Wednesday, December 17, 2008

BBQ Basics

"I had a bag of fritos, they were Texas grilled fritos. These fritos had grill marks on them. They remind me of something, when we used to fire up the barbeque and throw down some fritos. I can still see my dad with the apron on, better flip that frito, dad, you know how I like mine.” - Mitch Hedberg (American Comedian, 1968-2005)

To a skilled grill master, there are as many ways to cook as there are spellings of Barbecue: Barbeque, Bar-B-Cue, Bar-B-Que, Bar-B-Q, BBQ, etc. For the beginner there are two basic ways to grill: directly or indirectly.

- With direct grilling the bottom layer of food is cooked over the heat/flames.
- True "BBQ" like smoked brisket and pulled pork uses indirect grilling

  • Flames/coals cover only part of the grill.
  • The food is NOT placed over the flame but rather on a "cold" part of the grate.
  • The lid is closed and the food is slow cooked for 1 to 24 hours.

- If you grill over the flame with a closed lid you are using both direct and indirect heat. This is sometimes called dry smoking.

The whole art of grilling is knowing when to turn food and when things are cooked. Everything else is recipes and tricks.

  • An average gas grill can reach 500 degrees in a matter of minutes. You can't throw the food on the grill and watch TV until the timer goes off. You must remain ever vigilant.
  • Food will not cook faster at 500 degrees - it will burn! You must control the heat and allow time for food to cook at the center and not just char the edges.

Here are some useful temperatures:

  • Hot = 450º and above. Use this to char foods quickly (searing it).
  • Medium: 300º to 400º - after searing (optional), you finish foods by cooking at medium.
  • Low 225º to 275º - used to slow cook and render fatty meats.

I don't trust the thermometer on my grill. It won't tell you about hot and cold spots. Try the hand test instead. Hold you hand 3 inches over the grill grate and count how many seconds you can hold it there (don't be macho, be honest).

  • HOT = 1-2 seconds
  • MEDIUM = 3-5 seconds
  • LOW = 6-8 seconds

BOTTOM LINE
Outdoor cooking is an interactive sport - you vs the fire. Only with experience will you find the sweet spot where the heat cooks food quickly without burning.

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