Last month we covered six of the twelve most common grilling mistakes (or mis-steaks) that outdoor chefs tend to make while barbequing on their camping excursions. They were:
Sin #1 – Using Lighter Fluid or Match Light Briquettes
Sin #2 – Spreading the Coals Before They Are Completely Gray
Sin #3 – Not Preheating the Grill
Sin #4 – Not Cleaning the Grill
Sin #5 – Cooking Over Too Much Direct Heat
Sin #6 – Lifting the Lid Too Much
As promised, here is the continuation of the list:
Sin #7 – Great Looking Flames Don’t Equate to Great Tasting Meat
The Issue – There is this school of thought that makes us think that since we are cooking over flame, it must be good to let the fire lick the meat that we’re preparing. You know, give it that “charred” flame broiled flavor. But the truth of the matter is that when the flames completely engulf your meat, it can leave nasty-tasting, sooty deposits on the food that will eventually end up in your mouth. There is nothing wrong with occasional flare-ups, but your steaks should not be continually licked by the flames … the only thing that should be “licking” the food is your tongue!
The Solution – There are three components needed to create fire: fuel, energy and oxygen. When your fire starts to flare up, it’s usually caused by fat dripping from the meat down to the hot coals, which gives the fire fuel to burn. You can slow this down by trimming some of the excess fat off the meat, but truthfully, a well-marbled steak or a juicy hamburger should contain fat, so you don’t want to completely curtail the fat dripping.
The best way to manage a flare-up is to simply move the meat to a cooler part of the grill until the flames subside, then move it back to its original spot. However, if your grill is too crowded to move things around, there are a couple of other methods. You can squirt the flames with water from a spray bottle, but that tends to create little mushroom clouds of soot, which gets all over the meat. It can also spread the fat around on the coals, which will lead to more flare-ups. But remember how oxygen is required for a flame to burn? If you discard the spray bottle and simply shut the lid and the vents in your barbeque grill, you will deprive the fire of oxygen, and the flames will subside.
Sin #8 – Thinking That the Vents Are Just for Decoration
The Issue – We tend to think that the vents on our grill are pretty cool-looking, but we also tend to ignore them. After all, what possible effect could those little things have on a man-size fire?
The Solution – The position of the vents has a major effect on the combustion of the coals. Too much oxygen and flare-ups occur, inducing flames that will char the outside of your steaks, burgers, hot dogs, chicken, etc. If there is not enough oxygen flow, the coals will choke themselves to an extinguished state. Those vents, both lower and upper, are supposed to be used to control the temperature of the grill. If you are cooking chicken, ribs or brisket, for example, they are best prepared by cooking them “low and slow” over indirect heat. This is a good time to close the vents, keeping the flames at bay. If you’re grilling steaks or burgers, you may want to sear the outside of them, so open up the vents and let the flames flourish … but don’t let them lick the meat and char your masterpiece.
Positioning the bottom and top vents (if you have both) properly can make a big difference. There are those that prefer to position the vents with the lower vent on the opposite side of the food and the lid vents directly above the food to create a convection-type current inside. This distributes the hot air above and around the food more efficiently.
Sin #9 – Adding the Barbeque Sauce Too Early
The Issue – So many self-proclaimed grill masters figure that they will paint several layers of barbeque sauce onto the meat, letting each one cook-on to create a coating that will give the meat more flavor. But when you do this, the barbeque sauce begins to burn, and turns rather acrid before your meat is even cooked. You know you’ve blown it when your guests discretely try to scrape off the bitter, sooty crust before eating the meat.
The Solution – If you feel like the meat really needs sauce to compliment it, then go ahead and add it; but near the end of the cooking process. The fact of the matter is that barbeque sauce does very little penetrating, no matter how soon you apply it to the surface of the meat. By adding it towards the end (five minutes) you will still get just as much flavor, and you won’t end up with a sooty mess to scrape off.
Sin #10 – Cooking Too Many Things on the Grill at One Time
The Issue – Of course we would-be chefs like to have a grill that looks pretty, displaying all kinds of meats and veggies. We neatly line up the chicken, the steak, the bratwurst and the corn on the cob, until it looks like the cover of a cooking magazine. The problem with this is that not only does it take up all the room on your grill, it also creates problems with properly cooking each item. What happens is that the burgers and sausages end up overcooked, while the chicken ends up half-raw. The veggies are just along for the ride, and end up with a charcoal exterior.
The Solution – Unless you have a massive grill with separate cooking stations, you may want to consider cooking each food item separately, really nailing each one! Sausages and chicken require a slower, lower heat, while steaks and burgers need higher temps. If you have an upper shelf as part of your grill, the veggies can stay up there and they should be okay, so long as you remove them when they’re done. If you cook each item separately instead of trying to combine the entire array of meats on one grill simultaneously, you will have better success, and your guests will be much happier.
Sin #11 – Poking and Prodding your Meat Too Much
The Issue – So you think the way to tell if the meat is done is to poke it, then poke your thumb for a comparison. After all, it looks so professional. You have probably seen the routine; hold your forefinger to your thumb and poke the ball of your thumb with the other hand. That is what a rare steak should feel like. Hold your middle finger the same way and that is what “medium” feels like. And yes, the ring finger represents a well-done steak. That may be a very effective way to calculate the doneness of your meat, but that’s only if you cook for a living and have barbequed enough to fine-tune your poke test. If not, your steaks will probably end up either well-done, or raw.
The Solution – It would behoove you to forget about the poke test. People have different fingers, hands and feelings—not to mention calibration skills. Also, do all steaks feel the same, or are there variances there, too? Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but the ol’ poke method is just not that reliable … it’s too subjective. However, what is reliable is a meat thermometer. If you use one, you can say “adios” to undercooked and overcooked meat! It’s actually an exact science, so you can’t go wrong. Here are a few examples of proper temperatures for common meats to grill:
Steak – 145° (F)
Pork Chops– 145° (F)
Burgers – 160° (F)
Poultry – 165° (F)
Sin #12 – Serving the Food Too Quickly
The Issue – Once the meat is cooked, you figure that it’s hot, your guests are hungry, so let’s eat NOW! Not only will you be serving meat that’s too hot to put into the mouths of your guests, the meat will release juices that will run all over the plates, rather than stay where they’re supposed to be to enhance the flavor of the meat.
The Solution – You’ve gone to all the trouble to prepare the meat properly; you may as well keep up the good work and serve the food when it’s at its peak of perfection. Let the meat rest for a few minutes once you remove it from the grill. This allows the juices to thicken and redistribute itself. If you like the meat to be hot and sizzling when you place it on the plates, then let the meat rest, then crank up the heat on your grill to as hot as you can, then place it on the grill for about 30 seconds on each side just before you serve it. This will give it a crisp, sizzling crust and make the inside juicy and tender.
These are just a few tips for you to improve your grilling skills. If you have been committing these barbeque sins, don’t fret too much; just repent and change your grilling habits. The truth is, if you are camping in a Cruise America rental RV and cooking outside, no matter what the condition of the meat is, you’re going enjoy it immensely!
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