Springtime has sprung and summer is just around the corner. The smokers are getting loaded with fine woods and pellets and the grills are burning with clean-burning propane or are bursting with charcoal’s flavor. For many, the season beckons the seasoned griller to return to their post for weekend gatherings and events during the longest and brightest days of the year. For others, it may be their first time lighting up a grill. No matter your grilling experience, not many would disagree that it is the best time of year for the grill to be out. Despite the heat, the sun’s extended presence makes the ultimate opportunity for outdoor activities.
What’s the big deal about the grill?
Grills are excellent tools for cooking for quite a few different reasons. Whether you’re utilizing a traditional sear or the reverse sear, the grill’s ability to burn at high temperatures makes it ideal to seal in the juices and flavors of whatever meat you’re throwing onto it. Additionally, the grill is essentially an outdoor oven- so you can be a part of the event without having to spend time inside cooking while your company is enjoying the sun. Some grills also have an indirect rack to place your meats on to help keep products cooking without having the harsh flame lapping it. While it’s nice to have a good sear or a hard bark on certain items, it’s often nice to allow it to finish cooking evenly away from the full-blast of the fire beneath it.
Many times when you’re watching TV you’ll see actors turning over their steaks, burgers, pork chops, etc. many times during the cooking process- making grilling seem like an overly in-depth process. Realistically, you want to flip the product as few times as possible as to not overly process it. The fewer times the product is handled, the tenderer it is and the more of the natural juice remains inside. Ideally you’ll want to have the grill up high, sear one side hard and turn down the temperature. Once the meat has cooked for half of the expected cooking time, flip it over and allow the flames to do their work to sear the other side. You can finish over the indirect heat if you’d like, or you can leave it over the direct heat for a slightly quicker cooking time.
How Long do I Cook?
When it comes to delicious and tender meats, the preparedness is key. The higher the internal temperature of the meat, the more ‘well’ or ‘cooked’ the meat becomes. While some like it ‘bloody’ (most often called rare or medium rare), others like theirs ‘well done’. However, ‘well done’ doesn’t describe the perfection of the cooking- it describes a specific internal temperature depending on the type of meat being cooked. For beef, well done is a temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. For poultry and pork, well done is considered somewhere between 165 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit depending on your chart.
That being said, while it is important to know what the proper temperatures are for each product’s varying levels of doneness, it is also important to remember that while the product is resting (cooling down after being taken off of the heating surface), that your meat will continue cooking inward as it radiates its heat. It is often said that the temperature can rise up to an additional 7-10 degrees Fahrenheit during this time. For example, if you’re looking for a to cook a filet mignon to medium, it’s important to stop somewhere between 125-132 degrees to allow it to finish cooking as it rests.
Cooking, Check! What to Grill?
There are tons of choices out there for grilling: pork, poultry, beef, lamb, venison, various fish… and the list goes on. As a meat cutter of 10 years myself, it’s not unusual that I have a few personal favorites. These are some of the items I’ve used (but certainly not all) over the years for gatherings:
- New York Strip Steak: A common choice, and one that is relatively low in fat. It is tender (so long as it’s not cooked much over medium), and it has good musculature. Takes well to seasoning and is easily identifiable by most guests.
- Delmonico Steak: Whether it’s bone-in or boneless, the Delmonico has been an American standard for generations. It is fatty, well marbled, and boasts of incredible beef flavor. The tenderness is only second to the filet mignon.
- Ribeye Filet: A rare steak that is cut from the center of a traditional Delmonico. Few places cut them, but they are spectacular steaks. More or less the ribeye filet is all of the flavor and tenderness of the Delmonico with none of the waste. Season lightly with salt and pepper and perhaps some savory herbs or a little citrus juice and you’ll be in for a great time.
- Flat Iron: A steak that is thinner than most of its contemporaries on this list. It needs to be cooked quickly and as close to medium as possible. Make sure to cut on an angle and on a bias for the best results. This steak has finer grain than the similar-looking flank steak (though they are relatively easy to tell apart upon closer inspection), and does not need to be marinated like the flank does. However, you could certainly marinade it if you see fit.
- Porterhouse/T-Bone: Porterhouses and T-bone steaks are cut from the short loin of the steer. The boast a piece of New York Strip on one side of the bone and tenderloin on the opposing side. The only real difference between a T-Bone and a Porterhouse is that the Porterhouse has more filet than the T-bone does. The T-bone is also a center-cut strip whereas the first few Porterhouses are sirloin-cut strips (have a small portion of tendon running into the steak)
- Lamb Loin Chops: Definitely the best option for lamb (unless you’d like to do a rack of lamb/lamb lollipop chops; but they are not cost effective). If you’re buying these, make sure to get them at least 1” thick- though 1½” is desired to allow a good sear while allowing the meat to be cooked only as much as you need to. Lamb is delicate meat and should not be overcooked if you intend to enjoy it. Savory blends work well with lamb. Typically 2 domestic lamb chops will feed a guest; though you may need 3 if they are Australian or are from NZ.
- Ribs: Whether they’re baby back ribs, spare ribs, or country-style spare ribs, pork ribs provide excellent flavor and tender meat when cooked low and slow on the grill. Lather in BBQ sauce, dry rubs, cures… whatever your heart desires, really- and they will turn out wonderfully.
- Pork Chops: Loin, rib, boneless… all good choices for the grill. They are the same muscles from pigs as New York Strip steaks and porterhouses/t-bones are from steer. Most pork doesn’t possess the same flavor-depth as beef does; so I find myself seasoning pork a little more heavily than I would my beef counterparts.
- Pork Tenderloins (not pork loins): The same muscle as beef tenderloin (but from the pig). They are tender, lean, delicate, and respond well to any kind of seasoning. They are easy to overcook- so be careful with them. They can be cooked directly on the grill or can be placed in aluminum foil/bags to be cooked with veggies or potatoes around them. This helps to savor as much of the jus as you can while allowing all of the flavors to self-baste during the cooking process. Slice on a bias to maximize the cuts and to control portion sizes for plates.
Poultry Selections (I’ll say chicken- but it can be any poultry):
- Chicken Breast: Best cooked after being marinated for at least 8 hours (I typically marinate the night before I need it so it gets around 24 hours of contact time with the marinade). I typically use a soy-based or teriyaki-based marinade for my chicken, though an Italian dressing or Mediterranean-style seasoning would work equally well.
- Spatchcock Chicken: A method of splitting (or sometimes removing) a chicken’s backbone and removing the keel bone (breastbone) in order to lay it flat on a grill. This allows for even cooking of the bird and often a slightly quicker cooking time than heating through the entire bird when it’s in one piece. It is also very easy to split the chicken into two halves at this point if it is desired. The bird can be brined, dry rubbed, or seasoned with a variety of herbs, spices, or sauces as well- as they say… there’s a thousand ways to make chicken.
Of course, there are tons of other things you can make on the grill- but these are all great ideas to work with or to add to your cookbook if you haven’t made them before. Specialties like kabobs/skewers, various burgers, various sausages, etc. are all good choices as well. They’re quick to cook and are often crowd pleasers at the same time.
When purchasing your meats, always be cognizant of the grade of meat you’re purchasing as well. Is it select? Is it choice? Is it prime? Is it some strange name you’ve never heard of before? Is it domestic? Is it grass-fed or free range? These are all questions you should be thinking about when buying your products to assure it will be the quality and will be raised or harvested in the conditions of your desired preference. Most importantly of all, however… get out there and grill!
I’ll be doing a more in-depth guide to meat buying for next week- so if you have any questions, ask them in the comments below and I’ll add them into my post for next week.