Once again that time of year has come around. The sun is shining, school is out and the familiar smell of burning charcoal is in the air.
The first barbecue of the year is an iconic occasion for many of us, but barbecue cooking should be more of an art form than simply chucking meat onto a grill. It’s even more important to get it right when you’re cooking meat – both for avoiding food poisoning and for turning out the juiciest, tastiest piece of meat protein for your friends and family.
Barbecuing meat provides many variables and cooking challenges that you’ll need to face head-on to turn out the perfect crisp on the outside, tender on the inside steak, chicken breast or burger.
Getting Started: The BBQ Basics
The first thing you need to think about for your barbecue is the fuel you use.
The fuel using on your barbecue will have a major impact on the flavour profile of the food you’re cooking. There is a delicate alchemy at work between wood, smoke and meat on your barbecue, and a high-quality charcoal can sometimes make all the difference.
When you’re lighting the barbecue, be sure to make sure that all the orange flames have died down before placing any food on your grill – you’ll end up with burnt sausages otherwise!
Preparing Your BBQ Meat
Understanding the collagen content of meat is key to understanding how to barbecue.
Muscles that do the least work have far less connective tissue and collagen than those that do. Therefore, these cuts of meat are tenderer and referred to as “Prime Cuts” of meat. Muscles that have a denser collegian and connective tissue content are those that do more work. These muscles normally make up cheaper cuts of meat.
To make cheaper cuts delicious and tender, cooking the meat on a low, even heat is essential. Cooking the meat in this manner acts to break down and dissolve connective tissues into soft gelatine which then bastes and moistens the meat from the inside out.
More tender, prime cuts can be subjected to faster and more direct cooking. This technique will give you the sort after crisp, chargrilled outside to your meat.
Tempering and Seasoning Meat
Ideal cuts of meat to use on the barbecue are at least 4 cm thick. This ensures you can get a good char on the outside while keeping the inside juicy and tender – impossible to do with a thin cut.
Meat should be removed from the fridge or freezer, defrosted and brought up to room temperature. Although you can cook meat from frozen, it will take 50% longer; and you’re much more likely to end up with meat undercooked in the middle, or possibly still frozen.
Once you’ve selected your cut and brought it to room temperature, you’ll want to dab your meat dry with a kitchen towel before seasoning it. Wet meat will struggle to form a decent crust on the grill, so this step should never be skipped over.
Season your meat liberally, don’t worry about over seasoning. While your meat is cooking on the barbecue, the seasoning will fall off of it; what is left is the correct amount of seasoning. Thicker pieces of meat (e.g. bone-in ribs) will require more seasoning due to their lower surface area to meat ratio.
Begin cooking you selected meat by placing it on the barbecue grill, leave the meat undisturbed for a minute, and then flip it over. Continue to turn the meat every minute or so until meat is entirely covered with enticing caramelisation, boosting the distinctive BBQ flavouring the meat will take on. Regular turning will also help prevent thicker cuts of meat from catching and burning on the outside before they’re cooked through.
Mastering Temperature Control
The art of barbecue temperature control is one that can only be learned through practice. Through trial and error, you will begin to recognise the hot and cold spot on your grill, as well as knowing how long it takes for coals to burn down to the optimum temperature.
How long a full load of charcoal lasts is another key piece of information that you’ll learn as you go along. Knowing how long things stay hot for and how quickly the coals cool will assist you in timing when you add your different cuts of meat to the grill.
Knowing the optimum temperature for any particular meat you are cooking is essential if you want to avoid burning your meat (recommended).
Having a meat thermometer on hand can be incredibly useful, but if you don’t have one of these, you can identify how cooked your meat is through touch. The “finger test” method allows you to identify how well cook a piece of meat is through measuring its resistance to your touch in comparison to that of areas on your hand.
Meat Cooking Times and Temperatures
- 71 degrees C
Cook on a high heat in order to sear the outside while keeping the middle of your burger fractionally pink. If you prefer your burger cooked all the way through, cook it for slightly longer.
- 60 degrees C (rare), 65 degrees C (medium), 71 degrees C (well done)
- 5 mins on a high heat, move to a lower temperature area on the grill
- And cook and extra 3mins (rare), 6mins (medium), 12mins (well done)
Like the burgers, use a high heat to chargrill the outside of your steak and leave the interior juicy.
- 65 degrees C
- No longer than 20 minutes
Sausages require a lot of attention to do perfectly on the barbecue. They require rotation between high and medium heats to ensure they are cooked through while achieving a crispy skin.
- 73 degrees C
- 8-12 minutes
Chicken should always be cooked on a medium heat as fast cooking at a high heat risk leaving chicken raw in the middle. It’s wise to cook chicken after the rest of your meat when the grill temperature has lowered.
One of the most important, and most overlooked, stages of barbecuing meat. Take meat off the grill before you think it is quite ready and allow it to rest at a lower temperature. The residual heat will continue to cook the meat and the tissues will be able to relax – making the flesh more juicy and tender. Meat will also taste a lot better when it isn’t boiling hot!
Rest the meat for around two minutes before serving, then take a range of BBQ sides and condiments to support with your well-cooked meat.
Bad Weather?: How to BBQ Meat in the Oven
Your barbecue is still hibernating (or if you’re still hiding from the wind and rain) that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare perfectly grilled meats.
Start the cooking process in the same way, by selecting your cuts and bringing them to room temperature. You’ll want to brown your meat in a hot pan on the hob before placing it in the oven; this is how you’ll achieve the crisp, chargrilled outside when cooking inside.
Follow the same temperature and timing recommendations that are provided for the barbecue. You might be able to reduce some of the cooking times due to the oven providing a more even and all-encompassing heat in comparison to the barbecue.