3 Ways Controlling Temperatures Will Make You a Better Griller
The number one mistake made by inexperienced grillers (and even some that are experienced) is controlling the temperature of the grill. If you don't know when it should be hot, when it should be medium and when it should just smolder, read on. The temperature of your grill when you cook will have more to do with a successful end product than almost anything else. Along with temperature, we'll talk about when to put your meat over the fire, and when to cook on indirect heat. Temperatures: High heat / over the fire. High heat would be defined as somewhere around 500 degrees. If you're cooking burgers (either frozen or fresh) you want to cook over the highest heat your grill can muster. Typically this is achieved by turning the grill on high, closing the lid, and waiting for 15 - 20 minutes before you start cooking. Because the cell structure of the meat has been changed by grinding it into hamburger, you need to sear the meat as quickly as possible so the juices don't just run out into the grill, causing flame-ups. Once the meat is seared, you can move it off the direct fire so you don't end up with meat that's burned black. One last thing: avoid the urge flip your meat several times while cooking. Cook one side, then the other, then take it off and eat it. Turning the meat from side to side only slows the cooking process, and makes for uneven cooking. If you have to keep turning to avoid burning the meat, the grill temperature is too high, or you need to get your meat off the direct heat. Medium Heat, direct and indirect fire. Medium heat would be someplace around 300 - 350 degrees fahrenheit. For steaks and poultry, you don't want a 500 degree grill. The meat will sear too fast and the surface will burn before the heat penetrates to the middle of the cut. Start the meat over the fire, and after you get a sear, move it off the direct fire. Cooking over a medium heat is perfect for marinaded meats. Often, if the temp is too high, what's burning is the marinade and the spices, not the meat. The result is the same -- inedible meat -- but the cause is different. So start your steak, chicken, or marinaded meat of any kind over the direct flame to sear. Then move the meat (without flipping, remember we cook one side then the other) off the flame. When you're ready to cook the other side, move the meat back to the flame to sear then off the direct heat to finish. Low heat, no direct flame. Low temperature is defined as somewhere in the 200 degree range. When cooking something like ribs, brisket, shoulder roast, or anything else that has a lot of connective tissue, or is unusually tough, you need to cook low and slow. Often these cuts of meat will be cooked for several hours. Anything but a low heat and no direct flame will result in burning your meat. Some people sear these cuts then reduce the heat, but most people just put them on low and slow and let it work itself out. Usually, that's the best course of action. This meat is often heavily marinated and it's common for those marinades to contain sugar. Burnt sugar is not something anyone wants to eat, and sugar will burn so fast it will scare you. You look up for one second and the sugar-based coating on your meat is burned black. And it's not like you can cut the burned part off and eat the rest. Burned sugar flavor will penetrate clear to the core, making your labor a throw away. Conclusion: The only time you cook right over the fire is for the initial sear. After that, your meat needs to be moved over so the heat is not directly under it. Doing this will make your finished product much better. If you don't have a thermometer on your grill, you need one. Typically, they cost less than $10 and are installed in the lid. It takes all of five minutes to install one. Carefully monitoring the temperature of your grill will help ensure a good result. If you don't have a thermometer, get one. And get outside and get cooking. Summer's half way gone. You need to do more grilling. Let us know in the comments below how it turns out.