Grilling season is upon us, and with that, everyone has their own methods, whether it is the type of fuel they use, an ancient method, or a family secret. Grilling is an art form that is often dissected, and never perfected. While everyone has their own methods of grilling their favorite cut of meat, it is easy to make a small mistake that will affect the quality of your meat.
During my time at the Culinary Institute of America, grilling methods were ran down our throats. Grilling a perfect filet mignon was even part of my second term practical. During my time there, I learned a lot, while I could probably write a book with all of it, I narrowed it down to five methods that I feel result in the highest quality of grilling.
1. Grill Marks
Grill marks may seem like something that is purely for the eye, they can be a helpful tool in timing your meat. While different grills will cook at different temperatures, once you know the proper timing, cut it into quarters. If one is cooking a steak for 15 minutes, think of the grill as a clock. On the first side, start at 12 o’clock for 3:45, then move to 3:00. Once another 3:45 has passed, turn the meat over and cook it at 6 o’clock, then turn it over to 9. If properly timed, this will provide a beautiful looking cut of meat, as well as an evenly cooked cut. If the grillmaster wants to get real fancy, they can turn the “clock” to 2 o’clock, 4 o’clock, 8 o’clock, and 10 o’clock, for more diamond shaped grill marks.
2. DO NOT SMASH!
Watching someone smash down on their meat while grilling is blasphemy to me. I have seen it don by home grillers, as well as restaurant grillers. While it may cook the outside a little bit quicker, it does not take away much time on the internal temperature, and any extra time an unsmashed product cooks is well worth it, in terms of quality. People ask for a nice, juicy steak. Not a flat, dry one. Remember this next time you get the urge to smack whatever is on your grill.
3. Do Not Always Trust Your Thermometer.
Thermometers can be a handy little tool for grilling, but they are not always reliable. Even a properly zeroed thermometer can come with many problems, and reliable thermometers can cost what literally seems like an arm and a leg. At culinary school, one of the tricks I learned to bypass the thermometer, is the finger method. This method requires no equipment, and tends to be very reliable when done right. This method is as simple as starting pressing the tip of your thumb and the tip of your index finger together, and feeling the the pad of skin between the two fingers. If the meat feels like that, it is rare. For every finger you add, it adds a degree of doneness, a medium rare steak will feel like that pad of skin with two fingers, medium will feel like three, and well done will feel like four. While it may sound weird, it is shockingly accurate.
4. Hot Spots
Grills tend to have hot spots, cold spots, medium spots, and spots all over the middle.. Try to find the best spot for the meat. If you have it right over a raging flame, it may burn, if you have it over a barely hot area, the meat will take forever. Try to find a nice, area right in the middle of those two temperatures to properly cook the meat. There is no exact science to finding the right spots, it just takes a little bit of trial and error. If I am using brickets, I tend to try to find the ones that are red hot, without shooting much of a flame up.
5. Clean and Oil Your Grill
While some people seem to think that it is OK to just keep the grill as is, and scrape it off, this will make your next grilling suffer. Just simply scraping your grill is not enough. It often leaves a fine powder of charcoal on the surface that will inevitably stick to the meat next go-round. Cleaning a grill is quite easy, let it cool off a little bit, get your scrape and go to town on the grill, when that is done, grab a wad of wet paper towels (or towels meant for cleaning grills), and wipe up all the residue. Once all of the residue is up, sanitize the surface to kill any bacteria that is left behind. One you have a clean grill, it is best to start every grilling session by lightly spreading some oil on top of the grill. Do not use a lot, as oil and fire are not known as being best friends, but a light coat will be fine. This helps prevent the meat from sticking, which in turn, results in a better looking cut of meat.
Grilling a nice steak is always fun, and it is even better when you know how to get the best out of this cut of meat that you are putting all of your time, money, and effort, into. Next time you try it, follow these steps, and I guarantee you will enjoy the steak, whether it has been marinating for 5 days, or it just gets sprinkled with a little bit of salt and pepper. A properly cooked steak will always taste great.