TV’s grilling expert offers barbecue techniques for how long to grill, how much to grill, and pretty much everything else you need to know for perfect meat this summer
By Steven Raichlen
Esquire Magazine, May 2014
1. Get the Grill Screaming Hot
For steaks, chops, and burgers, hold your hand three inches above the grill grate and start counting, “One Mississippi, two Mississippi, etc.” If “ouch” comes at two or three Mississippi, your grill is properly preheated.
2. …and Squeaky Clean
Always clean your grate immediately before and after cooking, using a long-handled stiff wire brush. In a pinch, you can scour the grate with a ball of crumpled aluminum foil held in tongs.
3. …and Well-Lubricated
Use a tightly folded paper towel dipped in vegetable oil or a chunk of bacon fat held at the end of your tongs to oil the grate before you put on the food. Or do as Israeli grill masters do: Impale half an onion on the end of a barbecue fork. Dip the onion in oil and rub it across the bars of the grate.
4. Edible Skewers
Skewer meat or seafood on sprigs of fresh rosemary (great for lamb), cinnamon sticks (great for pork and peaches), or lemongrass stalks (great for chicken, shrimp, and swordfish).
5. The Beer Bottle Basting Brush
Open a longneck bottle of beer, cover the mouth of the bottle with your thumb, then shake it. Gradually slide back your thumb and direct the resulting stream of beer on the meat.
6. The Four-Finger Thermometer
Form the “okay” sign, touching the tip of your thumb to the tip of your forefinger. The pad of flesh at the base of your thumb will feel soft and squishy — exactly the same way a rare steak feels when you poke the top with your forefinger. Now move the tip of your thumb to the tip of your middle finger: That’s medium-rare. Thumb to the tip of your ring finger: medium. Thumb to pinkie: well-done.
7. Cook on the Coals
Lay sweet potatoes, onions, and even corn in the husk directly on the embers. Roast, turning with tongs, until the skins are coal black. When you scrape off the burned skin, the vegetable inside will be supernaturally sweet and smoky.
8. The Indirect Method
Solves several potential problems: Large or tough foods have time to cook through without burning. Fatty foods don’t cause flare-ups. And because you measure the cooking time in hours, you don’t have to worry about split-second timing. To set up a charcoal grill for indirect grilling, light the coals (ideally, lump charcoal) in a chimney starter and dump or rake them into two mounds at opposing sides of the grill. Place an aluminum drip pan in the center. (The pan serves to catch the dripping fat, while obliging you to configure your fire the correct way for indirect grilling.) Next, place the food to be grilled in the center of the grill, away from coals, over the drip pan. Close the lid and adjust the vent holes (more air, hotter fire; less air, cooler fire) to obtain the desired temperature — usually moderate (300 to 350 degrees) for roasting whole poultry or pork shoulder. The ultimate meat for indirect grilling is that barbecue icon of the Carolinas: pork shoulder (sometimes called Boston butt). The relatively high heat (higher than the true low and slow barbecue of the American South) produces succulent meat with a crackling-crisp crust, while deftly eliminating the risk of flare-ups.