As grilling season inches closer, the promise of perfectly seared meats, juicy burgers and grilled vegetables are on all of our minds.
Whether you use your grill on a nightly basis or find it’s collecting dust, up your grilling prowess with tips from Matt Rotroff, director of business development at Meats By Linz.
Prep the meat before it hits the grill
If you only think about temperature after the food is starting to cook, you’re missing something. Turns out, how warm or cold the meat is before it hits the grill can make or break grilling quality. Since burgers are flecked with fat, they need to be cold when they hit the grill, says Rotroff. Even if you have frozen patties, it’s better to begin by searing both sides on the grill than by thawing in the microwave, which will cook them slightly and cause a loss of precious moisture. Steaks, on the other hand, cook better at room temperature. This allows the meat to loosen up and cook evenly, making the cooking experience more predictable. Grill salmon and other fish at room temperature. Remove fish from the fridge 15 to 20 minutes before grilling for more even cooking.
Use heat strategically
Even before you fire up the grill, it’s key to know the two types of heat you’re working with. Direct heat, or cooking near the flame, is best for foods with faster cooking time, like kabobs, hot dogs and burgers. Indirect heat, on the other hand, works best for thicker cuts, like racks of ribs, chicken and legs of lamb. Since Meats By Linz specializes in premium cuts, Rotroff has a cooking tip for bone-in steaks: With their longer cooking time, it helps to angle the bone side toward the flame.
If you’re worried about overcooking, give yourself some wiggle room. Set up a cooler area for foods that might be cooking too fast. In a charcoal grill, simply leave an area without charcoal. Or turn off a section of your gas grill. Once you’ve seared food in the flame, you can place it in indirect heat so it cooks slower. And what about closing the lid? You don’t need to do so with thinner steaks, Rotroff says, but using intense convection heat works great with thicker cuts.
Move things around
Wondering if the constant tong gymnastics at the family barbecue are just theater or possibly even detrimental to the food? Not so, says Rotroff. The grill naturally has hot spots, so it’s important to rotate foods so things don’t get burned. And when searing a steak, seeking out a new spot on the grill will help to achieve those coveted grill marks on both sides, as unused areas of the grill will be hotter.
Explore the flavor imparted by flame and smoke
The hallmark of grilling is searing over an open flame, so enjoy experimenting. One expert tip is to preheat your grill sufficiently before searing so that the grates reach a high enough temperature. Then after touching down both sides, cook with indirect heat so your meat doesn’t dry out.
While gas grills are popular and offer convenience, some veteran grillers would never cook on anything other than charcoal. Not only does charcoal reach a higher temperature than gas, but it also boasts smoke and therefore layers of flavor. From alder to cherry, oak to mesquite, Rotroff loves the many smoke options available.
Clean right before and right after cooking
Have a spatula and wire brush on hand right after the food comes off the grill, so you can easily scrape still-soft remnants off. On the flip side, before you start cooking, preheating your grill for 10 to 15 minutes with the lid closed is an easy way to turn any lingering gunk to dust.
Don’t forget fruits and breads
One of the most fun aspects of a grill is its versatility, so try cooking up things you might not normally think of. Firm fruits like pineapple and even watermelon are easy to work with. Fruit has the lovely natural ability to caramelize but also the tendency to char easily, so keep it on indirect heat. You can halve, slice or create kabobs, placing the fruit directly on the grill until slight char marks are visible on each side.
Pizza and bread are easier to grill than you might think, as long as you have all your ingredients nearby and thoroughly oil your grate. Things move fast, so be ready to take the dough off direct heat as soon as it hardens slightly.