Ah, May. So glad you’re here. As anyone who knows me can attest, I can’t stand the change of seasons—to me, winter absolutely stinks. For the life of me, I can’t fi gure out why anybody likes the freezing cold, your car taking 15 minutes to warm up, scraping ice off your windshield, or having to bundle in Gore-Tex just to get your newspaper. The winter? Sorry, you can keep it.
I’m a Jersey Shore guy, so I’m always surrounded by water, boats, personal watercraft, the beach, the boardwalk, and all the sights and sounds that symbolize the summer. May is the month when all of that stuff starts to become noticed, and every year, I get all giddy inside. My backyard suddenly becomes an extra room, complete with radio (XM satellite, of course), comfy chairs, a table, fireplace, a giant cooler for adult beverages, an in-ground pool maintained at a refreshing 72 degrees, and my favorite centerpiece—my four grills. That’s right: four grills. I take my summer cooking seriously, and it takes the correct tools to cook the right types of food the way I want.
It’s not just “grilling” for me, and that seems to be a common misconception when we entertain. I like rubbing my meat, marinating my beef, and beer-canning my chicken before I even think of getting them on the fire. Depending on what I’m cooking, when I’m cooking, how many I’m cooking for, and whether I want to cook directly or indirectly, I have a nice selection of implements:
• Weber One-Touch Platinum 22.5” Kettle Grill. Cooking over a live fire has no substitute, and this beauty makes it simple to handle everything from thick steaks to tofu.
• Weber “Smokey Mountain” Smoker. When I need it done slow and low, my “bullet” provides the perfect blend of temperature, space, and ease of use.
• Char-Griller Smokin’ Pro BBQ Smoker. Another smoker, but in a more traditional horizontal barrel design. For lots of food, or big cuts of hog, this is the best.
• Ducane 32” Stainless Natural Gas Grill. 12,000 BTUs, five burners, side burner, infrared rotisserie, and 832” of cooking space... it’s the Cadillac of my backyard. Backed by these monsters, I do consider myself a grill jockey, but the term “grilling” is certainly a misnomer.
True grilling is defined by two words – high heat – and it’s simply the act of placing and cooking food directly and quickly over a heat source. Usually reserved for small, tender cuts of meat, it’s the method most of us are familiar with.
The other method of “grilling”—indirect—is used for larger, tougher, or fattier hunks of meat (chickens, turkeys, baby back ribs, etc) that would burn if left over a direct flame. Using moderate heat (300 degrees or so), the food is cooked slowly over time next to the fire, lid closed… in reality, it’s an outdoor oven with all the flavor of grilled food.
And then there’s smoking, which is true “barbecue.” Smoking is taking indirect cooking to a whole new level, lowering the heat even more (225 to 275 degrees), extending the cooking time, and introducing the unmistakable flavor of wood smoke to the food. Cooking ribs, brisket, pulled pork, and salmon in this manner is common, but let me tell you
that if you have never had a true smoked turkey, then you’ve never eaten turkey at all.
And then there is the debate between gas and charcoal. Gas is great—get natural hooked up if you can!—for quick cooks during the week or when you have a small gathering that is fi ne with burgers and dogs and some sweet grilled corn. If you really want to dazzle though, try using charcoal or natural hardwood. First off , there is something about playing with a live fire that excites all men, and when you can confidently dance the tango that is temperature control with a charcoal fire and deliver food that pleases the eye and the taste buds, you’ve truly become a pit master.Random Stuff You Should Know
• To get killer grill marks, place your steak on the lubricated HOT grill, directly over the fire; after 2-3 minutes, rotate the steak (with tongs, not a fork) a one-quarter turn. Repeat on the other side for perfect crosshatch marks.
• Don’t douse your food in sugary sauces while cooking over high heat; they will burn. Brush some on at the end of cooking to just give it a nice glaze.
• All food should “rest” after grilling. Let your meats sit for at least 3-5 minutes (tent in foil, if you like) before serving to let the juices flow back into the middle.
• Doneness test: poke the meat. Does it feel like your cheek? It’s rare. Chin? Medium rare. Tip of your nose? Well done (NOOOO!!!!).