Grilling Lies Debunked by a Grill Master
Despite what your “King of the Grill” apron suggests, you may be a less-talented tong-wielder than you realize. And frankly, it’s not your fault. Bad grilling intel passes down through generations as easily as male pattern baldness, or your grandpa’s claim that he came up with the idea for the “King of the Grill” apron.
To help you sort best practices from bad habits, we spoke with Steven Raichlen, author of The Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and host of public television’s Primal Grill and Steven Raichlen’s Project Smoke. Here are 10 of his biggest grilling myths.
You should wait until meat reaches its recommended temp before taking it off the grill
The truth: Take it off early
This is because of what Raichlen calls the “carry-over factor.” “Meats will continue to cook -- between five and seven degrees -- after they come off the fire, so take them off before.” This is also why he recommends investing in an instant-read thermometer.
And once you’ve removed it, let it sit for a while. “Resting is important. It helps the meat relax and redistributes juices.”
Cutting into a steak to check how well it’s cooked is bad
The truth: Don’t sweat it
“A steak is not a water balloon, meaning it won’t deflate if you cut into it,” says Raichlen. While he prefers the “poke” test of feeling the meat’s resistance with the tip of your finger -- or inserting an instant-read meat thermometer through its side (giving you a more accurate reading) -- there's no harm in cutting into it. Just serve it cut-side down if it's noticeable.
If you can, cook everything on the grill at once
The truth: An overcrowded grill grate is your enemy
When you toss everything on the grill in hopes of it all wrapping up at the same time, you’re opening up room for error. “I always try to leave at least 30% of the grill grate food-free so you have room to maneuver if you have flare-ups,” Raichlen says. You should be taking things off before they’re actually finished anyhow, so don’t freak out about staggering your cooking sessions due to space limitations.
You shouldn’t flip a steak more than once
The truth: It doesn’t matter, as long as it looks good when you’re finished
According to Raichlen, the important thing is not the number of times you flip, but the color you end up with. “The important thing is to achieve a dark, crisp char on both sides. If you can do that with one turn, great, but if you need to turn the steak repeatedly, that’s fine too.“
It’s impossible to know how long your charcoal will be hot enough to cook on
The truth: It’s all about measuring
Rather than eyeball it and pray the coals are hot enough for the duration of your grilling session, Raichlen recommends living by these rules: “Figure on one chimney’s worth of lump charcoal for a 22.5in kettle grill for a 30- to 45-minute session, or 45 minutes to an hour for briquettes."
Charcoal is the best fuel
The truth: It’s good, but not the best
“The best fuel for grilling is wood. Period,” says Raichlen. “The next best is charcoal because it burns hotter and drier than gas, but you can do a fine job on a gas grill provided you preheat it screaming hot.”
You should always sear meat on high heat to lock in the juices
The truth: It depends on the size and type of meat
While theories about this are all over the place, Raichlen is mostly a believer. “That’s how I always cook tender cuts like steak. You don’t need to do this when low, slow-smoking large cuts like brisket and pork. Those will cook for six to 12 hours.”
Thicker cuts of meat require higher heat
The truth: It’s the other way around
Raichlen considers this to be one of the most misunderstood things about grilling. You should reserve a hotter fire for smaller, thinner cuts like steaks, chops, and burgers and a more moderate one for larger cuts like tenderloin.
All meats should rest for the same amount of time once off the grill
The truth: It depends on what you’re cooking
According to Raichlen, you should follow this rubric: two to three minutes for a steak, 10 minutes for a loin or tenderloin, and one to two hours for brisket or pork shoulder (in an insulated cooler to keep it warm). Cutting into the meat prematurely means losing out on a whole load of flavor, and you paid too much for that filet to sacrifice the best part of it to your cutting board.
Marinating rules are pretty much the same for every meat
The truth: Recommended soaking times are all over the place
Depending on what you’re prepping, you may want to start marinating a whole day in advance. As Raichlen explains, “It depends on [the meat’s] size and the marinade. A thin, half-inch steak needs one to two hours. A roast might go overnight. And a sharply acidic or fiery marinade works faster than a mild herb one.”
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