Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Get Your Grilling on

My grilling successes and failures are well documented on Facebook (and my apologies to those who hate seeing my posts).  I thought I'd share what I have learned the first 7 months with my Big Green Egg (BGE).

Like many, I've been grilling for a long time.  I always prided myself on "feeling my way" through grilling.  The food I made was pretty good but I always thought my results were a little inconsistent.  After I bought the BGE, I actually did an "anti-guy" thing and read the instructions, listened to experts, and attempted to use it as a learning experience.  Initially, I was required to give up my "man card" while I was actually reading the directions, but the first time I pulled off a perfect steak, I got it back.

So what have I learned that is worth sharing?  Surprisingly, way more than I thought.  I would boil it down to two concepts.
1. You get what you pay for (YGWYPF).  
2. Treat grilling like school.  You have to learn new things to get better.

So if you are serious about making excellent grilled food, buy decent stuff.  This goes for the grill, the charcoal, the accessories, and the food.  I'm not pimping BGEs as the only way to go, it certainly is a great one, albeit expensive.  Weber makes wonderful grills as does Traeger.  A less expensive option:  Chargriller.  I had one that was great for direct grilling, but difficult to slow cook or smoking.  The point is, don't expect a $50 grill to produce $100 tasting steaks.  These companies research and develop grills to cook food well, last a long time, and generally make their owners very happy.

For charcoal grills, good quality charcoal is the way to go.  Less ash, better, more consistent heat.  I recommend The Good One or BGE.  Cowboys from Lowes will do in a pinch.  Avoid the Sam's Club version... it'll clog your grill by the second use.

Gas grills are fine if you aren't looking to do anything other than direct cooking.  The heat is generally inconsistent and the grills "leaky" of heat.  There are higher end gas grills which do mimic charcoal, but they cost some $$$$.  Again, perfectly fine for direct heat cooking or simple indirect heat dishes (i.e. sautéed veggies).

Finally, the meat... it should go without saying, the best meat will be from your local butcher.  But if you want a balance between quality and economics, Sam's Club meat gives me great results.  I hear Costco's does as well, but have no direct experience.

P.S. Finally, also invest in some good rubs.  Butt Rub or Head Country give me consistently tasty results. Both are very versatile.  Weber's rub are pretty good.  But the best are homemade.  I don't go this far, but probably will at some point.

Grilling 101:
Since I got the BGE, I've documented temps, time, etc. in an attempt to perfect the cooking.  I can tell you, setting aside my pride to begin writing it down, tweaking it, and repeating was the smartest thing I've done.  I make very juicy chicken and "Ruth Chris" steaks.  The pork tenderloin is outstanding (though I'm still working my way through this one as the cook time seems to vary greatly due to the meat/fat content).  And the cool thing is, I get the grill at the right temp, put on the meat, set my timer, and walk away.  It tells me when to flip, and when to remove. 
There are some things I still get to "feel my way" with:  Burgers... bacon... and Pizzas, so I can still feel manly.
To do this, you will need to have the right tools.  Invest in: 
1. Evernote (it's free) or a notebook to make notes in.
2. A good meat thermometer (I recommend an electronic one)
3. A cooking timer app. Preferably one that can start multiple timers simutaneouly.  I have a timer for "flip" and "remove" for grilling.  They start at the same time.  iPad's ClockHD Pro works pretty well.
4. A grill thermometer with actual temp readings.  Not "cold, warm, hot" :).  If your grill has a crappy one, replace it.  If it doesn't have one, buy one you can install (you'll have to drill a hole.)

Then follow a simple method:  Write down everything you can.  I know people who right down weather conditions.  With the BGE, I don't have to worry about ambient temp too much.  With a gas grill, you may have to, but not sure. The things I document are:
- Initial and nominal Grill Temp
- Meat type and thickness
- Time on side 1, total time (you should only ever have to flip meat once, except thick steaks which requires two flips).
- Doneness - temp reading from meat therm.
- Juiciness - subjective

Obviously, you'll have to monitor the time and doneness throughout the last few minutes the first couple of times you cook a particular meat.  Once you get something where you like it, program those timers into your app with the appropriate labeling and enjoy the fruits of your work. It takes a little work, but I've found the third time I cook something, I get it close to perfect. 

Finally, the only problem I have is I sometimes revert to "feeling my way" out of laziness (not wanting to find the damn iPad or wash up the thermometer).  I ruined half the chicken I cooked last time.  Never again :D

Happy Grilling.

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