Welcome to EatWisconsin, the blog formerly known as Undelicious. This blog will focus on the food, the people, the history, and restaurants in the State of Wisconsin. Though we will focus primarily on the State of Wisconsin, there will be occasional forays into other Cities.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Undelicious Grilling Tips

This is the time of year where every publication from Gourmet to Hustler publishes a grilling issue and every newspaper publishes the same grilling tips year after year aimed at the people who only cook burgers, brats, and dogs on the grill. In order to provide you, the proud and few Undelicious readers with the skills for a lifetime of grilling, here is my list of tips:

1. Under no circumstances should you ever use a spatula or other instrument to press down on a hamburger patty to release the juices in a half-assed attempt at lowering your fat intake. If you want a low fat burger, you can make some kick ass “burgers” with ground turkey and some decent spices. If you want a burger, eat a burger in all of its juicy glory. I cringe when I see self proclaimed weekend warrior grill masters doing this. If someone ever attempted this at my house, I would inform them for every second that they press down on a burger, I get to place their hand on the grate and press down for the same amount of time. Leave the burgers alone. The only time I feel it is appropriate to mess with them is if you use an instant read thermometer to check the internal temperature and after a few times you should be able to determine doneness by touch. Use the damn spatula for flipping and slapping your buddies and/or spouse or significant other on the ass when they least expect it.

2. For goodness sake, please season that meat or veggie. I have seen so many people just lay a burger or a chicken breast on the grill unseasoned. Sure you can add salt and pepper later, but the taste won't be the same. If you are grilling an un-marinated chicken breast and don't plan on slathering it with some kind of sauce at the end of grilling, use some kind of spice mixture. McCormick's makes a Montreal Chicken seasoning which adds a great deal of flavor to bland boring chicken breasts. Cajun rubs and Italian spice blends can also add a lot of flavor. Have fun with chicken breasts. They are inexpensive and are like a bland canvas waiting for you to paint them with flavor. No matter what kind of herbs, rubs, or spices you add, I guarantee it will be 100 times better than a plain breast. Penzey’s spices has a huge array of spices, herbs, and blends from curries to Cajun. I seriously must have over 100 different canisters of their stuff in my pantry and almost every one would be great on chicken.

3. Know when to apply sauces or glazes and marinades. Marinades are always done before hand. I recommend that you make your own because those store bought marinades are often filled with corn syrup and sugar. While the marinade may have decent flavor, chances are it will burn on your grill because of all that sugar. You probably have all of the ingredients for a great marinade in your cupboard or fridge. Things like soy sauce, orange juice, balsamic, sherry, rice wine, and red/white wine vinegars, garlic, lemons, limes, cilantro, ginger, bourbon, and beer make excellent marinades.

For a great quick marinade mix up some soy sauce,5 spice powder, rice wine vinegar(or white wine vinegar), grated or powdered ginger, crushed garlic, lime juice, and cilantro and marinade salmon tuna, scallops, or chicken (fish, shrimp and scallops should only be marinated for about a half hour, chicken can marinade overnight). Don’t fret if you don’t have all of the items, play around with what you do have. Add some honey, crushed red pepper or shallots. Do make sure you taste your marinade before you add the protein. If it seems to salty, add sugar or honey, too sweet add some salt or something with acidity like lime juice or vinegar. After marinating grill the protein and if you really want to get fancy, reserve some marinade before you add the meat and reduce it so it coats the back of a spoon. Then add the sauce to the protein when plating or baste it at the end of grilling for a nice glaze. Sprinkle with finely chopped chives and cilantro and serve with a good basmati or jasmine rice and some sautéed bok choy or some grilled vegetables.

4. Seafood and grilling are an excellent combination. Many people are afraid to cook seafood in any manner and even more are afraid to attempt to grill it. Seafood can get pretty expensive and the thought of burning it on the grill scares many people off. If you do things correctly grilled seafood is about as good as it gets. There is nothing better than a great grilled salmon filet or an ahi tuna steak served rare and topped with sauce or homemade salsa. I love grilling salmon, placing it atop some homemade guacamole or just chopped avocado and black beans (seasoned with cumin, salt, pepper, and cilantro), then creating a salsa/sauce out of grilled leeks & tomatoes mixed with lime juice, cilantro, salt and cumin. Another easy recipe is to take inexpensive farm raised catfish filets, season with salt, pepper, and Cajun spice and grill, top with a homemade corn salsa. Scallops and shrimp are also excellent on the grill. Try starting with the inexpensive fish such as cod, haddock, catfish, or whitefish and work your way up to things like salmon, scallops and tuna.

5. Most cookbooks lie. Never under any circumstances trust a “doneness chart” provided with your thermometer or in 99 percent of home cookbooks. Also, do not count on grilling times provided in all cookbooks. Every single grill is different and every piece of food is different. The only way to determine doneness is by sight, by touch (which requires some practice) or by temperature. If you use the FDA recommended temperatures you will ultimately end up with overcooked food. This is one of the reasons so many home cooks get frustrated when cooking. These charts do not count for the residual heat that continues to cook meat for anywhere from 5-15 minutes after you have removed it from the oven. The FDA says a steak is medium rare when at 145 degrees. Well if you yank it off the grill when it hits that temperature, it could add as many as 5-10 degrees and your steak is now into medium range. I always pull my steaks off the grill around 130-133 degrees (depending on thickness), set them on a plate, top with a small pat of butter, and cover with tin foil. Wait 5 minutes (use this time to set up your plates, add starch and veggies and get another beverage). When the 5 minutes is up, place the steak on the plate, pour some of the juice and butter mixture from the steak plate on top of the meat and enjoy one of the best tasting steaks you have ever cooked for yourself. Even worse than trusting most temperature charts is basing your grilling on set times. A recipe may say cook for 5 to 7 minutes on one side, flip, cook additional 5 minutes. What if it is windy? What if your grill isn’t as powerful as others? What about the thickness of the meat? Have you brined your pork, chicken, or turkey? All of these factors will have an impact on cooking times but most cookbooks don’t account for them. Trust your eyes, touch, and instant read thermometer.

Here is what I would recommend for temperatures (I believe I learned this from Cooks Illustrated) Meat (veal, lamb, beef): Rare-125, Med.Rare-130, Medium- 140, Burnt and inedible-155-160.
Pork: Medium-145 (always pull tenderloin or pork loin at this temp) or 160 for well done. Pork shoulder is a different story, which I will cover in a different post.
Chicken: 160-165
Fish: Until it is just about ready to flake (if you wait until it flakes the residual heat may overcook it). Ahi Tuna is best served rare and almost still cold in the middle.

6. There is no such thing as grilling season. Many people put the grill away sometime in September or early October and bring it out Memorial Day weekend. With the proliferation of gas grills, there is no reason to not grill out 12 months a year. I honestly cannot think of a two-week period that went by where I didn’t grill at least something, even in the dead of winter. I simply move my grill closer to the house, shovel a path, and I am set to grill year round.

7. Don't limit your dinner to the grill. Many people figure if they are grilling, there is no need to use other cooking methods for their dinner preparation. Don’t be afraid to turn on your stove or grill side burner to cook up some rice, couscous, or to create a sauce for your grilled veggies or protein. Often times I will make up vinaigrette or sauce in the food processor and simply drizzle it over the food when plating. Mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli or beans, or roasted cauliflower also make great side dishes for grilled food.

8. Try to determine cooking times for each item (proitein veggie, starch) and put them on the grill in the correct order. Many home cooks throw everything on at the same time and what they end up with is overcooked proteins and undercooked veggies or undercooked protein and burnt veggies. Determine what will take the longest (usually proteins or potatoes) and start that first, add the other items at the correct times to ensure that everything is done at once. If you are resting your meat (and you should be) you have a few extra minutes to finish cooking your veggies if your timing was off.

9. Quit being such a chickenshit, get adventurous. Wow, you grilled up another killer platter of brats and burgers. A trained chimp could do that if given the chance. A good rule of thumb is that if it tastes good sautéed or roasted, chances are it tastes better grilled. I cook on the grill about 50 percent of the time in the winter and about 75 percent of the time in the warmer months. Pork tenderloins, oysters, roasts, fish, vegetables, polenta, fruit, burgers, turkey, duck, you name it and someone somewhere has grilled it. Many people fear making Duck a la Orange in the oven because it is a very involved process. Steven Raichlen, author of several excellent grilling books has a grilled version that will amaze you with its simplicity and incredible taste. It involves a great basting sauce and shoving a can of orange soda up the duck’s ass…er…I mean cavity.

10. Always have backup propane or charcoal. Nothing sucks more then returning to the grill only to discover the flame has extinguished or the coals are down to ashes and realizing that you have no more charcoal or propane. I always have a full LP tank on standby and as soon as one is empty, it gets exchanged the next day. It will save you the hassle and embarrassment of having to finish your food in the oven, on the stove or even worse, the microwave.


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