What is Barbecue?
Although grilling and barbecuing are often thought of as one type of cooking, they are actually different techniques in a grand school of outdoor cooking. Grilling is a type of barbecuing, where steaks, burgers, chicken, etc, are cooked directly over hot charcoal (or gas) on a grate, or grill.
Barbecuing in general, however, also includes (and some would say primarily focuses on) “low and slow” cooking techniques, like indirect heat cooking on a grill, and “smoking.”
Smoking is cooking a meat with burning wood or coals at a relatively low-temperature for a long time, which tenderizes otherwise tough cuts of meat while letting them remain juicy. It usually requires smoke. There are two types of smoking: cool smoking and hot smoking. Cool smoking is where a meat is cured or cooked by simply the presence of smoke alone, as in smoked hams and smoke-cured meats. Cool smoking is also good for fish, which doesn’t require much heat, or much time. Hot smoking is what we usually talk about when we talk about smoking – or barbecue, for that matter – and it’s what millions of Americans hold as close to their hearts as Family, Religion, Politics, and Diet.
What’s the big deal about smoking, or barbecue, as it’s often referred to? This: The razor’s edge of cooking a meat long enough, and hot enough, to break down the tough proteins and yield a tender flesh, but not so long, or so hot, as to cook out the water and fat and produce something dry and mealy. That, my barbecue friends, is the magical area that we all aim for, often achieve, and are willing to fight to the death over while defending our methods.
Is a steak cooked on a charcoal grill barbecued? Sure, if you want to call it that. But is a brisket, smoked in a bullet smoker for twelve hours, grilled? No, no, and Heck no.
That’s the difference.
Direct heat cooking is when the food is placed directly over the charcoal, or gas burners. Indirect heat is when the food is placed off the side of the heat source. Indirect heat is used for a variety of purposes:
1. When fatty meats like chicken drip grease in the fire, “flare-ups” can occur which prematurely blacken your meat and impart a burned grease flavor.
2. On a particularly hot grill, the meat can be moved to the cooler, indirect side, to slow down the cooking process and allow more even cooking.
3. Large cuts of meat like roasts can be grilled just off to the side of the fire where they’ll cook more slowly and allow even cooking, but because of the additional time involved in cooking, still get a charred exterior from the radiant heat of the fire.
4. Indirect heating areas can be used for cooking with the lid on the grill, when using the grill as a smoker or an oven.
Direct heat is used for all other types of grilling.
Charcoal grills get much hotter than gas grills. Gas grills can quickly get up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, but are often difficult to get much hotter, and many barbecue chefs prefer cooking steaks, for example, on fires as hot as 1200 to 1500 degrees. Charcoal grills, however, take more practice to learn to manage the heat correctly.
Knowing when to turn and when your food is cooked is one of the most important skills of successful grilling. This skill however is easy to learn! Don’t be fooled by these myths:
1. Searing to keep juices in.
It’s wrong! Scientific studies show that searing the edge of a piece of meat doesn’t make it the slightest bit waterproof! It doesn’t keep juices in! Sorry for the exclamation points, but this is a tough one to convince people of because it’s so ingrained in grilling traditions.
2. Burned grill marks on meat are the sign of a pro.
Wrong! Grill marks are a sign that meat isn’t being turned enough! Good meat should be cooked to medium rare at most, and if there are burned marks from a hot grill on the side, then the meat surrounding those burns will be well-done. Wrong.
3. Flip meat once. Wrong! The BBQ Dragon method of cooking, with frequent flipping, is scientifically proven, again and again, to produce meat that is cooked evenly from side to side. Flip your meat only once and here’s what you get: Well-done on one side, well-done on the other side, and anywhere from rare to well-done in the middle.
So how often should you flip? EVERY FIFTEEN SECONDS! That’s right, now, this depends on how hot your grill is, how much your guests distract you, etc, but PRO’s, REAL PROS, like to cook on a 1500 degree Fahrenheit grill and constantly flip. The result? A crust on the edges and a perfectly cooked, evenly cooked interior. Any other method is, well, WRONG.
Let’s use a steak as an example of a typical meat to cook on a grill, although this applies to burgers as well. The result we’re going for is crisp and singed or charred on the outside, and evenly and perfectly cooked on the inside. If you use a very low temperature fire, very slowly cooking, you can achieve the even interior, but not the nice charred exterior, so you want a hot grill, and you want to keep from having any one surface of the meat exposed to that fire so long that the interior flesh begins to overcook; you want to easy, easy, let the heat slowly go through your steak, or burger, evenly – so you have to flip frequently.
Try it. Your guests will think you’re crazy – until they have the most perfectly cooked steak they’ve ever had.
Here are some useful tips for the beginning griller:
Tip 1: Keep your grill reasonably clean. A clean grill will give you better tasting food and is less likely to cause your food to stick to the grate. The grate doesn’t have to be shiny, just free from gunk.
Tip 2: Use a multi-zone charcoal grill, which is essentially having your charcoal off to one side of the grill. Lets you move the food to a cooler area when there are flare-ups, or cooking is going too quickly.
Tip 3: Allow for plenty of time. You don’t want to rush your grilling or keep your family or guests waiting.
Tip 4: Don’t leave your grilling unattended for any length of time. A million things can happen. Flare ups, fires going out, chicken catching fire, you forgetting to come back. This is what beer is for – to entertain you at the grill.
Tip 5: Flare-ups are caused by grease and heat. Trimming excess fat from the meat, not cooking chicken on too hot a bed of coals, and moving the meat to a different area of the grill when flare ups occur are best ways to control flare-ups. Do not use a spray bottle of water to control a flare-up, as it just creates steam.
Tip 6: Keep in mind that sugar will burn. If you put sugary sauces, including barbecue sauce, on meat while you’re grilling, it will brown and then burn. You may want this to a certain degree.
Tip 7: Marinades include salt and meats should soak at least over night, and up to two days. The salt first draws liquid out of the meat, and then back in.
Tip 8: A fork doesn’t pop your meat like a balloon and let the juices out. Use a BBQ fork; they’re the best tool for moving steaks, chops, and roasts. Try and turn a roast with a spatula.
The main reason people use gas grills is: Convenience. They can walk out to the patio, turn a knob, push a red button, and the grill is started. But what if a gas grill and a charcoal grill were equally convenient? Would people keep using their gas grills? NO! They don’t get as hot, they don’t taste as good, they’re more expensive.
So we at BBQ Dragon want to convince you that not only is starting a charcoal fire easy – it’s FUN! Kids have been playing with fire and burning the Dickens out of themselves since the beginning of Time. And why? Because they like getting burned? No. Kids like being teased, and they like being tricked, but they don’t like getting burned. They play with fire because fire is super fun and cool. It’s only frustrating when you can’t make it work. Cars are fun, right? But not when they don’t start. Jam tastes great, right? But not when you can’t open the jar.
So, yeah, we get it, if you’ve struggled trying to start charcoal a few times, you start saying, The Hell with it, I’m going with gas. And then you spend the rest of your life trying to defend gas grills, and buying more and more expensive gas grills to compensate, while your neighbor keeps churning out delicious steaks on his Weber, and is surrounded by crowds of beautiful girls in flannel shirts begging to taste his smoked ribs, done in a $35 bullet smoker.
BBQ Dragon can help you start charcoal fires in LESS TIME THAN IT TAKES YOUR GAS GRILL TO HEAT UP.
So, please check out our guide to starting charcoal fires. There are more ways to start your charcoal fire in there than you can shake a stick at, but we’re not going to repeat them here because we don’t want to clog up the Internet. Let’s move right on to some more general tips.
The key to good grilling is use a multi-zone fire, also known as a BBQ Dragon fire, because, like a Dragon, they’re hot on one side, and cooler on the other. That means basically that after your briquettes are ready, you scrape them out to one side of the grill, leaving a cool side. Some people scrape them around to the edges of the grill, leaving a cooler interior. This latter method usually only works on very large charcoal grills, and BBQ Dragon doesn’t like it because: a. the cool center usually isn’t cool enough, and b: the circle of coals isn’t hot enough and burns out too quickly. We prefer scraping our charcoal to one side of the grill. It’s especially nice when you have a round kettle grill and you can rotate the grate itself – moving your food from the hot area of the grill to the cool side without having to pick it up. (Really important with burgers, which tend to start breaking apart when over-flipped).
The number of charcoal briquettes you use will depend on the size of your gill, the amount of food you will be cooking, weather conditions and cooking time.
As a general rule of thumb, plan on using about 30 briquettes to cook 1 pound of meat. A standard five-pound bag contains 75 to 90 briquettes. Better to have more briquettes than you need, especially when starting the fire, because it’s hard to get a pile of a dozen briquettes going. Natural, or lump, charcoal, will pour out in a range of sizes, from dust to grapefruit sized pieces, but the starting and cooking techniques are the same – the only issues you’ll find are that the big pieces won’t be fully lit by the time the smaller ones are burning out. Add more. Don’t worry about having to add more charcoal in the middle of your cooking process, however. As long as your original fire is still strong enough to ignite them, they won’t impart any weird taste to your food; that’s the reason we use charcoal: it’s already been burned down to just carbon, so it doesn’t have the various flavors, oils, etc, that wood has. If you add wood to a fire that’s cooking food, you will change the taste. But that’s not always a bad thing.
After the coals have begun to burn and ash starts to form, you will need to arrange them with long handled tongs into a relatively flat layer for grilling, or a more piled-up effect for the two-zone, BBQ Dragon fire.
When cooking over a two-zone fire, you have a direct heat side, and an indirect heat side. You’ll use the indirect heat side to slow-cook roasts and veggies and other items that can’t handle the fast flipping, fast-searing direct heat method – and also as a place to put food that has been causing flare-ups, fires started by dripping fats that will quickly burn your foods.
Chicken thighs are a good example of a food that is good for the indirect heat side of your grill, because they are so fatty that they’re a nightmare to cook directly over coals because of the flame-ups.
Another thing to consider when building a fire is using hardwood. Using slow burning wood chips will add a smoky flavor to your food. If you are going to add wood chips to your fire then you will want to have a place to do that. For a gas grill you can use a firebox or wrap the moistened wood chips in foil. For a charcoal fire you will just need to leave a small area of the coal grate with just a coals. This makes a good place to put wood chips and they will smoke but not burn away quickly.
Tips For Cooking The Food
Whether you are using a charcoal grill or a gas grill, there are certain tips you need to know that will make you a better grill master. Below we have provided you with these tips. Follow them and you will be forever known by your family and friends as the”grillmaster”
The addition of wood chips and chunks to your coals can add awesome flavor to your food. You should soak mesquite, alder, hickory and pecan chips for one hour before scattering over the hot coals.
Soak wood skewers in water for an hour before use. They are best used for foods that can be cooked quickly, like vegetables and fruits.
You can use flat metal skewers when cooking meat kabobs. Round skewers will let the food turn and will not provide even cooking.
When using sauces containing sugar and fat, apply them only during the last 10 minutes of cooking, unless the recipe instructions are different, or you will cause flareups and the food may burn.
When the weather is cold, you will need to use more briquettes to achieve an ideal cooking temperature. Grilling will also take longer. Wind will tend to make the fire hotter and on a humid day, the coals will burn slower.
The thickness and the temperature of the food when it is placed on the grill will affect its cooking time. The colder and thicker the food, the longer it will take to cook.
The closer the cooking grate is to the coals, the quicker the food will cook.
Fires using hardwood will burn hotter than charcoal briquettes.
Using a thermometer is the most reliable way to test when your food is done.
The coals are ready when 3/4 of them are gray and coated with ash. You can check the temperature of a charcoal grill by very carefully holding your hand just above the grilling surface and counting the number of seconds it takes before the heat becomes uncomfortable enough for you to pull your hand away.
5 seconds equals Low Heat
4 seconds equals Medium Heat
3 seconds equals Medium-High Heat
2 seconds equals High Heat
You can use the following descriptions to check cooking temperature by observing the coals:
When the ash coating thickens and a red glow is just visible this would equal a low heat.
When the coals are covered with light gray ash this would equal a medium heat.
When the coals have a red glow visible through the ash coating this would equal a high heat.
For indirect heat cooking on a dual burner gas grill, set the drip pan on the lava rocks on one side of the grill and add water to 1/2″. Preheat the other burner on high for 5-10 minutes. Turn the temperature down to medium, then put the food on the rack over the drip pan and cover the grill.
For indirect heat cooking on a single burner gas grill, preheat the grill on high for 5-10 minutes. Turn the temperature down to low, and place a large foil baking pan on the rack. You can also line half of the cooking rack with a double thickness of heavy duty foil. Place food in the pan or on the foil, cover and cook.
The Truth about Searing
Let me start out this section by saying that, for me, the perfect steak is rare to medium rare. To cook a steak to well done is either a mistake or a sign of inexperience. That said, sometimes you’ll have a guest who’ll request a well-done steak. They’re wrong. Cook it medium, but sear the outside well, and they’ll be happy. If not, make them a peanut butter sandwich. They’ll probably like it.
As mentioned before, searing doesn’t keep in juices – in fact, the opposite. Tests performed by weighing meat before and after cooking show that seared meat loses liquid faster. The searing essentially makes the meat more porous. Ooops.
So, why sear? The Maillard Reaction. The only reason. The Maillard Reaction is a chemical process between the amino acids and sugars on the meats surface, which creates a rich, sweet brown area and makes your meat taste great. So, keep it in mind. Sear for flavor. Flip frequently and cook slowly for juiciness. Juice is water and liquid fat. Too hot and your water evaporates, and your fat renders and drips into your fire.
If you are using a charcoal grill, you’ll probably want a two zone fire so that you have intense heat on one side and easy heat on the other.
Charcoal fires are ideal for searing because you get a more intense heat. Good luck getting most gas grills hot enough for good searing. Do you know how most gas grills sear meat? With burning fat. Yes, the fat starts to render and drips down in to the burner and flames up, which burns the bottom of your meat and leaves a – you guessed it – burned fat taste. Mmm.
You can tell when the charcoal fire is hot enough to sear by the hand test. You will not be able to hold your hand over the searing fire.
If you are cooking a roast or prime rib on the grill, guess what? Frequent turning. Here’s how it works: Remember, we want to evenly distribute the heat through the roast without overcooking any one part. It’s just like the steak; let the heat soak in one side – but before it starts to get too hot, turn it, and let the heat start to soak in the other side. Now the exterior of the side away from the fire is allowed to cool off a bit and get well-done, while the mild interior heat continues to soak into the roast.
And keep turning. It takes a long time, but when done right, by the time your interior is a nice even medium rare, the exterior is, oh yes, crispy, browned, seared. Takes work, but there’s nothing better than a roast patiently done on a grill over indirect heat.
After your meat has reached the desired doneness, remove it from the grill and let it sit for about five minutes before serving.
Rubs – Enhancing The Flavor Of Your Meats
You can use spices and seasonings to add flavor to your and color to your grilled foods. There are two different kinds of rubs, dry and wet. Dry rubs are made of spices and herbs which you can sprinkle on the meat or rub into the meat. Wet rubs have a liquid base, which is usually an oil, and is used to to coat the meats surface.
How you use rubs is a matter of personal taste. A good rub should add flavor and color to the food but not overwhelm the natural flavor of the food that you are using the rub on. Most dry rubs contain paprika, cayenne pepper and chili powder. You don’t want to use to much cayenne pepper and make the meat so hot that you don’t want to eat it. You should use a combination of strong and mild spices to add color and compliment the flavor of the food. There are many recipes and ready prepared rubs. The rub you use is really just your personal preference.
To get rubs to stay on the meat you need the meats natural moisture. To properly apply a rub you should work the rub into the meat evenly. If you are applying the rub to chicken or other poultry you should try to get the rub underneath the skin. The skin will block the flavor, so if you don’t get it underneath, you won’t be flavoring the meat.
The advantage of using a wet rub is that it will stay on the the meat better. When using rubs on foods that are naturally dry or meats such as chicken with the skin on, you should use a wet rub. A wet rub will help keep meat from drying out and helps keep the meats natural juices inside. Using rubs with oil in them can help keep the food from sticking to your grill. Wet rubs should be about as thick as paste, so that they will stay on the food better.
You should always apply rubs at least an hour before you plan to grill. For chicken and roasts you should apply the rub the night before. You want the rubs to combine with the foods natural juices and penetrate the meat.
Appetizers On The Grill
Do you think that being the person in charge of the grill is a lonely and thankless job? You can make the grill the center of attention at your next gathering by making appetizers on the grill. Just about any hot appetizer can be prepared on the grill and it is much easier then you may think.
You can prepare tasty appetizers such as mini pizzas, mini tacos, buffalo wings and potato skins on the grill and they will be tastier than if you prepared them in your oven. The main difference between cooking appetizers on the grill and cooking them in the oven is that a grill will have a much more intense heat, even if you are using the indirect method. But if you coat the cooking surface with oil, use indirect heat and the upper rack and keep a close eye on your food you will be successful.
A tool that can be very useful when making appetizers is the grill topper. You can find grill toppers at hardware and department stores and it will be a good investment. You can use it as a tray and transfer everything to the preheated grill at once. When the food is cooked, just remove the grill topper and serve..
The trick to making the best appetizers for your gathering is to do as much of the preparation as possible in advance. You can prepare most of them a day in advance The mini pizzas, potato skins and buffalo wings can be already to cook and will just require a little heating on the grill to be ready to eat. The grill will heat them up fast too, so you won’t need to stay around the grill to long.
You will want to match up the appetizers to the meal. If you are preparing steak a great appetizer is the potato skins. If you are making a Mexican meal try grilling up some beef strips and vegetables for fajitas as an appetizer. Another great appetizer that goes with almost anything is beef or chicken kabobs. They are easy to make if you prepare them the night before. My favorite is to use a good cut of roast and cut the meat into 1 inch cubes. Throw the cubes in a dish with thousand island dressing and let soak overnight. The next day cut up red and green peppers, mushrooms and sweet onion and alternate them on square metal skewers. They will cook in a few minutes and be ready for your guests.
If you plan on making appetizers and you use a charcoal grill, (My preference-I believe you get a much better flavor with a charcoal grill!) then I would suggest a two or three level fire. If you are making foods like the mini pizzas then you will be best served by the three level fire. You can heat the pizzas over the area of the grill with no coals. Other foods can be prepared at the same time over the other areas of the grill and when you are ready to make the main course you just need to add some coals