So you have a new grill and/or have mastered the basics of grilling and want to take your skills to the next level. What’s the next step beyond the basic burger and hot dog routine?
Why not try smoking ... or grilling larger pieces of meat?
I’ve talked to two gentlemen whom I consider to be experts on the grill: barbecue pit master Mark Busbee, of Smokin’ Coles sauce and Buzz’s Butt Dust rub; and Jeff Bannister, founding member of Bovinova, a whole-animal barbecue event in Simpsonville. Here are some of their tips and suggestions, mixed in with some research that I’ve done...
“Peace, love and BBQ,” Mark Busbee
The art of grilling takes time to master, but it can be done with some basic tools.
Here are the basic tools you’ll need to start:• Double-wide spatula, measuring about 6-x-6 inches will help flip larger pieces of meat and whole fish and chicken.
• Tongs, 16-inches long, to move meat around on the grill. Never use a fork. Piercing the skin means you’re losing precious moisture, a big no-no.
• A sharp knife
• Fireproof, long-cuff mitt (um, duh)
• Meat thermometer. Pros like the ThermoWorks Thermapen or a remote infrared model that you can hold over the meat without poking it. Bonus on an infrared is that it can also check the temp of a fryer from inches away.
• Heavy-duty aluminum foil. Best. investment. ever. (1) Use foil to make a smoke basket for gas or electric grills. Just double over about 18-inch of foil, place wood chips in the center and fold to seal. Poke some small holes in the top of the packet and place it near the flame on the gas/electric grill. You get the smoke without clogging up the burners. (2) Use a piece of foil to create a resting area on the grill or to protect the exposed ends of wooden or bamboo skewers. (3) Place a single layer on the grate to hold a whole fish. (4) Wad up in a ball as a scrubber to clean gunk off the grate.
“Baking is science. Grilling is love,” Jeff Bannister• Gas or electric grills are great for the set-the-temperature-set-the-timer-and-go smoker set.
• Charcoal grills are a great excuse for friends to hang out because charcoal and wood burn differently every single time and therefore need more attention (this is why you need a good thermometer). Create hot, medium and cool zones on the grill by stacking the burning charcoal high on one side of the grill then placing the grill grate on top. The end without charcoal is a resting area for meat and can be used to pull meat away from flame-ups.
Smokin’ coals• Soak wood chips for about an hour before use.
• Wood chips can be placed directly on top of burning charcoal. Use a smoke basket (or foil packet) for gas or electric grills.
• It helps to know what flavor and aroma will be produced by different wood smokes:
Apple = mild and sweet = pork and poultry (although it will discolor chicken skin)
Cherry = mild and sweet = a popular choice for pork
Citrus and fruit (lemon, orange, peach, pear, plum) = moderate smoke, light flavor
Grape vines = tart flavor = steak or lamb or sparingly with poultry
Hickory = strong woody tone = beef or lamb, large pieces of pork
Maple = sweet like fruit wood = pork, poultry
Oak = strong woody note = beef, lamb
Pecan = subtle version of hickory = beef and pork
Old whiskey barrel wood = imparts its own flavor, depending on what kind of whiskey was fermenting
“Respect the meat,” Jeff Bannister
In the end, you want the flavor of the meat to be the star. That’s the whole point of grilling or smoking. Usually salt, ground pepper and smoke is all you need.• Don’t over-marinate. Acids and vinegars in marinades will over time break down the proteins in meat, making it tough.
• Brining a chicken helps to ensure a juicier, tastier grilled bird. Brine (1/2 cup kosher salt + 1 gallon water + 2/3 cup light brown sugar) a whole chicken, covered, in the refrigerator overnight.
• Make sure the exterior of the meat going on the grill is dry. You want to get a good sear on the meat to seal in the juices. Pat off any extra brine or seasoning before you place a piece of meat on the grill. Sear one side, flip and sear second side, move to indirect heat (lower flame) for smoking.
“Don’t be afraid.”
The next step from burgers and hot dogs can be small:• Chicken quarters (dark meat is more forgiving) or wings
• Smoke some cheese (like fontina or cheddar). Cube the cheese and place in a container and use your favorite wood smoke, 20 minutes over indirect heat at a temperature between 50-60 degrees. Let the cheese mellow a day (or two) before eating it.
• Skewer some shrimp or smoke some shellfish (mussels or clams)
Or take a bigger step:• Prime rib
• Whole leg of lamb or goat
• Whole duck
• Suckling pig (see this link for recipe: http://ruhlman.com/2011/08/how-to-roast-a-suckling-pig/;order suckling pigs and/or whole hogs from Caw Caw Creek, Pee Dee Ranch and Old Timey Meat Market; allow at least a week for processing).
Taking the temperature