Planning on firing up the trusty old grill this weekend? Find out whether you’re about to make a fool of yourself by committing one of these common no-nos.
1. Not knowing the difference between barbecuing and grilling
To many people, the terms “barbecuing” and “grilling” are interchangeable. To experienced outdoor cooks, however — particularly those in the southern states — the two terms could hardly be more different. Use them interchangeably and you’ll quickly out yourself as a novice.
To clear things up, to barbecue something is to cook it for a long time over very low heat. To grill something is to cook it quickly and over an open flame at a very high temperature. You barbecue ribs and brisket; you grill hot dogs and steaks.
Though most of the country will probably continue to call any event in which meat is cooked outdoors a barbecue, the correct term for a meal where only grilled meat is served is a “cookout.”
2. Not being patient enough
This mistake ties in directly with the point about barbecuing vs. grilling. Generally, there’s no need to cook your food in a hurry unless you’re working with a food that has to be cooked over high heat, like a steak. If you’re grilling ribs over a blazing hot fire, you’re doing it wrong. In most cases, cooking meat slowly over low heat will produce results that are juicier and more tender.
3. Too much seasoning
Let your beef breathe, bro! The appeal of barbecued and grilled meat is its natural flavor, not some $2 sauce you slathered all over it. When in doubt, rub only a small amount of salt and pepper on your meat before you start cooking it. You can always apply sauce after it’s on your plate.
4. Using a fork to flip
Forks make flipping meat easy, but they should never be used for this purpose. Think about it: when you puncture a piece of meat with a fork, you’re creating avenues for juices to run out. Instead, use tongs or a flipper — and seal all those delicious juices inside.
Purchase a meat thermometer — they’re only a few bucks — and use it religiously. Doing so will help you avoid under- or over-cooking your meat ever again. Consult this chart for the exact temperatures when the various cuts of meat leave the “danger zone” of food poisoning and become safe to eat.
6. Cooking cold food
Way too many cooks make the mistake of not planning ahead and slapping meat on the grill when it’s still cold from the fridge or — gasp! — frozen. Meat should be allowed to reach room temperature before it’s cooked, as this helps produce optimal flavor, texture and juiciness.
This doesn’t mean leaving meat on the counter overnight — unless you want to get food poisoning. And it definitely doesn’t mean warming meat up in the microwave before it hits the grill (never, ever, ever do this, as it will destroy the meat’s texture). Generally, taking raw meat out of the fridge about an hour before you start to cook is plenty of time for its temperature to normalize.
It should be noted that some experts dispute this whole idea, saying it’s okay to go fridge-to-flame and that potential food poisoning is something you should never mess with. Everyone agrees that it’s a horrible idea to cook frozen food, however.
7. Eating right away
No meat should ever go from grill to plate to mouth in mere moments. Not only could you burn your tongue, but you’re sacrificing a lot of flavor. Take meat off the grill and let it sit for ten minutes or so before you even think about cutting it or serving it. This allows the meat to “relax,” making it juicier and more tender when you finally do dig in.