Thursday, October 17, 2019

10 THINGS YOU DO THAT RUIN YOUR SMOKING & GRILLING EXPERIENCE

Don't ruin your Smoking & Grilling Experience by making simple mistakes!
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 Meat

This 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 Wood

You 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 Wood

I 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 Meat

It 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 Juices

This 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 Longer

As 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 Cap

Just 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 Meat

I’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 Marks

Grill 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 Pan

There 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.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

GRILLED LAMB

Our Finished grilled Lamb resting before slicing!



I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how lamb has slowly been gaining greater popularity in North America.  Normally associated with Easter, I’ve had many followers indicate that they love to cook lamb in the summer on the grill as well as for holidays like Thanksgiving (yes, there are some that don’t do a turkey or add this protein to the dinner) and Christmas.

My intention today is to provide some guidance on the cuts of lamb, which work best for wood-fired cooking methods, and provide some flavor pairing suggestions to consider for your recipes.  Know that my definition of lamb is a young sheep of fewer than 12 months of age.

 

Primal Cuts

There are eight basic cuts of lamb: neck, shoulder, breast, ribs, loin, leg, foreshank, and shank.  Immediately, I want you to understand that there is much less meat harvested from a lamb than on some other common animals.  The reason is that lamb tends to be quite fatty and the fat is not something consumable like the current rage with pork.  Once a lamb is harvested, trimmed of its fat, had non-edible parts removed, there is about 40% of its weight remaining in viable meat.  Thus, lamb can be very expensive.

Let’s look at each of the cuts and provide some insight into the best methods of cooking each.

Neck:  Then neck contains some of the most marbled meat of the lamb making it ideal for longer cooking methods.  Because of the fattiness of the cut, it is best to marinate it for about 4 hours prior to cooking.  This is a cut that is generally sliced, marinated, and then cooked casserole-style.  This can be done on a grill set up with a two-zone cooking method to allow the wood to be added to the hot side of the grill which can infuse the contents of the casserole if left uncovered.  This cut also works well when ground to produce lamb burgers and sausage.

Shoulder: This is by far one of the most flavorful cuts, is less expensive as it contains more connective tissue and bone producing a tougher cut and can be cooked a variety of ways.  This section can produce bone-in and boneless roasts, shoulder chops, and stew meat.  It is ideal for a slow and low method of cooking which includes traditional smoking.  As such, preparations can include brining, dry and wet rub, and marinating.

Foreshank and Shank: As the name implies, the foreshank is attached to the front legs of the lamb while the shank is connected to the rear legs.  These cuts are ideally braised and presented as individual servings.  Again, these can be done like the neck cut in a casserole on the grill with wood for flavoring.

Rib: Containing what is called the rack and crown, this is the section of the lamb that would be the equivalent to prime rib roast of beef.  It is the most expensive cut and is ideal on the grill.  Always use a two-zone cooking set up to prevent overcooking of the outside.  Chops can also be produced from this cut but note that they cook quickly.  I prefer to still use a two-zone cooking setup so I can move the chops from direct heat to indirect as needed.

Loin: This muscle of the lamb is the most tender and resembles miniature versions of T-bone steak.  It can also be cut into the tenderloin and top loin chops, which is the filet mignon of lamb.  Don’t think you can roast that tenderloin, however, as the size is too small for this method but it works perfectly when grilled.

Leg: Unlike other animals, the leg of lamb is very tender and versatile, producing boneless roasts, sirloin steaks, and kabob meat.  This cut can be butterflied if deboned and grilled or left whole for grilled lamb.

Breast: This tends to be a small cut that you can use bone-in or deboned.  If bone-in, treat like a rack of ribs and plan to slow cook.  The ideal is on the grill after marinating overnight.  A temperature of 225°F is recommended and again, using a two-zone cooking method will keep this moist if you include a water pan.  There are many recipes for stuffed lamb breast as well that a roasting method can be used.  Certainly, grilling two-zone method will make these moist, tender and flavorful.

 

Flavor Pairings

One characteristic of lamb is its ability to stand up to other strong flavors whether in spice or herb form.  Here are the top flavor pairings for lamb:

Almond: incorporate into a stuffing with rice

Anchovy: cuts slits into a leg or shoulder and insert drained anchovy into each cavity

Anise: a perfect addition to a casserole for infusion to the meat

Apricot: preferably used dry this is perfect with cinnamon, cumin, coriander

Cabbage: add potatoes and let it simmer with the meat

Cherry: adding onions, saffron, almonds, pomegranate, feta, mint, parsley, pistachio

Cumin: add chili and put on the grill

Eggplant: perfect if done kabob style over the hot coals

Goat Cheese: add spinach or kale and this is the perfect pairing for lamb burgers

Mint: likely the most well-known pairing which reduces the funkier undertones of the meat

Peas: add butter, onion, and tomato

Saffron: use this spice in rice to accompany the meat

With all these great flavor pairings, lamb should continue to grow in popularity and maybe will surpass one of our more common animal protein choices.

Do you have a favorite cut and preparation of grilled lamb?  Share your thoughts and photos. 

Bringing innovation to wood-fired cooking with recipes, techniques and the science behind the fire, smoke, and flavor. That’s SmokinLicious®.