|Don’t ruin your Smoking & Grilling Experience by making simple mistakes!|
We’ve all had those moments when the food comes off the smoker or grill and we wonder, What went wrong??
Sometimes the event is so bad you want to swear off outdoor cooking for good. I’m here to ask you to step away from the ledge and think about whether you do any of the following things. The more items on the list you engage in, the more likely you can benefit from my suggestions.
#1 Resting MeatThis tends to be the common practice for roasts and steaks/chops. You’ve managed to get a nice crisp skin to the roast or steak and then you let it sit or rest, thinking it will make the outcome juicier. You end up with a soft skin, a wet outside, and waxy fat. These are meat cuts that don’t require resting. In fact, they will rest enough on your dinner plate so they are best served hot of the grill or smoker, without a rest period.
#2 Using Too Much WoodYou know that charcoal and gas are the fuels used to reach and maintain temperature while you’re cooking, and that hardwood is what flavors your food. You want to ensure there is adequate smoke flavor so you add 10 pieces of wood chunks to the hot coals when you start cooking. Then after the first hour, you add another 6 pieces of wood. STOP! That is way too much and simply put, a waste of a tree. On average it takes just 6 ounces of wood to start flavoring meat. My rule of thumb is to add 3-4 wood pieces for a full chimney of charcoal plus a couple of pounds of unlit. Only when those pieces are fully combusted (black and ashy) do I add a couple more pieces. Depending on what and how long I’m cooking, I may only use 6 pieces total.
#3 You Soaked Your Smoking/Grilling WoodI know this is one of the biggest controversies out there when it comes to smoking with wood. To soak or not. I take the stand that you should never soak the wood as adding water will only fluctuate your cooking temperature and take more energy away from the fire to steam the water from the wood. Remember, the wood cannot start to combust until the excess water has been vaporized. Work with a wood that has at least 20% moisture for the best flavor.
#4 Room Temperature MeatIt is well documented that when you want to attract smoke vapor from burning wood, colder temperatures are like a magnet. Don’t take the meat out of the refrigerator until right before you’re ready to place it on the grill. In addition to attracting smoke vapor, colder temperature meats will warm up faster in your equipment than if you left them out on the kitchen counter.
#5 Searing to Lock in JuicesThis is the one item even well-known restaurants can get wrong. Searing meats before finish cooking does not lock in the juices. What it does do is brown the outside of the meat and firm up the outer surface, giving a distinct pleasant flavor. The meat fibers do not get sealed by this method or produce any additional juiciness to the meat.
#6 Marinating Overnight or LongerAs marinades tend to contain oil and meat is made up mostly of water, the two tend to compete against each other. Here’s the thing with marinades. Marinating for long periods of time do not allow the marinade to penetrate any deeper than if you marinate for just one hour. In fact, you have an increased risk of breaking down the meat fibers too far with a marinade, producing a soggy outer layer. Stick to short marinade times and understand most of that flavor will penetrate only to the outside layer.
#7 Don’t Trim the Fat CapJust like meat being made up of mostly water, fat is made up of oil. Again, water and oil don’t mix. Leaving a fat cap on meat only allows it to melt and drip into the equipment you’re using. This can produce some additional flavors to the meat but allow too many drippings into the fire area, and you’ll cause flare ups that will deposit soot onto your meat. Don’t forget, most of us have a habit of trimming fat off meat before we consume it.
#8 It’s Done When There’s No Pink MeatI’m not sure how many ways I can say this so I’ll be blunt. YOU NEED AN EASY READ DIGITAL THERMOMETER WHEN YOU COOK!! That is the only way to know when various meats and poultry are fully cooked. Follow safe temperature guidelines and don’t go by the color of the meat. Remember, bone marrow reveals itself differently in animal proteins which causes variation in pink, red and even purple coloring near bone.
#9 Steak Should Always Have Grill MarksGrill marks are not the mark of a great steak ! A uniform brown coloring on the meat’s surface is what your goal should be. That means a deep sear was achieved and great flavor is hidden underneath. The only way to achieve that is to learn how to direct cook the steak with a higher cooking temperature and frequent turning. This allows for maximum radiant heat and even coloring and cooking.
#10 You Use Something Other Than Water in the Water PanThere are all kinds of justifications for why liquids like beer, juice, wine, etc. should be used in a water pan while cooking. It produces better flavor, it penetrates deeper, it produces more moisture. Let me be clear. It’s called a water pan for a reason. It is designed to hold water and hot water at that. By starting with hot water, you allow the energy of the fire to go directly to cooking the meat not heating up the water. Water evaporates which produces a moisture rich environment keeping meats from drying out. Other liquids will not evaporate and could even burn in the pan due to sugar alcohol levels.
Even if you’ve checked off a lot of these items as practices your guilty of engaging in, it’s easy to turn around your outdoor grilling and smoking skills. In the end, it will be safer for your guests, better for your meat investments, and an overall more pleasurable experience doing the cooking.
Do you have a bad habit you turned around when you grill and smoke? Leave us a comment to let us know. We welcome all types of questions and encourage you to follow and subscribe to our social channels so you don’t miss anything. We look forward to providing you with tips, techniques, recipes, and the science for all things wood-fired cooked.