Warmer temps and sunny weather can mean a variety of things to people. For some, it’s the start of baseball season. For others it means that its time to get the lawn back in shape after a long winter of avoiding yard work. But for many of us, the start of Spring means one important thing… IT’S GRILLING SEASON!
I am no stranger to slapping on a pair of white sneakers with a pair of khaki cargo shorts and my finest vintage t-shirt to stand at the grill like some sort of God of the backyard barbecue, but over recent years, I have made a concerted effort to significantly up my grill game. Whether you want to make your cookout the highlight of your friends’ summers or you’re just looking to cut down on the amount of leftovers, here are my 5 simple tweaks for taking your backyard barbecue to the next level, with many thanks to Traeger Grills for their partnership.
Highway to the Temperature Zone
I was one of those dads that felt like a grill had one temperature, high. I cranked my grill up, got it as hot as I could and then went to work. This often resulted in one of two outcomes. I either wound up with dried out boot leather or food with a beautifully seared outside that I then had to make the walk of shame back to the grill to ensure I didn’t send anyone home with food poisoning. It doesn’t matter whether you use charcoal or you’re from the Hank Hill school of grilling and utilize propane, getting the most out of your grill is about temperature control. The best think you can do is create different zones within your grill to ensure you’re cooking at the ideal temperature for each piece that you’re cooking. Utilize cooler zones for cooking and hotter zones for searing. This allows you to use both direct and indirect heat to ensure each item on your grill is cooked to perfection. I can’t stress this enough, get yourself a digital meat thermometer. This takes a ton of guesswork out of the cooking process and removes the temptation to cut into a piece of meat to verify it’s cooked through while it’s still on the grill.
Give it a Rest
One of the biggest mistake backyard grillers make is not letting their food rest after it comes off the heat. This is quite possibly the most important step. Allowing meat to rest after cooking gives it a chance to reabsorb its natural juices. When you cook a steak, for example, the direct heat causes the liquid on the surface of the meat to be forced toward the center, allowing it to oversaturate. When you slice into that steak before letting it rest, that liquid does not get a chance to redistribute and ends up on your plate instead of in each delicious bite. Resting after cooking isn’t the only time to exercise patience. Taking the time to let your meat get closer to room temperature before putting it on the heat can result in more even cooking. More even cooking means a juicier, more delicious piece of meat. Take this extra time to prep the grill and, of course, be sure to practice common sense food safety when working with raw ingredients.
Cliches exist for a reason, and good things come to those who wait.
K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simply Seasoned)
There are many different marinades, premade spice combinations and sauces out there to tempt us as we walk through the grocery store gathering supplies for the perfect outdoor dining experience. The best meals that I’ve grilled up have been very simply seasoned. When you season a piece of meat (or vegetables) you’re looking to accentuate the natural flavor, not warp to warp it into
something unrecognizable. I will take a thick perfectly cooked steak properly seasoned with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper over “Uncle Billy’s Special Steak Seasoning” on the bottom shelf of the grocery store any day of the week. Marinades have their place, especially when working with tougher pieces of meat, but they can also be a crutch. Use these sparingly and always with purpose.
Separate your Kabobs
The Kabob is one of the most perfect backyard barbecue meals you can make. For starters they are easily customizable. You can place any sort of meat or vegetable combination on a skewer and get yourself a complete meal on a stick. It is one of the most visually appealing grilled items out there, generally a symphony of color, shape and textures, which makes what I’m about to
say seem like blasphemy. Separate your Kabobs. I know, right? But let’s think about it for a second. Vegetables and meat often cook at very different temps and times. By separating your kabobs by meat and vegetable, it will allow you to properly cook each item without drying out or burning the other items on the skewer. The vegetable kabobs will still give you that beautiful color on the plate but will taste so much better when the accompanying meat has been grilled to perfection.
Get the most out of your Grill
For most people, the grill has a single mission…meat. But your grill is capable of so much more.
The grill is the perfect place to experiment. Grilled vegetables are so much better than boiled, steamed or (shudders) microwaved. Try tossing some fresh tomatoes, peppers, and onions on the grill to charge before tossing them into food processor to make your own homemade salsa. Wrap your corn in some foil to cook before finishing it on the grill. If you think grilled veggies are good, you should try grilled fruit. Watermelon, peaches, and pineapple all work great for a grilled healthy desert. Cast Iron and the grill is a match made in heaven. It’s the perfect solution for grilling delicate foods like fish. How about a deep fish grilled pizza? Got a sweet tooth? How about gooey grilled chocolate brownies or a tart raspberry crisp? All these things are possible by bringing you cast iron skillet into the mix. What I’m saying here is experiment. Your grill is an extremely versatile cooking apparatus, take
advantage of it!