Grilling and Barbequing
Grilling and barbequing are two different methods of cooking meat, but many people use the terms as though they mean the same thing. As any real BBQ chef will tell you, there’s really little comparison.
Grilling is cooking outside on your barbeque. See, the words are already confusing. The difference is how the heat is applied to the meat, and for how long.
You can use your gas or charcoal BBQ for either method of cooking. When you cook the meat directly over the heat, you are grilling. You do that for hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, ribs (sometimes), chicken (usually), and fish.
You can also grill vegetables, sometimes using a grate to keep the food from falling through the grill. You usually rub some oil on the vegetables to help them brown without burning, and usually season them with at least salt and pepper.
Before grilling, the meat is usually seasoned. How you season it is up to you. For example, you may prefer just salt and pepper. Or garlic salt and pepper. I frequently use Montreal Steak Seasoning because it combines coarsely ground seasonings, spices, and herbs that I like.
In the case of chicken and pork chops, I usually brine the meat before seasoning. It makes the meat more moist and succulent.
How do you tell when the meat is done? Sometimes you can tell by looking. For steaks and hamburgers, notice what time it is when you put them on the grill. When the meat gets little bubbles of juice appearing on top, and if you want it medium rare, that is the time to turn them over. Check the clock to see how long they have been on the first side, and cook them about the same time on the other side.
For other cuts of meat, you need a different method. The thickness of the meat and the heat of the fire, among other things, will affect the result. The pros do it by feel. Press on the steak with your finger or a spatula and see how hard it feels.
The classic example uses your hand to teach you the feel. The fatty area between the base of your thumb and your index finger gets softer and harder as you squeeze or relax your fist. Relax your fist and poke the spot with your other index finger. That feeling is rare meat. Very soft. A gentle squeeze of your fist will make it feel medium, and a hard fist will feel like a well-done steak.
Practice the feel of the steak, and confirm your findings with the thermometer and your eyes when you cut the steak. You’ll pick up the knack in no time. (By the way, cutting the steak is also a way to check its doneness, but don’t do it on your guests’ steak!)
When grilling chicken, use a fire that’s not as hot, either by turning down the burners on a gas BBQ or by using fewer briquettes. I usually cook about 10 minutes on the first (skin) side, 20 minutes on the bone side, and back for another 10 minutes on the first side. You can make up your own schedule as you gain experience, but for most fires, it will take 40 to 45 minutes to cook the chicken. This is where you need an instant reading thermometer. You want the internal temperature to be 165 for the poultry. It will continue up to the needed 170 after you take it off the fire.
You can also test the chicken by poking it in the thigh with a sharp knife, to see that the juice runs clear.
Barbequing is cooking with indirect heat, in the presence of smoke, for a longer time. If you are using a charcoal grill, you will need to build the fire on one side, and put the meat on the other side. You will also have to generate smoke, usually by periodically putting wet wood chips on the coals. Obviously, the BBQ also needs to be covered.
Leave the vents on the bottom open, and the one on top about half open. Put the top vent over the meat. Place a disposable aluminum drip pan under the meat to catch the drippings.
If you barbeque a turkey, a 12-14 pounder is about all that will fit in a standard Weber. In this case, put the turkey and pan in the center and build two smaller fires on each side.
I also brine chicken and turkey before barbequing. After rinsing and drying the birds, you may season them any number of ways, but usually using a dry rub. During cooking, you can also use a mop sauce, although that is more common when cooking ribs and roasts, particularly for pulled pork.
If you have a gas grill, it might have a separate tray to hold the wood chips. If not, make an aluminum foil pouch holding the chips, and poke a few holes in it to let the smoke out. You’ll discover by experience how often you will need to add a new pouch.
For cooking longer than an hour or two on a charcoal BBQ, you will need to periodically add charcoal in addition to more wood chips. Do both chores at the same time, every hour or so, to keep the cover on as much of the time as possible.
Don’t let the temperature of the barbeque get too high. You probably won’t be able to duplicate the really slow cooking that commercial barbeque pits do, with their 24 hour cycle. Your barbeque should be about 250-275 degrees F inside. At that temperature, chicken and ribs will be done in 2-3 hours; too much time will dry them out. Beef brisket and pork shoulder (called Boston Butt roast) can go all day, if you have the time and the stamina.
So these are the primary characteristics of barbeque: marinating the meat in a dry rub, cooking it slowly in the smoke, and (usually) mopping it with a mop sauce during cooking. Have fun learning, and don’t get worked up about how to do it. A hundred pit masters have a hundred different tips beyond these three fundamentals. You should enjoy the process as much as you enjoy the food!