Get Out And Grill!
There’s something comforting about hauling a pot of braised meat out of the oven after it’s taken a six hour nap, only to reveal a treasure trove of fall-apart-tender meat. There’s something satisfying about stuffing a chicken with lemon and herbs, rubbing it down with salt and pepper, and roasting it to a perfectly golden hue that’s almost too pristine to eat. And there’s something divine about composing a lasagna that is really more of a work of art than a mere casserole dish layered with noodles, sauce and shredded cheese. The aromas that fill the kitchen seep into every crevice of the house, making for a perfect Netflix-binge kind of night...when it’s winter.
But in the summer? When the days are long and the air is warm? When the desire to be outside eclipses the need to do almost anything else?
There is something so completely LIBERATING about firing up the grill and cooking over an open flame, surrounded by an easy breeze, while totally removed from the constraints of the kitchen. With a cold beer in your left hand and a pair of tongs in your right, cooking al fresco feels a little gritty, a hair risky, and overall just kind of salt of the earth.
Starting the grill for the first time this season is like a throwing a homecoming after returning from a long, cold journey north: it feels like letting out a great big sigh of relief.
But if you, like many others, are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of grilling, that journey north might feel more like an endless endeavor — one from which you’ll never return.
But fear not, intrepid explorers! Our friends Wesley Adams and Patrick Davidson, co-owners of Bare Bones Butcher, are experts when it comes to the grill. These two have given us a few tips that they say will make a grill-meister out of anyone. With Memorial Day in the rear view and the entire expanse of summer spread out across the horizon, there’s no better time than the present to get out and grill!
1. Ditch the gas grill.
Sure, gas grills may seem a lot more user-friendly to novice grillers — they do operate almost exactly the same as your gas stovetop, after all — but the Bare Bones butchers don’t think they’re all that. Why? Well, first of all, the flavor. Or...lack thereof. “Gas doesn’t impart much flavor” says Patrick, “but charcoal gives off a nice woodsy, smokey, slightly bitter flavor.” What’s more, charcoal grills offer higher heat impact and greater control capabilities. “I like charcoal grills because you can manipulate the intensity of the heat and create kind of a gradient of heat intensity” added Wesley. “I like to pile the charcoal up on one side of the grill and leave the other side empty. That way it’s super hot on one side, moderate in the middle, and way less hot on the other side. That gives me more options for heat control.”
Patrick and Wesley both like the classic Weber Kettle charcoal grill.
2. Always use lump charcoal - forget briquettes.
We’ve already covered our preference of charcoal grills to the gas variety, but wielding a charcoal grill won’t alone do the job justice: quality charcoal makes a big difference as far as heat and flavor are concerned. Wes insists upon using natural lump charcoal as opposed to charcoal briquettes, which are made with unpronounceable additives and questionable chemicals. Now, briquettes do boast more even-keel and longer-lasting heat, but lump charcoal has the ability to get hotter overall, which means a better sear for whatever you’ve got cookin’. Plus, who wants to ingest unnecessary chemicals? Not us.
Wesley often uses Royal Oaks Hardwood Lump Charcoal, available at Home Depot, but says that any natural lump charcoal will do the trick.
3. Turn the meat around.
Mama may have told you to quit fussin’ with it when you were a kid, but the butchers are here to tell you that you can fuss all you dadgum please. Although there are certain schools of thought that will advise flipping or maneuvering a steak as little as possible, Wesley doesn’t always agree. “There have been studies that have proven that flipping something multiple times actually creates sort of a rotisserie effect which allows it to cook evenly on all sides.” What’s more, some instances call for indirect heat at first, followed by high heat -- or visa versa. “Sausages move all over,” says Wesley. “You start them on indirect heat until they’re fairly firm and starting to sort of sizzle from the inside. Then, you throw them on the high heat side to get a little char on the outside.“ All that to say, there’s no right or wrong answer to the debate of flippin’ so just listen to your instincts.
4. Gather the tools: a charcoal chimney, a set of tongs, and a good meat thermometer.
In order to be confident on the grill, you’ve gotta set yourself up for success. A charcoal chimney makes starting the grill a snap and only costs about $10. A good pair of long-handled tongs will allow you to comfortably maneuver your dinner without burning the hairs off your knuckles. And a thermometer will come in handy dandy to make sure your grilled chicken has reached 165° F and is actually ready to be devoured.
Patrick likes these Lavatools PT12 Digital Read Instant Thermometers for use both at home and at Bare Bones Butcher.
5. Practice, practice, practice!
Even if you’re not 100% confident in your grilling abilities, the only way you’ll get better is to practice. So if you’re scared to ruin a Bare Bones Butcher steak while you’re still finding your way, try grilling something with a little less monetary impact. Save the ribeye for later and give sausage a try instead (refer to tip #3). Slice a peach in half and grill it cut-side down over indirect heat, then top it with a scoop of vanilla and a sprinkle of mint. Or throw some carrots over the heat until they actually turn black, then chop ‘em up and make them into a salad. There’s really no limits to what you can do, try or explore while getting comfortable with the grill. Give something a try and who knows, maybe you’ll end up impressing yourself!