Family

BBQ by Paul Hermann of Unsplash

So, why is this article included on a website focused on helping young men live better lives? It's obvious to many of you, but, just incase, I would like to forewarn you that, at some point in your late teens through 40's, you will have the opportunity to do your part of the cooking by grilling outdoors.

You may be one of us who actually seek this contribution to preparing the meals for your family or social group because you think it could be fun. Maybe starting a fire and cooking meat over it harkens back to the olden days on the frontier or when people lived in caves. You may just want to give your wife or partner a break from cooking the main dish day after day -- or they may ask you to step in to give them a break. Maybe you want to impress your friends, children, wife, etc. with having a cool skill. Whatever the reason, young men will probably end up grilling something sometime -- and it is an opportunity to either look good or look not-so-good.

Many of these situations will be high visibility as well. Maybe you've just invested $150 in a filet and no one appreciates having it burned to a crisp. Maybe you have 10 of your best friends over for dinner and no one really likes to eat raw or extremely tough ribs. The newlywed husband brings the meat in from the grill when the in-laws are already seated for a nice fancy dinner -- and cutting into the steaks reveals to everyone that you have delivered four "hockey pucks" or extremely rare pieces of meat. Let's say you can't even get the gas grill started and your wife has to step in at the last minute to fry the hamburgers so the family can eat and get back to their various activities. You get the point, right?

So, here are some tips that will help you avoid some of the issues mentioned above -- information that doesn't generally seem to get shared and is generally learned by trial and error:

Secret #1 -- Ribs: If you start early enough and just cook them very slowly for about 3 hours on 250ish degree heat, they will be tender and almost fall off the bone.

  • There are hundreds of websites and videos with all kinds of sauces, marinating, skinning, tenderizing, etc. things to do. Those are usually good steps, but nothing compensates for slow cooking as easily and flawlessly. In fact, you can almost get away with just putting the ribs on the grill with no prep at all (I've tried this but highly recommend BBQ sauce).
  • Yes, put BBQ sauce or "rub" on them to keep them moist and add flavor.
  • Yes, sear them at the outset to put grill marks on them and burn off any germs.
  • I hate to mention this, but you could actually just put the ribs in the oven on slow cook to get essentially the same result -- if something happens to your grill or you just want to "fire and forget" while you go do something else (put foil on top).

Secret #2 -- Meat thermometer: These are so inexpensive, and they have great ones with instant digital readouts. $15 will cover it. Do it! Buy one now!

  • You can easily avoid wondering whether everything is done enough or being over-cooked -- checking each piece individually and setting it aside or leaving it on longer.
  • Be aware that official USDA (and other) websites cite temperatures on the well-done side. You need to adjust these with medium for steaks at 145 degrees.
  • If you have a filet, you can easily determine whether you have various well-done, medium, and rare sections for your various guests.
  • Cut the heat and/or take the meat off the grill when it is approaching your desired wellness. Some cooking will continue for a few minutes.
  • You can use this handy thermometer for oven-cooked turkeys, roasts, meatloaf, etc. as well. 

Secret # 3 -- Starting the gas flow with a gas grill: Today's gas grill connectors have a back-pressure sensor (regulator) that minimizes flow if you open up the valve too fast and don't have the controls set closed. It starts to think there is a leak if the pressure from the tank isn't soon equalized with the pressure on the hose side. So, close the controls first and, then, slowly open the valve from the tank. Then open one control and light that element. You should be good to go.

  • There are many websites helping you with this. Just Google for videos on "gas grill back pressure regulator". Some of these address initial startup and some address the situation where you have "frozen up" the regulator.
  • Don't have the lid closed when you open the controls. Gas will accumulate before you light the grill and it will sear your arm hair or eyebrows.
  • Don't wait a long time before lighting the unit (see above about arm hair and eyebrows).
  • One at a time, open the controls and light the associated unit. Don't open them all at once (arm hair).

Secret #4 -- Standby gas or fuel: Buy an extra tank and have it available -- or have extra lighter fluid and charcoal if you are using charcoal. This will cost you about $50, but it saves the embarrassment of running out of LP or "misremembering" that you thought you had recently refilled your tank.

  • You can buy various gauges to show how much is left in a tank as well -- but many of these really don't work well. Before spending $20, do your research. Even if it tells you that the tank is empty, you then have to go get the tank refilled and will delay the meal.
  • You can weigh the tank instead of using a gauge, but this requires taking it off of the grill and setting it on a scale.
  • If you are using charcoal, you still need back-up. What if you get a late start on the cooking and the coals are starting to cool off?

Secret #5 -- Flare-up control: Burning isn't cooking and you risk setting something important on fire -- so do some of the following:

  • Clean your grill if there is grease build up. Empty the grease from a the grease collector underneath -- but I have never seen one of these actually involved in the fire.
  • Keep the lid closed when not moving/flipping the meat. Close it immediately if a flare-up occurs.
  • Have a standby water sprayer. You can sometimes blow the fire out, but you may hurt yourself in the process (over exert lungs, burn eyebrows).
  • Buy 90% or better hamburger. Cut excess skin off of chicken breasts.
  • If you are deep frying a turkey, get away from the house and get away from flammable trees, brush, leaves. I know everyone warns us about this, but I actually saw one of these on someone's deck within two or three feet of his house this Thanksgiving.

Secret #6 -- Sear first and adjust: Start your grill at the highest temperature and sear on both sides. Then adjust the temperature for the balance of your cooking. This will give your cooking a good look and sear some juices in -- but almost nothing does well cooked at the highest temperature throughout -- except for those super-rare fans you might have in your group.

Secret #7 -- YouTube in advance: Use the wonderful resources available to you for advice on how to handle a specific new meat or dish. It will only take a few minutes, and it will almost certainly be worth your time. (In fact, I have gotten into the habit of looking at a YouTube video for almost any project where I am treading in new territory -- and it isn't a bad idea.)

Secret #8 -- Pay attention: If you are ADHD, an avid sports fan, have your girlfriend with you, or are drinking heavily, you should set a timer on your smartphone or using a simple mechanical timer that costs about $15.

Secret #9 -- Take knowledgeable advice: If knowledgeable (and I do mean knowledgeable) advice is offered, go ahead and take the advice.

  • Ask a few questions (not defensively) to see if they have ever done this before.
  • Again, the Internet and YouTube are your friends.
  • If you haven't been able to get the grill started, use the oven or listen to those who are suggesting this. 

Secret #10 -- Stay cool:  Make sure you don't get defensive or angry if things don't go well -- and there will be situations where things don't go well.

  • You don't come across as being more proficient or easy going if you don't take it easy when things aren't going well.
  • You can ruin an otherwise happy occasion or relationship.
  • Keep things in perspective and don't blow things out of proportion -- this isn't a measure of your worth as a man.

So, I'm hopeful that these hints will help you quickly become more professional and avoid needless embarrassment and inconvenience. These "secrets" should solidly put you the road to success and enjoyment with grilling as a hobby. You will soon be proficient enough so you can be counted on to deliver great tasting meat dishes on a timely basis. You can help out with the cooking and get some compliments in the process. Continue to improve and enjoy the process!