Grilling is a state of mind, and I love it. With very few exceptions, I like to make my grilling experience a production…meaning that I like to have a plan. It starts with great ingredients, the right tools and some basic skill. It also helps to have clean work surfaces and a well-oiled grill grate. The one thing we can’t control…the weather. I have grilled in hurricane-force winds, winter storms, floods, blizzards and tropical storms. Let’s just say, I like the challenge. While steaks are my favorite grill meat, I am happy to toss on whatever is available.
Charcoal or Gas? Chimney Starter or Lighter Fluid?
Opinions vary. My take is that it depends on the application. I like to use gas when: a.) I am in a hurry; b.) I need a protected, controlled flame; c.) rotisserie; or d.) convenience. I like to use charcoal when: a.) I have time; b.) I am entertaining; c.) using smoke; or d.) slow cooking larger mass meats. Chimney starter vs. lighter fluid? Well, my Dad used to start the charcoal burner with a good dose of gasoline, so I have a little history with fluid starters. I typically use a chimney when weather conditions are reasonably good. If wildfire conditions are bad (but it is still OK to grill), I don’t use the chimney because embers and sparks will blow. When the temps are 10 below zero or colder with calm conditions, I might use fluid to get the fire started quicker. If you use lighter fluid, remember…moderation. Some people disagree, but if you use conservatively, and allow the fluid to burn off completely, the smell and taste is negligible. The bottom line…it depends. A good grill master evaluates the conditions and uses the best tools for that application. I try not to be judgmental. A couple more things…
DO: Rest your meats after cooking. Allow the juices to re-establish before carving that flank steak or taking a bite out of the burger. How long? Depends on the density of the grilled meat. I think 8-10 minutes on an average sized steak will do it.
DON’T: Let your steaks warm to room temperature before grilling. I never bought into that food blog recommendation. The best steakhouses in the world keep their steaks in the cooler until it’s time for the grill. No sense risking bacteria growth leaving refrigerated product out in the danger zone (40-140 degrees). However, I do unwrap them in the refrigerator a few hours prior to grilling to dry (evaporate some of the outside moisture). On a hot, well oiled grill you will get better grill marks.
Choosing the Right Meats
You can’t beat good material. The adage: you get what you pay for is absolutely true when working the grill. Find a good meat market and test their product. Don’t be afraid of the grocery store butcher! I have had great luck using “store-bought” meats, as long as I carefully inspect their product. My kids tease me because I occasionally return items to the market if the quality is not to the standard that is advertised. I have done that with meats, I have even done that with a can of olives. When buying beef, look for good marbling (fat content), I use choice grading, well trimmed and good color. I like to cut my own steaks and chops whenever possible. I prefer thick cuts. Wrap your tenderloins with bacon because that very lean cut tends to dry out during grilling. Slow cooking large muscle meats can also produce dry results. Try to buy meats with a larger fat cap (placed up) for self basting during cooking. As the fat melts, the meat stays moist. Corned beef…I like flat cuts vs. point cuts…they just slice better. Seafood: dry scallops, raw 10-12 sized shrimp (means that there are 10-12 shrimp to a pound), cold water lobster, Canadian walleye (if you don’t have a generous friend), snow crab and grouper. I recently started dabbling in the art of cooking lamb. I like to buy the Australian french cut racks found in Costco or Sam’s Club. They usually come two in a pack and are relatively inexpensive…and a good product. Last Easter, I took it up a notch and gave the whole leg a shot. It turned out spectacular. I posted some pics, below.