America's true national pastime isn't baseball — it's barbecuing. If you don't believe me, just look at the stats. According to a survey by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, over 60 million U.S. citizens will fire up their BBQ grills this past Fourth of July weekend. By comparison, the National Sporting Goods Association estimates that only 11.9 people, most of them youths, play baseball every year.
As a Texan born and bred, I've been barbecuing since I was knee high to a bag of briquettes. I've learned from some of the leading artists. And I've seen otherwise accomplished cooks make a charcoal charred mess. In hopes that you can relax and enjoy a premium cigar with a sense of satisfaction at the end of your grilling day or night, I've compiled these simple tips for cooking the best BBQ.
START CLEAN TO AVOID A STICKY FINISH
Before you get to the meat of the matter, take proper care of your grill so that your grill can take proper care of your Q. If your grill's been used before, heat up the slats, rub them with a wire brush, and wash them in dish soap to remove any residue. And then, even if your grill is brand new, prime the slats by spraying both sides with vegetable oil. Along with making the next clean up easier, the vegetable oil will prevent whatever you cook from sticking.
FIRE UP YOUR GRILL LIKE AN EGYPTIAN
Gas powered grills merely require a turn of the dial, but if you're a charcoal griller, avoid the pre-soaks: they're easy to light but the chemical taste can be nasty. It's best to stack unsoaked charcoals in the cylindrical steel “chimneys” available at most hardware stores; they can be lit with a wad of newspaper. Otherwise, stack the charcoals in an Egyptian-style pyramid, squirt on charcoal lighter fluid, allow at least 45 minutes for them to heat to a grayish red glow, and then spread them evenly across the pit.
CHOOSING & PREPPING MATTERS MOST
Steaks: America's favorite meat is all about the cut. The better the cut, the better the taste. But how do you define better? I prefer sirloin strips, which are usually affordable and have just enough fat to make my lips smack. Others prefer lean, tender, pricier filet mignon. Whatever your preferred cuts, take them out of the refrigerator 20 minutes before you grill so they'll cook evenly. Salt, pepper, and season at least 15 minutes prior to grilling so they get the full effect.
Chicken and Ribs: The best recipes I've found call for rubbing a whole chicken on the outside and inside the previously cleared cavity with garlic granules, sprinkling on a salad dressing of your choice, and then letting it sit in the refrigerator overnight to soak up the seasoning. You can also prepare all manner of marinades for subsequent basting. As for ribs, a two hour long marinade in red wine, vinegar, olive oil, and Worcestershire sauce is a tasty trick.
Fish & Vegetables: Only three words matter here: fresh, fresh, fresh. Don't let fish or vegetables sit overnight. You can marinade to your taste buds delight, but simplicity is Godliness: a little lemon, oil, garlic, salt, and pepper is all you need.
GRILLING TIMES & TECHNIQUES
This isn't rocket science, gentlemen: it's mostly common sense. Let type of meat, thickness, and lightness of touch be your guides. You don't have to keep slicing off chunks to know when to quit cooking, a few quick pokes will do: the softer the rarer, the stiffer the more well done.
ALWAYS REMEMBER TO GIVE IT A REST
This advice applies mainly to steaks but also to you. Let your red meats rest for at least five minutes after you take them off the grill; this allows the juices to flow and deliver the best flavor. It also allows time for you to pause and reflect on the type of cigar you want to smoke to finish off the perfect meal.