Steven Raichlen has spent years traveling, learning and teaching the art of barbecue. Now, he’s giving you the opportunity to learn from all that experience! Check out these 15 tips from the expert that will take your grilling game to the next level.
- Grilling is not barbecue, although both use live fire. Grilling is a fast, high-heat method done directly over the fire. Use it for steaks, chops, fish, veggies or any tender food that cooks quickly. Barbecue cooks low and slow, meaning your food cooks at a low heat for a long time and always away from the fire. True barbecue also always involves wood smoke.
- Smoke is the umami of both barbecuing and grilling. Build a wood fire with logs or add wood chunks or chips to your charcoal. On a gas grill, place the wood in the smoker box, in a foil smoker pouch, or under the grate directly over one of the burners.
- When you grill, you dance on a razor’s edge between cooked and burnt. Your food should be dark, not quite black, but dark. If your food looks anemic, you haven’t grilled it hot enough or long enough.
- At my house, we cook the whole meal on the grill. Appetizers and pass-arounds. Soups. Yes, really! Try grilling or smoking the vegetables the next time you make gazpacho. Proteins of course, but also vegetables and starches. You know those tubes of pre-cooked polenta? Slice and grill for a perfect side dish. Desserts, of course, and don’t forget to grill the fruit for the sangria.
- At my house, I grill not just lunch and dinner, but breakfast. Is there anything more glorious than firing up your grill at daybreak to cook bacon, eggs, toast and a breakfast quesadilla? Hint: For the latter, crack an egg in the center of the tortillas when you add the cheese.
- Season generously and early. Season meats with coarse sea salt an hour or two before grilling and keep them in the refrigerator. This is called dry brining, and it gives you juicier, tastier meat.
- Remember the grill master’s mantra: Keep it hot. Keep it clean. Keep it lubricated. Start with a hot grill grate for better searing. Clean it with a stiff wire brush or wooden scraper. Grease it well with a chunk of bacon or steak fat or a folded paper towel dipped in vegetable oil and drawn across the bars of the grate. All three keep food from sticking and give you killer grill marks.
- Repeat the hot, clean and lubricated process after you’re done grilling, so you start with a fresh clean grill the next time you fire it up. That burnt-on salmon skin from last week’s grill session doesn’t add flavor. It’s disgusting.
- Account for carryover cooking. Meat and seafood will continue to cook even when they come off the grill, so take the food off slightly before your target temperature.
- Speaking of temperature, use an instant-read meat thermometer. When checking steaks, burgers, fish fillets, or chicken breasts, insert the probe through the side, not the top. Remember these seven key temperatures:125-130 degrees: rare
135-140 degrees: medium-rare
145 degrees: safe, but pink, temperature for pork
145-150 degrees: medium for steak
160 degrees: medium for sausage
165-175 degrees: the safe temperature for chicken and turkey
203 degrees: the perfect temperature for brisket.
- When grilling steaks and chops, transfer them from the grill to a wire rack over a sheet pan. The wire rack allows air to circulate beneath the meat, so it doesn’t get soggy on the bottom.
- Give it a rest. Steaks, chops, roasts, etc. will be juicier if you let them sit for a few minutes before eating.
- Remember: You can grill everything, and I mean everything. In the course of my career, I’ve grilled nori seaweed, a popular snack in Korea, eggs in the shell, street food in Vietnam, rice cakes, a staple in Japan) and ice cream. You have to work fast and with a lot of wood smoke.
- Remember Raichlen’s Rule: If something tastes great baked, boiled, fried, or sauteed, it probably tastes even better grill.
- Above all, have fun. Grilling isn’t brain surgery, and this week’s mistake may become next month’s masterpiece.
Steven Raichlen is a five-time James Beard Award winner and Barbecue Hall of Famer. His 30+ books have been translated into 17 languages and his TV shows air in English, French and Italian across North America and around the world. He’s the founder and dean of Barbecue University at Montage Palmetto Bluffs and the creator of the Best of Barbecue grilling accessories and Project Smoke barbecue rubs and sauces. For more information, visit Stevenraichlen.com and Barbecuebible.com.