Summertime, and the grilling is easy. At least it will be if you take a few small steps to get ready and pick the right recipes!
Whether you're a backyard impresario with a complete outdoor kitchen or an occasional griller who cleans the spiders out of the Weber once a month, you'll want to get cooking now that summer's upon us.
If you're buying a new (or your first) grill, the first thing you'll need to decide is which kind, gas or charcoal. Gas has the advantage of being almost instantly ready to cook, however if you want to get any kind of smoke flavoring either from short-term or long-term cooking, you'll be by and large out of luck. One of the byproducts of natural gas burning is water vapor, which will inhibit the penetration of the smoke.
While charcoal takes longer to get ready, there's just no matching the flavor of meat cooked over briquets. For a really great cookout, especially for items that like a bit of searing like burgers and steaks, get some "natural chunk" charcoal, which burns hotter and lights faster. It will cost a bit more, but for certain uses, it's worth it.
Keep It Clean!
One of the best things about a grill is that it doesn't have to be as squeaky-clean as your indoor cooking tools. In fact, most hardcore grillers will tell you that a layer of smoke residue on the inside of the grill actually makes the food taste better. However, to avoid having your grill session end with a trip to the emergency room, there are some basic cleanliness and sanitation rules to keep in mind.
While your grill doesn't have to be shiny clean before use, you do need to make sure there are no pieces of your previous cooking session stuck to it. Prepare metal grills by heating them over the coals, then hitting them with a wire brush to get all the stickies off. Every couple of uses, go over the grill with a grill brick, an abrasive block that will give it a more thorough cleaning.
Food handling is where most outdoor cookers go awry, playing fast and loose with such potentially deadly issues as cross-contamination and temperature control.
How often have you carried your meat out to the grill and cooked it, only to put it back on the same tray or plate you used to carry it out? I remember my father would wave his meat tray over the coals, saying that the heat would kill off all the bacteria. The problem there was that if the tray had gotten hot enough, he wouldn't have been able to hold it.
I use two baking sheets, one nested inside the other. Take the meat off to the grill, and set the dirty tray aside.
Failure to wash meaty or chicken-covered hands is another great way to end your cookout with a trip the the hospital. Either wear nonporous gloves when handling your meat or wash them after touching any raw stuff.
Know Your Heat
While most grilled meats can take a good searing, especially if you like your beef rare or medium-rare, larger cuts require more careful cooking. If you're cooking a pork loin, large chicken breast or other large hunk of meat, you'll need to either lower the heat on your gas grill or use indirect heat on your charcoal rig.
Indirect heat, as the name would indicate, involves stacking your charcoal either on one side of the grill or on each end and cooking your food over the open space. It lets you slow the cooking process while still getting that great grilled flavor.
Watch The Sugar
If you're going to use barbecue sauce, especially a commercially prepared one, you'll want to keep that indirect heat method in mind. Commercial sauces are almost all loaded with sugar of some type, and sugar burns very readily over direct heat. It's quite possible to have a piece of meat that's done perfectly in the middle but looks like the briquets that cooked it on the outside.
Use your sauce late in the cooking process, when the food is almost done, and be sure to keep sauced meat away from flare-ups or high heat.
Choose Your Signature Piece
So now you're ready to go, but what should you cook?
Pork is one of the most popular grill candidates, and the recipe below will help pull off that most prized of cooking tricks: making your guests think you're a far more talented cook than you actually are.
Pork Chops With Bacon/Gouda Stuffing
4 pork chops, cut 1 ½ to 2 inches thick 6 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled 4 ounces smoked Gouda 2 cloves garlic, chopped 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley In each chop, use a sharp, thin-bladed knife to cut a pocket as deep as you can without piercing all the way through. If you use bone-in chops, this is easy, since the bone will stop the blade. If you use boneless chops, you'll have to be careful.
Mix the remaining ingredients together in a bowl, tossing thoroughly. Stuff each chop with the mixture and close the pocket with toothpicks. If you're feeling especially artful, sew up the pocket with butcher's twine.
Season the outside of the chops with your choice of spices. I like Penzey's Pork Chop Seasoning or Cowboy Trail Dust from TexMexToGo.com. The old standby of kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper works well, too.
Set up your grill for indirect cooking. If you use charcoal, push it to one side, leaving an area where the chops can cook without direct heat underneath. If you use gas, leave one set of burners off to achieve the same effect. Cook the chops, alternating between searing over direct heat and cooking indirectly, until done.
Let the chops sit for at least 15 minutes, lightly covered with foil, before slicing. And don't forget: What works for pork will quite often work for chicken, too. This stuffing is outstanding inside a boneless chicken breast.
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