Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Grilling, Above and Beyond the Call of Routine

As a rule, I only grill on weekends: at noon; burgers. Breaks in that schedule are generally gaps, when some family activity or other event intrudes on the routine.

Today was an exception. My wife called me to action around 4:30, with four steaks to grill for supper.

Grilling a steak calls for a different approach than what I use for burgers. Steaks are thicker, with less fat to contribute to the process: so I can't use the fast, hot 'burger' process.

Instead of three to five minutes a side, I gave the steaks about fifteen minutes each side on a medium-high heat, then set the less-done two on one side, and cranked the heat up to 'high' for them.

The results were pretty good: Next time, I'll give the process more time, and not scorch the outside of the steaks quite so much.

There's Intricate Grill Cuisine, and There's the Easy Griller Way

Now, some people don't think a steak is properly grilled unless there's a marinade, herbs, spices, and at least an hour's preparation involved before you step outside. My hat's off to those folks, but I'm the Easy Griller.

The steaks were prepared by taking them out of the freezer a few hours before supper, letting them get to around room temperature, removing the plastic wrappings, and carrying them out to the grill. I know: You're not supposed to do it that way. But we get our meat done all the way through, so it's quite safe.

It was a great afternoon, so I brought a book out with me, snagged a chair from a screen tent my wife set up in the back yard, and got some reading done. I don't suppose that's recommended practice - but I was within four feet of the grill, had a timer to check on, and could hear anything happening to the meat or the fire.

The steaks? Pretty good, if I do say so myself. And, a real treat.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Grilling: Starting Hot, Grilling Slow, and the Fork Test

"Fire up the grill"
Griller shares tasty tips
The Gothenberg Times (July 18, 2009)

"Patience is perhaps the best advice Gary Norseen gives to grillers wanting tasty meat.

" 'Most people get in a hurry,' said Norseen, a Dawson County deputy sheriff. 'It's all about low, slow cooking.'

"To get the grill ready, Norseen suggests turning the heat to high or about 400 degrees and then backing it down to between 275 to 325 degrees for most meats.

"What does he like best about grilling?

" 'Eating.'

"Norseen also likes the challenge, especially working with pork.

"One specialty he shared is buying a lean cut of pork loin and splitting it down the middle...."

Norseen has a lot more to say about what to do with the pork loin, and other matters of the grill. And, reveals that he uses something besides a thermometer to tell when a grill is ready. Like waiting "...until the coals have a red glow...." And "...A good rule of thumb in knowing if pork or chicken is done is to push a fork into the meat.

" 'If it's not done, the fork will bounce back,' Norseen said...."

It's not a particularly long article, but touches on what to do with pork, beef, and chicken.

Not that you'll necessarily want to follow his methods. For instance, he rubs "season salt" and pepper into his steaks: which I'd never do. And if you're, ah, enthusiastic about not eating meat with any appreciable fat content - this isn't the article to read. Norseen likes meat that tastes good.

Okay: I've got a bias.

Also, this article is emphatically not written for the vegetarian griller in mind. For everyone else, though, it's a pretty good read - and might help you get more out of your meat.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Big Green Egg, Eggheads: Japan's Kamado With a Western Touch

I learned about Big Green Eggs a few hours ago. I've been grilling for years, but somehow this western take on Japan's traditional kamado escaped me.

Digging around, I found these two YouTube videos: which give a pretty good look at the Big Green Egg products and how they're used.

"Big Green Egg Ribs"
GPMPoolandSpa, Youtube (April 25, 2009)
video, 9:59

"Big Green Egg - Grilling Demo Video"

bbqguys, Youtube (August 3, 2006)
video, 3:42

This video shows that the Big Green Egg has a temperature gauge: a feature that the more gadget-happy grillers should like. I know: the 'safety first' articles say that meat thermometers are somewhere between important and vital to safe food preparation.

I've seen a meat thermometer: and I think there's one in the kitchen. But I've never used one while grilling. I keep track of how the meat's coming by it's appearance, how it feels when I press it with the edge of the spatula, and a test cut.

Back to Big Green Eggs.

Big Green Eggs: Around for Decades, Now New and Improved

Reading what the manufacturer says, the Big Green Egg is the biggest thing since sliced bread. The Big Green Egg company website bills its product as "Big Green Egg, World's Best Smoker and Grill.
"Welcome to the Big Green Egg, the Original American Designed Ceramic Cooker. Derived from an ancient clay cooker called a 'kamado,' the modern Big Green Egg has undergone many improvements since it was introduced in 1974. Especially significant is replacement of the clay used in early models with durable space-age ceramics developed specifically for Big Green Egg to make the EGG® virtually indestructible under ordinary cooking conditions...."
A CNN article about Big Green Egg grills and "eggheads," as BGE fans are called, is what tipped me off to the existence of the Big Green Egg. The article featured Adam Frey, who lives down south (from my point of view), in Bloomington, Minnesota. I got the impression that the reporter was impressed that someone would grill when it's a few degrees above zero, Fahrenheit.

To clear up a possibly-ambiguous statement in the article, a Big Green Egg isn't necessary to enjoy grilling during a Minnesota winter. As Mr. Frey observed, "...'Extreme cold isn't an issue as long as you dress warm,' Frey said. 'I have and will continue to cook out every day if possible.'..."

That's about the way I approach grilling. A Big Green Egg isn't in my immediate future, though. I'll freely admit that what I've seen and read about them is impressive: But with price tags running up to $900, I'll stick with my Char-Broil® grill and its LP gas tank.

Here's part of that article, with a link to the rest -

"For Eggheads, grilling is a way of life"
CNN (July 9, 2009)

"The average temperature in Bloomington, Minnesota, in January was 6.4 degrees Fahrenheit. But that didn't stop Adam Frey from grilling outdoors and burning through 80 pounds of charcoal during the month.

"Frey received a Big Green Egg -- a ceramic cooker that serves as a smoker, grill and oven -- for Christmas last year. Since then, he has devotedly grilled six or seven days a week.

" 'Extreme cold isn't an issue as long as you dress warm,' Frey said. 'I have and will continue to cook out every day if possible.'

"The oval-shaped grill has amassed a cult-like following since it was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1974. Fans of the grill call themselves Eggheads...."


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Grilling on July Fourth: Burgers, Steaks, Church Bells, Birdsongs, and a Really Hot Handle

I got to grill twice today: burgers at noon and steak for supper. I got the steaks overly-done, even by my standards: I'll get back to that.

Both sessions were accompanied by birdsongs and church bells: Our Lady of the Angels church is two blocks north, on the other side of the street, so I heard the noon and five o'clock peals clearly.

Time passes, and with it comes change. For years, I'd hear a dog about a block away, east and a bit north, howl in response to the bells. He - or she - was quite musical, in a canine way. That doesn't happen now. I suppose the owner may have moved, or the dog is gone.

A mourning dove's call is one of the few birdsongs I recognize. There was one vocalizing when I was fixing the steaks.

Crunchy Steaks and Other Learning Experiences

I go through the same process each time the seasons change: as summer heat settles in, I re-learn how to use a grill that's already part-way to the heat needed to grill meat. And, in the process, come pretty close to reducing at least one meal to briquettes.

Today's supper was a case in point. The grill had been up to normal (for me) grilling temperature at noon, and had at most cooled down to the 79 degrees I was enjoying. After five minutes, I flipped the steaks - and found they were already black in a few places. I learned something else, too: I'm getting to that.

Long story cut short, my wife quite properly gave me part of the crunchiest steak of the lot. It was pretty good, actually: the burned-black meat was strictly on the surface, and they were done evenly all the way through. I'll remember to turn down the heat a bit more and earlier, next time.

This winter, I'll probably go through the same learning experience, in reverse.
Singed Hair and the Spatula as a Lid-Shutting Tool
The hair on my left forearm is growing back nicely, after a little incident recently involving the grill and tongues of flame. The lid of our current grill swings rather far back. When open, the distance between the front of the grill and the handle suggests to me that whoever designed the thing must have been closer to seven feet tall, than six.

That experience encouraged me to re-think my approach to opening and closing the grill. The happy thought struck me that, while I needed to reach around the grill to open the lid, I could use the spatula as an extension of my arm when reaching for the handle. Now, I often use the edge of the spatula that's closest to the handle to hook one of the supports for the lid's handle. That keeps my arm further from the fire: and a bit safer.
Oven Mitts aren't Just for Ovens
Today, I learned something else: the handle can get very hot, very fast, under the right conditions. Like grilling steaks for supper, after using the grill at noon.

When I lifted the lid - or, rather, started to lift it - to flip the steaks the first time, I got the lid about three inches up before my fingers lodged a formal complaint. That handle was hot!

#1 daughter was out with me, giving her rabbit, Giol, an outing, and went in for an oven mitt. That solved the hot handle issue quite neatly.

Tomorrow, I hope to do the same thing: grill, I mean, not zap the steaks and nearly burn my fingers.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Holiday Grilling: Independence Day, Canada Day, 14 Juillet, Grundlovsdag - - -

Grilling on Independence Day is a sort of American tradition: but this isn't the only country where people celebrate something special by setting meat over a fire until it's ready to eat.

While I was looking for something else, I ran into a PR Newswire article about grilling on holidays. Turns out, people like to grill on:
  • Canada Day
  • Australia Day14 Juillet
  • Grundlovsdag
  • Midsommarafton
  • Dia del Padre
  • Pfingsten
  • Summer Bank HolidayFerragosto
  • You get the idea
It may not be quite universal, but my guess is that people in many cultures like to get back to a very basic food preparation techniques: grilling. I find a lot of satisfaction in turning raw meat into something with a taste that you won't get in an oven - and the PR Newswire list suggests that quite a few other people do, too.

Meanwhile, in America, Good Advice and Fussy Cookery

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service has some good advice: and some that strikes me as verging on the fussy.

The USDA FSIS article is intended to keep people from making themselves sick. It boils down to 'keep your food clean, and heat it thoroughly.' All good advice.

As usual, in this sort of article, they say that it's important to use a meat thermometer. In the case of smoking meat, which the article discusses in some detail, that may be a good idea.

I don't use a meat thermometer, although I don't see any harm in doing so.

My guess is that not everyone likes meat the way I do: fairly well done. When "grilled" means that a piece of meat has started changing color on the outside, but is just barely not raw inside: yes, then I see the need for a thermometer.

I pay attention to food safety, though. On those rare occasions when I've grilled a steak and a test cut through the thickest part shows a touch of red inside, it either goes back on the grill or in the oven until it's done.

Complicated Recipes, Exotic Dishes, and Grilling My Way

About the most exotic foods I've grilled are shishkebabs and corn on the cob (delicious, in both cases).

The corn on the cob is simple, done my way. I grill the meat first, then as that's getting toward the end of the flipping cycles

I put corn cobs on the grill with most of the husk and in place. I've read that it's a good idea to soak the corn cobs before grilling, but ours is pretty fresh, so I don't.

Depending on how hot the grill is, I'll leave the cobs on a couple or five minutes, lift the lid and see what's happening. That's why I leave 'extra' husk on. When it's burned up to near the cob, I flip them and repeat the process.

So far, they've turned out pretty good.

But, not all people are as simple - or crude? - as I am, so I put links to some of the more likely-sounding articles, websites, and recipes in the "Background and resources" section at the end of this post.

Gluten - This I am Fussy About

I'm able to digest gluten, happily, but my oldest daughter can't. Thanks to her need for gluten-free foods, I've become more aware of that particular dietary requirement. The "Background and resources" has one or two leads that might be useful. Or, not. The "Supermarket Guru" search was surprisingly unhelpful that way.

My Plans for Independence Day

My wife may have something else in mind, but I plan to celebrate America's birthday by grilling burgers at noon. I do that most Saturdays, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy it on July Fourth, too.

Background and resources: