Many people mistakenly refer to any type of cooking on their grill as “barbecuing,” but that’s not entirely correct. Let’s compare the outdoor cooking techniques needed for the recipes in this book.
Grilling involves quickly cooking individual portions of food at relatively high temperatures over a direct heat source. The first step in many grilling recipes is to sear the meat over high heat – between 350 F and 550 F. The higher heat browns the outside of smaller cuts of meat, sealing in juices that would be lost if the meat were cooked more slowly. My mother did this before placing a roast in the oven, and I do it every time I grill a steak. Cast-iron grates on a grill are also highly conductive, which significantly aids the searing process.
Once food is seared, you’ll often finish cooking over indirect heat on another part of the grill. The reason food can continue to cook this way is that there’s still plenty of heat generated by one or more of these sources: (1) convective heat from air heated by the fire; (2) conductive heat from the grill grates; and (3) radiant heat produced by either a charcoal or an infrared gas grill.
Barbecuing is a slower way of cooking large portions of meat or poultry using an indirect source of heat at a lower temperature (usually between 225 F and 350 F). It takes time, but your end result is tender and juicy.
Here’s the science behind barbecuing: When meat is placed away from the heat source, it cooks by “bathing” in the hot air – or convective heat – generated by the fire. Another way you might describe barbecuing is slow roasting at low temperatures. Cuts of meat that benefit from this type of cooking, such as pork shoulder and beef brisket, have a high ratio of collagen in the meat. (Translation: They’re tough.) Slow cooking with indirect heat works magic on these cuts, breaking down the dense collagen and adding tenderness and flavor.
Talk to any longtime outdoor cooking enthusiast, and sooner or later you’re going to hear the phrase “low and slow.” In fact, it’s pretty much the official motto of all barbecuing. “Low” refers to temperature – generally between 225 F and 350 F. “Slow” means the time it takes to cook the food. Simply stated, “Good eating comes to those who cook low and slow.”
Smoking is the process of cooking food on or near an open fire made from materials such as wood or charcoal. The fire releases particles of these materials into the smoker that impart a unique flavor to the meat. The more these materials smolder and generate smoke, the greater the number of particles to flavor the food. Cooking at temperatures between 140 F and 225 F is called hot smoking.
If the smoke passes through a cooling chamber and comes into contact with the food at a temperature of around 45 F, you are cold smoking the food. (Note: Cold-smoked food isn’t actually cooked; it’s being slow-cured and flavored.)
When moisture is added to the smoker to increase its humidity level, it’s called wet smoking. A simple pan of water is placed away from direct heat inside the grill or smoker. If desired, you can use fruit juice or wine instead of water, or add these liquids to the water for an additional flavor boost.
Rotisserie cooking involves skewering a large piece of meat or poultry on a rotating spit set over your grill’s heat source. The spit, usually driven by an electric or battery-powered motor, turns at a constant speed to allow for even cooking over the entire surface of the food. Rotisserie cooking is best for large roasts, whole poultry, and pork.
To check for doneness with rotisserie-grilled food, stop the rotisserie motor and insert an instant-read thermometer into the deepest part of the food. To avoid overcooking the food, check the temperature about 15 to 20 minutes before the final estimated cooking time. Always use heat-resistant gloves when removing the rotisserie spit rod from the grill, because it can get very hot.
The information (contributed by cookbook author, product spokesperson, TV chef, and radio host Barry “CB” Martin) and recipes in this article are reprinted with permission from Char-Broil Great Book of Grilling, published by Fox Chapel Publishing.
The book is available in bookstores nationwide, as well as online at www.Amazon.com.
It’s All About the Heat
The roots of modern grilling go back to prehistoric times, when our ancestors placed meat on a stick and held it in the fire. Judging by the number of people who love outdoor cooking today, there’s something in the way the intense heat crisps the meat’s surface that still appeals to our deeply rooted DNA.
While we’ve refined the caveman’s cooking tools and techniques a bit over the ensuing eons, there are certain things that haven’t changed. The most important of these is the management of heat. This is probably the most basic skill required of any good cook, whether they’re preparing a meal in the kitchen or the backyard. But because this book is about outdoor cooking, let’s start with some basic facts about the heat we use to grill, barbecue, and smoke food.
In outdoor cooking, the heat source we use most often is fire. Whether its source is the propane in a gas grill, the charcoal in a smoker, or the logs on a campfire, fire produces heat, and we can harness that heat to cook foods to our delight.
Fire requires three things to burn: combustible material, a supply of oxygen, and a source of ignition. There are many materials that can burn, yet only a few – such as wood, charcoal, and propane or natural gas – are suitable for cooking food.
Outdoor cooking enthusiasts often refer to heat as either direct or indirect. The most popular form of direct-heat cooking is grilling, which means cooking food directly over the heat source, usually at high temperatures. We typically grill steaks, chops, burgers, and fish. We can also use a grill’s indirect heat to cook food more slowly and at lower temperatures farther away from the heat source. Whole chickens, briskets, roasts, and other large cuts of meat are usually cooked by this method, which we generally call barbecuing.