The BBQ and grilling season is in full swing, but it’s not too late to incorporate some new ideas and tips into your cooking. If you’ve ever been to a BBQ restaurant or steak house and wonder how they get their grilled meats to taste so good, you’re not alone. Part of the secret to cooking fabulous food is the quality of the ingredients, but the other half is the technique of the cook. Even with the best ingredients, cooks who have bad technique can produce bad dishes, but a cook that has good cooking skills can make even the worst quality ingredients into something delicious.
The reason that the meats in steak houses and other restaurants taste so good is that the quality of meat that they can procure is higher than what you can find in the regular supermarket. Restaurants and especially steak houses are able o buy prime meat, which is a government designation for cuts of meat that have the most marbling and fat content, which makes the meat moist, tender, and flavorful. Typically, a normal supermarket will only sell meat that is classified as “choice.” While the quality of the meat is still high, it will not have the flavor or texture of the more expensive prime cuts. Also, some restaurants age their steaks. Aging meats is a process in which under specific conditions, the meat is allowed to rot in a controlled manner. The moisture in the meat comes out and bacteria act to tenderize the meat fibers, producing flavorful, tender cuts of beef. Again, the home cook usually does not have access to this quality of meat in their local supermarket. However, in recent years, the number of internet purveyors of prime, aged meat has increased, making it available to almost anyone. Prime, aged cuts of beef are expensive, however, and best saved for special occasions.
One tip for cooking steaks is to buy thick cuts, which are much easier to prepare than thin steaks. Steaks that are cut very thinly are difficult to cook to a specific doneness because temperature control is hard to maintain. Invariably, some parts burn, while other pieces are still raw. By cooking thick cuts of meat, you give yourself more margin for error because of the longer amount of time it takes to cook the steak. When choosing steaks to grill, pick cuts that are at least 1 and 1/2 inches to 2 inches thick. You may be accustomed to preparing one steak per person, but a steak this thick can be cut into two portions after cooking.
You should also learn to master the technique of using a two level fire in your grill. In this kind of configuration, you will have a hot area of the grill and a cold area of the grill. This will give you better temperature control and allow you to cook your foods for a long time without getting too charred or burned. Setting up a two level fire is easy regardless if you have a gas or charcoal grill. With a gas grill, turn on a burner at one end of the grill, leaving the other burners off. If you have a charcoal grill, only keep the coals to one side of the grill. When you’re cooking and you notice that your food is cooking too fast, you can quickly move the meat to the cooler side of the grill so that it doesn’t burn. Using a two level fire is also a good technique when smoking meats. To do this, place your wood chips on the hot side of the grill and place your meats on the cool side. The wood chips will smolder, releasing smoke throughout the grill.
Finally, make sure that your grill grate is hot and clean before you start grilling. Having a clean grill will keep your food from sticking. After all, what is the point of grilling if all of your food is stuck to the grates? While the grill grates are heating up, scrub them with a wire grill brush, making sure to scrape off all of the burned bits from the last grilling session. Next, take a few paper towels and fold them up into a tight bundle. Grasp them with tongs and dip them into some vegetable oil. Next, rub them over the grates, lubricating the grilling surface. Your grill should now be ready to receive food.