these three categories:

Superb cuts, but more expensive: New York Striploin, Rib Eye or Prime Rib Steak, Tenderloin, and T-bones
Less tender cuts that typically require marinating, less expensive, but excellent flavour: Flank Steak, Round Steaks (Inside, Outside or Eye), Sirloin Tip Steaks, our dry-aged Blade Steaks.
Most Bang for your buck: Our handmade gourmet burgers and sausages are made fresh daily using only certified organic meat and fresh herbs and spices. We never use nitrates, artificial binders, colouring additives, or other artificial ingredients. Of course, our burgers and sausages are healthier for you than the pre-packaged, over-processed stuff available elsewhere... but forget about the health benefits; they simply taste awesome and are a cinch to grill.

LESSON #2: Understand temperatures and how to achieve low, medium and high heat on your grill.

Always preheat your BBQ on high for at least 10 minutes with the lid closed. This should bring the temperature to around 500F. Brush your grill with olive oil, and sear your meat at the high temperature before adjusting the temperature or moving the food to a cooler area to fit the cut you are working with. Searing traps juices, enhances flavour and prevents sticking.  Also, don’t pierce the meet with a fork! Use tongs.

A thinly cut striploin, for example, can be cooked quickly using high heat only. But, generally speaking you will always be lowering the temperature or moving the meat to a cooler area of your grill after seared to ensure proper cooking throughout without drying the outsides of the meat. Leaving a thick bone-in chicken breast on high-heat will leave you with a cardboard texture on the outside by the time the centre is cooked thoroughly.

For beef steaks, you should aim to achieve a rare or medium-rare (145F) for tastiest and juiciest results. Medium-cooked is the maximum-cooked beef should ever be.  An instant read thermometer is ideal, but the ole fashioned touch method works fine:  For rare, let your left hand hang loose in front of you.  With your right index finger, poke into the fleshy party of your left hand between your index finger and thumb.  This is how a steak cooked rare will feel to the touch, i.e. it will offer very little resistance.  For medium-rare, extend the same left hand but this time spread out your fingers and poke the same spot with your right index finger.  You'll see that it is firmer and a little springy to the touch.  This is how a steak cooked medium-rare will feel.  For medium, make a fist with your left hand and poke again.  It should feel firm and only give a little.  This is how the medium steak will feel.

Finally, prior to serving, transfer your meats to a warmed dinner plate or platter and let it rest for three-to-five minutes to ensure that all the juices are absorbed into the meat.  A drizzle of olive oil or a pat of butter gives the steak a handsome sheen and spectacular flavour and finish.

LESSON #3: Flip only when needed.

Flipping frequently encourages sticking and does nothing to add flavour to your meat. At maximum, steaks should be flipped three times – and that is only if you are aiming to achieve the nice criss-cross markings (i.e. by changing the angle of the meat by 90 degrees when grilled on the same side the second time). For the most part, meat should be flipped once or twice. A burger should never be flipped more than once – especially a homemade burger like the ones we make at The Healthy Butcher – otherwise the burger will fall apart and you will inevitably be picking out ground beef crumbs in your coals.

LESSON #4: Understand the difference between direct and indirect heat.

As we move on to Lessons 4 and 5, we get into more advanced techniques. Understanding how to use your BBQ in an indirect-heat method will allow you to blow away your dinner guests with the best tasting roast chickens, ribs, and other large cuts of meat.

The direct-heat method is essentially broiling and is the most common method used by barbecuers. That is, food is cooked directly over the heat source. This method is great to sear meat and to cook steaks, chops, kabobs, burgers, sausages and vegetables.

On the other hand, the indirect-heat method is similar to roasting with the added benefit of a grilled flavour in your end product. To grill indirectly, preheat the grill with all burners then shut off the burner under which your food will be. The best configuration, if possible on your grill, is to shut off the middle burner(s) and keep on only the outer burners and place your food over the middle burner. If your BBQ is equipped with only two sides of burners, then keep on only one side and keep your food on the other. The second, higher cooking grate equipped on most barbecues is great for indirect cooking, possibly with a foil pan under your meat to catch drippings (which can be used for a gravy and prevent flare-ups).

We won’t discuss this topic further, but keep it in the back of your mind until you have time to explore some recipes.  You can achieve phenomenal results using this indirect heating technique on your BBQ with whole chicken, beef roasts and more.

LESSON #5: Learn about sauces, marinades and rubs.

Last, but not least, we get to the spicy heart of the matter - using sauces, marinades and rubs - which can convert a basic grilled meal into the ultimate gourmet experience. Grocery stores have racks full of barbecue sauces, marinades and rubs – most are needlessly high in calories and chemicals.  Start with the basics and work your way up.

Marinades are built by combining some type of oil, an acidic liquid (such as vinegar, wine or citrus juices), aromatic vegetables (such as garlic, onions and peppers) and some herbs and spices. Dry rubs can include any and all dried spices you can think of. Rubs give a base flavour to the meat, rather than season it, and foster the formation of a crust. If you’re going to use a barbecue sauce, you can marinate the food in the sauce beforehand but be sure to remove excess sauce before cooking. More sauce can be applied near the end of cooking.

The internet provides endless recipe sights for you to explore. If you prefer a hardcopy reference, for $20 we recommend Barbecue! Bible Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades, Bastes, Butters, and Glazes by Steven Raichlen (2000: Workman Publishing, New York).

To access past issues of live to eat? Click here.


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