The warm weather brings with it all the things we love about this season: Baseball, fresh air, and arguably one of our favorite things: cookouts! Carnivores, herbivores and omnivores alike can agree that a meal served fresh off the grill has a certain thrill.
Whether you prefer a classic BBQ grill with glowing charcoal embers or go for gas grilling, these basics will help you serve up some excellent eats.
Meat Preparation Methods
Brining – A salt soak that imparts moisture and flavor to meats that are otherwise less fatty like poultry, fish and pork. Brines may also be flavored with spices to enhance the flavor, but generally brine simply brings out the natural flavor of the poultry, pork or fish.
Marinating – Soaking in a liquid (not a brine) to add flavor to the meat. Marinades usually include some type of acid like a citrus juice or vinegar, because this helps tenderize the meat. Marinating is best for smaller cuts of meat, because the ingredients won’t permeate much beyond the surface of the meat. Steaks, chops and chicken breasts are all good choices for marinating, as well as shrimp, scallops and thicker seafood steaks. Marinating is also good for veggies like mushrooms, eggplant and squash. You can also do this with fruits you want to grill, though this is technically called macerating.
Rub – Seasoning the outside of the meat with dry spices to impart flavor and create a savory crust. Rubs also help “seal in” the natural juices of the meat. Rubs are ideal for ribs and other cuts of meat that cook slowly over low temperatures. Besides ribs, rubs are also great on roasts, briskets and pork butts. Most rubs are a mixture of dry seasonings, though you could add oil to the mix and make it a “wet” rub.
Brines are very simple to make. The basic recipe is 2.5 ounces of kosher salt to 1 quart of water. Add the salt to the water and stir.
To brine the meat, make sure you choose a drip-proof container large enough to hold the meat you are brining. And, most importantly remember that the container has to fit in the refrigerator. If you are brining something large like a whole chicken or turkey, use an insulated beverage cooler.
Make sure the meat is completely submerged in the brine. The general rule is that the meat should be submerged in the brine for approximately 45 minutes per pound.1 Important: Store the meat in the refrigerator when it is soaking in the brine. Grill as you normally would and enjoy!
Mix Up a Marinade
A marinade has two basic components – an acid (vinegar, white wine, citrus juice, pineapple juice, etc.) and a base (honey, yogurt, oil, etc.). Spices and seasonings are added for some extra zing, whether it’s hot or sweet or a combination of both. Marinades have the ability to impart strong flavors and the longer you marinate, the stronger the flavor. You should marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes and a maximum of overnight. Also, keep in mind that the acid in the marinade helps break down the protein in the meat, acting as a tenderizer. Marinate too long, and your meat becomes mush.2
Important: As with brining, you MUST store the marinating meat in the refrigerator, preferably in an airtight container. Also, if you plan to baste the meat with the marinade while grilling, it is recommended that you mix up a fresh batch of marinade. If you use the marinade the meat soaked in as a basting liquid, you could impart some nasty bacteria into your cookout.
Sizzle up Some Sweet and Savory Sides
Marinating is also a great way to add some extra zest to grilled vegetables and fruit. Eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, mushrooms and sweet peppers are all ideal for marinating and grilling. Stone fruits like peaches, nectarines and plums are perfectly suited for grilling and marinating (or macerating them).
Marinating is also a great way to add some extra zest to grilled vegetables and fruit.
Grilling fruits helps bring out the flavor by caramelizing the sugar naturally inherent in the fruit. Marinating fruits in an acid like balsamic vinegar gives them a sweet and savory taste.3 Macerating in an alcohol like rum, wine or tequila can bring a dramatic flare to the cookout (pun intended) as you have to be very careful when you place alcohol-soaked fruit onto a hot grill. The flames will create quite a show, so be careful. Also, for safety’s sake, don’t re-use the meat marinade for fruits or veggies. Mix up a fresh batch.
Savor the Flavor
Rubs are simple to make and require very little prep time. Season the meat with the rub about 15 to 20 minutes before grilling. Rubs usually include a dry mixture of salt and pepper and other dried herbs and seasonings. Professional BBQ pit masters recommend using granulated onion and/or garlic as opposed to the powdered form, citing that the coarse texture adds to its appeal. If you notice the rub isn’t sticking you can mix a bit of olive oil into the dry ingredients. Hint: wet rubs work well on veggies. You can also create a rub for grilled fruit using cinnamon, sugar and a dash of salt for a deliciously sweet crust.
Before you get out there and get grilling, we’d like to leave you with a few more helpful tips. If you are marinating veggies, let the marinade drip off before the veggies hit the grill. The oil in the marinade could cause flare up and scorch the tender vegetables. And, just like a premium steak, you don’t want to keep turning vegetables and fruit. Just turn them once, letting them achieve a good sear on each side. Lastly, if you’re cooking steak, don’t forget to let it rest before you cut into it, so the juices don’t run all over the plate. Slicing into the meat before it has a chance to rest is a sure way to get a less than optimally flavorful and juicy steak.