When you are a child, your father’s advice seems wise and faultless. When you’re an adult, well, things change.
This rings especially true in the area of grill advice, where shortcuts and mysticism are considered law, and where “the way we always do it” reigns supreme. One summer long ago, you might have learned the basics of grilling from your dad, which means it’s likely you’ve been subjected to such nonsense. From dying grill marks to the dangers of wire brushes, here’s everything your dad taught you you should unlearn ASAP.
Myth 1: Grill brands are a good thing
Sing it from the rooftops. Steaks, pork chops, chicken and anything that goes on the grill is not improved by the lines. As Meathead Goldwyn, one of the internet’s leading grilling sages, writes, these brands represent “unrealized potential”. The marks show where Maillard’s reaction – that wonderful process that makes the seizure so desirable – has been and hasn’t been successful. A good piece of grilled meat should be covered in the Maillard reaction, and it should be a uniform brownish color, not black.
Myth 2: The more smoke, the better
White-gray smoke plumes are a sign of poor fire management, not a good barbecue. This thick, cloudy smoke is the result of coals or wood not completing the combustion process in the fire, causing microparticles to be launched into the air and onto your food. It doesn’t taste like smoke, it tastes like burning. The ointment is a hotter fire, resulting in the hissing blue smoke that the pitbenders want.
Myth 3: You don’t need a meat thermometer
The thermometer built into your grill hood – yes, even your super expensive grill – is mostly unnecessary. Brands don’t invest in quality thermometers, and even if they did, that would cover half as much of tracking temperature on a grill. Unless you and your family like undercooked meat, the internal temperature of a piece of protein will always be higher than the temperature inside the grill. Get yourself a temperature probe from Thermoworks or Lavatools and stop doing that thing where you touch the steak and then your thumb – it’s weird and inefficient.
Myth 4: PAM screens to prevent sticking
A common method of making sure food doesn’t stick to the grates is to spray Pam on the hot grates or wipe them off with an oily paper towel – that’s madness. Oil applied to the grates of a lit grill, unless the grill is operating at low heat, will only burn. When the oil lands on the grate that has passed its smoke point (which is typically 400 and below), it instantly smokes and chars on the grates. This is more likely to make things stickier than they already were. The solution: oil the meat itself before placing it on the grill.
Myth 5: BTUs are everything
BTUs are to grids what wire count is to sheets – mostly bullshit. Short for British Thermal Unit, BTU is a measure of the heat required to raise the temperature of a pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. Many gas grills are stuck on the BTU count, but there are issues with measuring. For one thing, it’s usually measured at maximum grill power, which is not how we use grills at home. In the grilling world, this is also more of a measure of how much fuel a grill burns to raise the temperature, meaning that a very inefficient and energy-hungry grill can gain a huge number of BTUs. Instead of BTUs, ask for the maximum temperature when shopping for natural gas or propane grills.
Myth 6: Just use lighter fluid
Google “Lighter Fluid Health Concerns” to get a taste of what comes with your need for a faster fire. In addition, there is an option that is almost as fast and with less risk of real explosions: coal stacks. Coals at the top, paper at the bottom, and a lighter are all you need to make the coals for broiling in 10 minutes or less. Plus, it doesn’t smell as bad.
Myth 7: Use a wire brush to clean the grates
While this has been reported time and time again, it bears repeating: Wire mesh brushes can be dangerous. Bristles can dislodge from the brush, get caught in the grill, and get into the food on the grill. This can lead to a trip to the hospital at worst and minimal significant pain. A common tip to avoid using the brush is to firmly crumple a ball of foil and rub the screens (with a gloved hand) until clean. It is best to do this before the grill has reached temperature.
Myth 8: Soak your wood chips
Think about why your dad told you to soak wood chips (or, God forbid, wood logs) before grilling them – “it keeps them lit longer.” I mean, technically? Wet wood cannot smoke, that is what it is there for, until it gets rid of the water that covers it. That smoke that emanates from wet shavings when you throw them on hot coals? It’s steam, and you’ve just drastically lowered the temperature of your coals, which can create issues discussed in Myth 1 section above. If you are concerned that the wood will burn too quickly, place it around the edge of your charcoal bed. Don’t soak it.
Myth 9: keep a cup of water handy for flare-ups
Applied from a spray bottle or poured into a cup, water is not the solution to a big push. The water only serves to spread the hot grease – the cause of the fire – around the grates and the coal bed. This is problematic for the same reason that water doesn’t smother a grease fire in the kitchen, but water also creates huge plumes of charcoal dust that can coat your food and create unwanted flavors. Instead of panicking, close the lid and vents. The fire feeds primarily on oxygen, so cutting off the power will dull the flame.
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