I’ve been telling you for years that ALL cooking comes from step-by-step repeatable methods, not recipes. This is true for grilling as well. When I teach tomorrow’s great chefs in culinary school, they are exposed to the very same things I teach you through this blog and my websites.
Professional quality grilling comes down to 10 basic steps:
1) Choose The Right Item To Grill – Grilling is intense, direct source heat. There’s no time to tenderize something put on the grill, it just cooks too fast. Items to be grilled should be already tender and able to cook quickly. You can’t grill a large beef roast. It would be charred on the outside and raw in the middle. This type of item is better roasted, smoked or braised with indirect dry or moist heat. The freshest ingredients are the easiest to grill and when you know how to choose the freshest foods, your cooking will be even easier.
2) Use Marinades Correctly – There may be no time to tenderize during grilling, but BEFORE grilling you can have a small effect on the food with a marinade. Marinades add flavor to grilled items, but if they contain an acidic ingredient they’ll also break down connective tissue and tenderize your ingredient. Acidic ingredients like wine, citrus, or tomato are best.
3) Grill On HIGH – Grilling isn’t for the faint of heart or the indecisive. There should be no lowering or increasing the heat during the process like saute’. The grill is the “rocket ship” of cooking. Let it blaze away to take advantage of the intense direct source heat.
4) Coat With Fat – Brushing your grilled item with olive oil or a high smoke point fat will aid in caramelization of sugars which will result in nicely browned foods with attractive grill marks.
5) Show Side Down – The presentation side of your item will be “up” on the plate so the diner can see it. That’s the side that should cook the longest for the best plate appeal. Don’t flip grilled items multiple times. They should cook as much as possible on one side and then finished on the other because nobody’s ever going to see the second side. It will be facing down on the plate.
6) Sneak A Peek – After a few minutes you’ll peek under the ingredient to see if those nice grill marks are developing. If they’re not, leave it alone. If you see beautiful black caramelization lines, it’s time to move the steak around.
7) Make a 90 Degree Turn – Move the item to a fresh hot spot on the grill and turn it 90 degrees from where it was previously cooking. This will develop the cross-hatched grill marks that look like a pro cooked it.
8) Cook 75 / 25 – Any grilled item should be cooked the majority on the first side and simply finished on the second side. As soon as you turn your steak, chicken or burger, you’re just looking at a brown piece of meat. You’ve lost all the indicators of whether your item is done or not. Watch the changes in the food, the blood rising, the proteins stiffening and you’ll make a better decision about turning it only ONCE.
9) Stick It To It – The ONLY way to quantify your grilling and tell when something is cooked to your liking is with a digital instant read thermometer. You don’t have to guess when you cook to a precise internal temperature. You don’t have to poke it with a fork or gash it with a knife. If your personal steak number is 140F for medium, as soon as the thermometer says so, it’s done.
10) Bump And Run – This is what separates amateurs from professionals. If you’ve ever eaten a steak or burger from a bloody plate or a soggy bottom bun, you’ve seen a cook who doesn’t bump and run. Because of the high heat, your food will continue to cook after it’s removed from the grill. Juices will re-distribute and it’s better if this happens for 5 minutes on a paper towel than on a bloody plate. Bump it onto a towel and run out to the dining room.
These 10 steps are what I teach in culinary school, but you don’t have to be a professional chef to cook like one. Burn your recipes and cook with your eyes, your nose, and a little bit of science and your outdoor cooking will be a winner every single time!