Meat the Press Mondays: Proper Grill Management

For Meat the Press Mondays, we bring you another episode of Prime Cuts TV.  Today’s episode focuses on proper grill management.  The ability properly manage a grill is essential especially when grilling various items at the same time or trying to cook several meats all to different temperatures.

We apologize in advance for the rough audio.  Unfortunately, the only time you can shoot a video about proper grill management is when the kitchen is busy therefore we had to have our hood fans on and other staff were working around us.  If you are viewing this post in a reader, you can view the video on Prime Cuts TV.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Grilling Gaucho Style in the Backyard

Although the outdoor grilling season is almost finished for us New Englanders we wanted to write about a fun and different way to kick up your next barbecue.  Joe has done this several times when he realized all too late that he was out of charcoal (kind of like Justin forgetting to charge the camera battery for Meat the Press Mondays 🙂 ).  It is simple but requires a bit of time and a few tools, however the rewards are worth the work.  Just about all New England folk who have a yard and have a fireplace in their home have some type of wood pile out behind the house and most people who have ever barbecued outdoors before have an old charcoal grill, or at least the frame to one.  If this is you, grilling the Argentine way is easy.

The few tools required are a small tree saw and a hatchet or axe, and that’s about it.  Start by completely cleaning out the charcoal grill and removing all but the bottom most grate.  Next you will need to examine your wood supplies, what you are looking for are two things: some small dry kindling wood, and some nice hardwood pieces that are not buggy, rotten, or moldy.  You won’t need a lot of the latter as proper hardwoods burn for a long time.  Our favorites are cherry, oak, and apple, but just about any non-evergreen wood will do, and if you are in doubt whether it’s a good cooking wood, give it a sniff…if it smells pleasant, and not rotten, chances are the food you cook over it will taste good too.

Next, you will need to get a base fire going in the grill.  You don’t want it to be huge but at the same time it will burn down and reduce in mass, so you don’t have to worry too much about this step.   While your base fire is burning down, split some firewood sized logs into 1/4’s or smaller, if theses will fit in your grill with the cooking grate on top, you’re good to go, if not, that’s what the tree saw is for, just cut ’em in half.  When the base fire has burned down to coals, add your nice cooking wood, not too much – two to three pieces should do for most charcoal grills.  Wait for the fire to catch, flame up then reduce in size and intensity typically taking about 15 minutes.  Place the grill grate back on top, let it heat a few minutes, brush it to clean, wipe it with a vegetable oiled towel and you’re good to go.  Cook over it just like you would a charcoal grill, only before you place any food on it, give a quick feel about a foot over the top of the grill to locate your hotspots.

When adding more wood fuel to the grill, add small amounts at a time, and remember they will flame up at first so don’t add wood directly under your food.  Master the art of cooking over a wood fire and you will quickly notice the sweet difference in flavor that hardwoods add, especially to steak.

Try a perfectly cooked, wood-fired steak just once and we guarantee you will be hooked!

What innovative cooking methods have you tried before?  We’re very interested in hearing your stories!

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Contributing Writer: Joseph M. Gionfriddo
Photo by: Munkchip

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Build the Perfect Fire for Grilling

When starting a wood fire for cooking, the first thing to consider is the wood itself.  Hardwoods are the

Source: Get Your Grill On

obvious choice for their clean burning nature and density when seasoned.  Some of the reasons why include:

  • good, solid coal formation;
  • an ability to carry a high enough temperature from a piece of wood that will easily catch fire and not smolder;
  • the flavor of the smokes which they produce;
  • ease of splitting or reduction in size which allows the chef to properly control the amount of heat added to the cooking fire.

My favorites for flavor are apple, cherry, and hickory.  My favorites for their functionality in use are oak and red maple.

Now to start the fire…an easy enough thing to do but there are reasons behind the different methods.  I will speak from my expertise which translates to my rectangular shaped grill, of which the fire occupies an approximate 3 cubic foot space.

I start by selecting some of the better burning/splitting “functional” firewoods (oak, maple, birch).  The intention of this is just to get the fire going and to produce a coal base to which you can add your more flavorful smoking woods (apple, cherry, hickory, mesquite) prior to cooking.

When done right you shouldn’t have to take more than two or three standard cord wood sized logs from your woodpile.  You then must proceed to split with an axe or hatchet, down to eight, or tenth sized splits.  Don’t forget to gather up all the little scraps of bark and small wood fragments that result from the splitting process to be used as kindling.   The next thing which I do to produce more small tinder is to go through all my split pieces of wood and pull off any attached fragments of wood/bark until you have a good solid fist full of small tinder.

What’s needed to start the fire? To assemble, the only things you will need in addition to the firewood are some scrap papers/an old newspaper and some type of lighter.

How to build the perfect fire. The following are the steps I suggest taking to build a strong fire perfect for grilling:

  • I use the tapered log cabin style, starting with two of the biggest, similar sized splits which I lay parallel to each other, spaced a little less than their length apart.
  • Next, stack two or three logs, alternating perpendicular layers of two parallel, similar sized splits, reducing the spacing between each consecutive layer to taper the log cabin inward on itself.  This will allow the fire to fall on itself when the wood starts to disintegrate from burning and create a denser coal base.
  • You want to have this base be less than half the height of the interior grill space in order to properly control the intensity of the fire.
  • Now fill the empty interior of your “log cabin” with a layer of loosely crumpled paper, and top the paper with your reserved small tinder.
  • Top the log cabin with one or two large pieces of firewood, which will create larger, longer burning coals and will fall in on the fire directly in the center.
  • If your log cabin is full but still has a good air flow through it, all that is left to do is light it.
  • Wait for the initial fire to die down a bit then re-stoke with some more flavorful smoking woods and be sure to give those a few minutes to fully catch fire

Note: My apologies for the background noise from the hood fans and lack of good lighting.  We’ll improve for the next episode 🙂

Now all you have to do is track down the appropriate hotspot for the food you would like to grill, and voila you are cooking like the Gauchos do on a flavorful wood fired grill!  Enjoy!

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Tips on Choosing the Proper Grill

We tend to use the word “grill” loosely and I think most people consider a grill to be either your typical gas or charcoal grill.  However, there are many different types of grills and it is important to know the benefits and weaknesses of each type so that you can choose the appropriate grill.  Therefore I thought I’d put together a short list of different types of grills along with a basic description of each.

The thing to know when I mention grills is that I consider the defining factor to be a metal or hardened surface to which heat can be applied and a charred cooked surface of food can be obtained, based on heated surface to food contact.

So what separates this from other cooking surfaces and/or devices such as a frying pan on a stove? The main difference, in my opinion, is the fact that the juices and liquids that seep out during cooking are not collected.  They have a place to run of too (i.e. a sloped surface for drainage, or  most classically open or raised grates for the fluids to fall through, so they will not contact the food while cooking)  therfore creating a more dry cooking, which enables the classic grill charring, and marking.

1. Gas grill – The most common type since the gas grill is everybody’s typical affordable backyard BBQ.  Gas grill offer easy temperature control and the next to no imparted flavor from the fuel source.  Gas grills are among the simplest, easy to control, type of grill to use.  These types of grills are good for many uses, based on the simplicity of temperature control – they can slow cook, can cook at a very high temp to produce a seared charred outside and a very rare inside and are the best type of grill for black and blue steaks.  Weaknesses include a non-sustainable fuel source, danger of working with contained gas, and no discernible flavor added from the gas heat.

2. Charcoal grill – The old school classic grill where charred wood or compressed carbon coals are lit and allowed to smolder (which they do for a long time) and then can be cooked over.  Temperature control is more based on the experience level of the person grilling than a simple valve control knob.  Charcoal does have a distinct flavor, which many favor for grilled foods.   All around the simplest grill to maintain, however the coals can take a long time to get to the correct temperature and temperature changes when and if needed are hard to produce.

3. Wood-fired grill – Very similar to a charcoal grill before the coals are charred and my preferred grill (obviously).  A wood-fired grill is not the easiest to use for similar reasons to the charcoal grill: no temperature control knob and the best results come from experienced grillers who can control hotspots.   Temperature can be augmented faster than charcoal as seasoned hardwoods burn slightly faster.   Excellent flavor can come from using aromatic hardwoods, which produce a subtle smoke as they burn which impregnates the food.  Simple to maintain, basic grills, but they involve more work with the griller and the burning wood as the fire tends to behave like a living organism and needs to be constantly adjusted to maintain steady temperatures.  The wood-fired grill is the one you are most likely to burn yourself with when using.

4. Flat top grill aka: griddle, flat top, or cheese steak grill – A flat gas or electric heated metal surface which is slightly sloped to allow for cooking juices to drain.  This is the “grill” found in most short order-type places, from eggs to pancakes to steak and cheese, burgers etc.,  Flat-top grills allow all of these different types of foods to cook cleanly and efficiently.  In many applications this is ideal but will never achieve any type of added flavor from smoke or the type of char that can be created from open grate type grills where food is in direct contact with the heat element.  You don’t want to cook a dry-aged T-bone on this one but try cooking pancakes or eggs on your outdoor BBQ.

5. Salamander type grill – This is where the heat source comes from above the grill/broiler.  A salamander-type grill consists of grooved metal surface which rests under direct exposure to gas flames. Classically, the metal surface can be pulled out to allow easy assess to food and then pushed back to allow food access to heat.  Salamanders are commonly found in restaurants where the metal cook surface heats from the flames above thus creating the charred grill marks indirectly while the food cooks from above down as well.   These types of grills are fast and efficient with no smoke flavor though and not commonly available to home grillers.  One large advantage of a salamander is that you can broil as well, getting a nice char.  One example of using a salamander would be the Gruyere topping on French onion soup takes about 30 seconds in a hot salamander, but try doing that in your backyard BBQ and you will have a melted mess.

6. Stove top griddle plates – This is the grill for those who don’t have a yard.  It is similar to the flat top grill, but typically has raised grooves that mimic grill grates which allow fluids to run out and away from food.  It is often a piece of cast iron that goes on the stove top and than electric or gas heat is applied.  Temperature control is possible, but slow to achieve and adjust.  I find that with these once you have found out that it is too hot for the food you are cooking it’s almost too late to fix the problem.  Stove top griddle plates can be very smokey which is problematic for in-home grillers.  But if this is your only option then it will create grill marks and char though you may have to finish foods in a heated oven to achieve desired cooked temperature.

7. Panini press/ George Foreman-type grill/ Electric grill – This is basically two grooved grill top type surfaces that are heated electrically, one on top of the other in which food can be sandwiched inside to allow cooking from above and below simultaneously.  These types of grills are very fast efficient cookers but has a habit of overcooking meats.  They aren’t really a professional grill with which you can achieve a lot of food temperature control but they make good, clean, easy to use, safe, brainless late night grills for hot dogs, hamburgers, and grilled cheese.  Just don’t try to get to fancy with them.  Note: Panini in itself is a delicious artform for which these types of grills/presses are the best tool but for the purposes of this conversation are not mentioned.

8. Smoker/ Barbeque – The smoker, like the panini, is kind of its own thing.  Food is placed on a grill surface but is cooked very slowly with aromatic smoke as to produce extremely tender, falling-off-the-bone type foods.  Any smoker or BBQ pit master will tell you that that this is another cooking method than grilling. As I would never want to offend a pit master, I will not classify this cooking technique as grilling.

9. Gold/ Platnium grill – This is something that for some strange reason I want very much, even though it seems uncomfortable and overly expensive. 🙂

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