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Grilling & Smoking Questions— We’ve all heard the saying, “There are no stupid questions”. I answer a lot of questions about cooking, grilling, smoking, and wood-fired cooking over the course of a week. I am always surprised that when writing on these topics, I don’t often think of the truly novice cook and offer very basic tips. So, today, that’s what my goal is.
Grilling & Smoking Questions: When cooking a rack of ribs, do you cut them into individual pieces and then grill or leave them on the rack?
I honestly understand where this question comes from. You often see ribs served pre-cut into single bone servings at restaurants so why wouldn’t you start to think they must be cooked that way.
Unfortunately, the best way to cook ribs is as a rack when purchasing baby back or St. Louis cut spare rib for pork or beef ribs. This allows a crust to form on the outside when cooked, and for the rub to penetrate the entire rack so the flavors are more even.
Grilling & Smoking Questions : What is the white stuff on the bottom of the pork ribs?
That is a membrane we call silver skin that generally is left on the rack when the butcher cuts the meat. You always want to remove that membrane as it can prevent the meat from tenderizing and is rubbery if eaten. Simply take a butter knife and insert between the membrane and the meat at one end. Loosen it and then gripping the membrane with a paper towel, peel it off, trying to get it in one piece.
Grilling & Smoking Questions: How do I cook chicken on the grill so it doesn’t dry out?
For those that don’t feel like a master of the grill, just doing meats on the grill can pose a challenge. Chicken is no exception. In fact, it can be a difficult protein to grill since white and dark meat cook at different rates. The easiest method of ensuring moist and flavorful chicken, is to cook it on a two-zone grill set up. That means only half the burners are turned on while the chicken is placed on the grate that has no burners on. This allows the heat to radiate to the chicken and cook without burning the skin or cooking beyond 165°F.
Grilling & Smoking Questions : Do I soak my wood chips or chunks to make smoke?
Great question and one to ask before you start. No, do not soak the chips or chunks or any wood product for that matter unless a manufacturer of specific equipment requests it to be soaked. When you soak the wood, only the outer layer, about 1/8-inch thick gets wet. Once a wet wood is applied to a hot fire, the fire’s energy works to remove the excess water in the form of steam. This take energy from the fire which means you can alter the cooking temperature of the equipment. Apply wood product dry to get the best flavor from the wood even if using a smoker box or aluminum foil.
Grilling & Smoking Questions : What differentiates charred food from burnt food?
Let’s first define what charred foods are. When you char a food which usually is an animal protein or thick-skinned vegetable but can be just about anything, a dark colored outer crust forms either around the edges of the food item or completely across the food’s surface. The inside of the food will retain moisture and tender texture. If the food item is dry, tough, and an ugly color, it’s burnt.
Grilling & Smoking Questions: Does soaking your steak in marinade overnight make it juicier?
Marinades are ideal when you want to add a flavor level to meats, poultry and fish. The thing with marinades is you need to be careful not over-marinate. Since meat is 75% water, adding another liquid i.e. marinade, will not penetrate beyond the outside. Oh, you can cut some slits into the meat, fish, or poultry to get is a bit deeper but marinating something overnight will not get any more flavor into the food item. Plus, you take the risk of producing a mushy result if the protein of the meat is broken down too far.
Grilling & Smoking Questions : I assume when you smoke with wood it takes quite a bit of wood to make the smoke. Exactly how much do I need?
This is one misunderstanding that drives me crazy! It is not about the quantity of wood for hot smoking. Quality and moisture are the keys. First, find a hardwood and only hardwood, that has some moisture to it. About 25% is ideal. Whether you’re using a gas grill, charcoal grill, or electric unit, you’ll only need about 6-8 ounces of hardwood to start. Know up front, you won’t and shouldn’t see a ton of smoke and that smoke should be light in color.
Grilling & Smoking Questions : How do a get “fall off the bone” ribs when I grill?
I’m going to be completely honest – you don’t want fall off the bone ribs! If you prepare the ribs correctly – trimming the excess fat, removing the silver skin, and marinating with your favorite rub, brine or marinade – grill and/or smoke them at a lower temperature (I prefer 225°F) for roughly 3 hours, and then check for doneness with the “bend test”. Taking a pair of tongs, lift the ribs in the center of the rack from the grate. If they bend and have slight cracking to the meat, they are done. You’ll still find the meat will come right off the bone when you bite into it.
Grilling & Smoking Questions : What should you do first before using a new grill or smoker?
Clean it then test burn it without food. You need to clean the surfaces – inside lid, grates, side walls – to remove any remaining chemicals from the grill’s construction. To extend the life of the grill grates, season them with a high heat oil such as avocado, peanut, or canola oil. Simply brush or wipe on the oil with a small, clean paint brush or with a paper towel. Wipe off the excess and then follow with a test burn.
By running a test burn, you can remove any further impurities left from the manufacturing of the unit so you have no tainted flavors to your foods. If you’ve purchased an LP/Gas unit, test for leaks before lighting the grill. Oh, and always read the manual first thing so you know full operation and warnings on your unit.
I’ll be sure to provide follow up posting on questions that come my way in the future to ensure that I’m always assisting everyone – from novice to pro cook.
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