That time of year is upon us. The days are long, the nights are hot and sticky, and the beaches are jam-packed full of people. Writing about these observations of summer brings back childhood memories of family barbecues. I fondly remember the smells of smoke and grilled meat filling my nostrils as I run around the backyard chasing my younger cousins, with my Jack Russell dog not far behind. These were happy times.
Moving to Sydney some years ago, I have had the privilege of watching many people, from many nationalities cook meat. I have seen the Brazilians down at Bondi grilling meat over an open grill to the beat of samba music. I have witnessed the Japanese flash-grilling delicately sliced cuts of marinated beef one by one, only to be consumed within the three seconds or so it is taken from the hot plate. And of course, I have seen the middle-aged Australian male cremate his family’s lunch in front of their very eyes, all the while shaking his head in disgust at the various other cooking methods taking place around him.
While barbecuing meat does not make me want to beat my chest in a primal display of manhood, there is something oddly satisfying about being able to cook a steak or a rack of ribs to perfection. I began barbecuing at an early age. My father taught me the order by which the different meats should be added to the grill, how long each would take to cook and how to best cook a steak so it remained tender. Thankfully, my father wasn’t one of those who cooked our meat until it was black and blood-free.
Barbecuing for me is not just a way to cook red meat, it is a way to infuse my favourite vegetables with a smoky aroma, a way to get a crispy, caramelised coating on my marinated pork ribs and a way to turn the cheap chicken thigh into a marinated masterpiece. Your ability to barbecue correctly can be the difference between you looking like a chump or resembling somewhat of a god to your friends and family. For me, it is also about paying the ultimate respect to the animal that died in order for us to enjoy such a wonderful experience. Cooking every last ounce of moisture from a cut of meat, only for your family to sit there and chew for hours on end just to get it down is an insult to the animal and, to a lesser extent, a waste of money.
For me there are a number of tips or laws that I live by when barbecuing different types of food. These help to bring the best out the food.
- When cooking beef or lamb and especially steak, make sure the surface is hot before adding the meat!
- Patience is a virtue. Let your steak rest for 5 minutes after you remove it from the grill. This will allow the cut to retain the moisture
- Never cut off all the fat before barbecuing. It is simple. Fat = Flavour.
- Always, always oil the cut and not the grill. Once removed from the grill, add rock salt to taste and to enhance the natural beauty of the meat.
- Use a cut of chicken that won’t dry out (avoid breast). For me, chicken thigh is the way to go. It retains the moisture and is cheaper than other cuts
- Don’t undercook it! Sounds simple but you’d be surprised how often underdone chicken is served.
- Be careful not to overcook pork as it becomes dry and hard to eat
- Marinated pork on an open grill is one of life’s true gifts. Try a simple marinade of lemongrass, chili, garlic and light soy on grilled pork skewers (remember to soak the skewers for a few hours to avoid burning).
- Become familiar with how different vegetables react under extreme heat. Sliced eggplant is likely to shrivel up into a crispy mess if you leave it on the grill for too long
- Add flavour by including garlic or small amounts of rock salt to your grilled vegetables.
Side note: In a previous post, I was asked how to best go about lighting a charcoal grill. This was a question I had a frustrating time trying to figure out myself when I got my first charcoal grill. I was told to use fire starters, which worked quite well, however I found that they leave a chemical taste in the food. I believe that there are a number of ways to successfully light a charcoal barbecue. These include:
- Use a butane burner to apply flame to charcoal until it catches
- Use small kindling under charcoal or heat beads
- Use a small amount of newspaper.
I find these methods not only allow you to light the charcoal but also make for a cleaner grill in terms of taste and health benefits. The key to grilling on an open charcoal grill is patience. If you are after a quick mid-week meal, then stick to the gas burner. If you have time, and want to bring the very best out of your meat then an open flame, charcoal grill is for you!