The ultimate guide to perfectly barbecued meat
Every man thinks he’s the barbecue king, and rightly so. Cooking over a fire ignites something in our blood, something primordial, harking back to our ancestors hunting mastodons and cooking them up for the tribe.
Or maybe we just like steak!
Either way, cooking meat on a barbecue is more complicated than it looks. From the preparation, through to the method of cooking, and finally letting the meat rest, every step of the process has its own subtleties and intricacies.
We will take you through each step, explaining why things work the way they do, and what to do to achieve perfectly barbecued meat.
Preparation is the key
Preparation is everything, and by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
Start by deciding which type and cut of meat you are going to cook. Different meats cook in different ways, with each having their own rules. However, there are some basic principles which cover them all.
As a general rule, cooking on a high heat develops flavour, due to something called the Maillard reaction.
This causes amino acids and sugars in the food to combine, creating hundreds of different flavour compounds, which in turn, break down to form yet more new flavour compounds, and so on. This type of fast cooking is better for smaller cuts, such as sausages and chops.
Cooking on a low heat preserves moisture, giving a juicer result. This is because proteins in the meat shrink less when cooked at moderate temperatures, and therefore don’t express as much moisture and fat. This type of cooking is better suited to large cuts of meat or poultry.
Meat should never be cooked from frozen, always at room temperature. Allowing meat to come up to room temperature is called tempering, and any chef worth his salt will tell you it’s vital for the outcome of the final flavour.
It’s important to season the meat before cooking, but be careful - thicker cuts need more seasoning than thinner pieces, due to their lower surface-area-to-meat ratio. When you season meat is also important; too early before cooking will draw out the moisture, but just before cooking will help to impart flavour into the meat.
Marinades can be a wonderful addition for meat on the barbecue. While they don’t actually penetrate deep into the meat, a marinade breaks down the proteins on the surface of the tissue, making the outer layer softer and giving the impression of tenderness.
Meat doesn’t have to be marinated for days; two hours should do small cuts, while larger, tougher cuts can be marinated overnight.
The method of cooking
When it comes to cooking, the cut of the meat is incredibly important, and this is due to the collagen in the muscle fibres.
Muscles which tend to do very little work have less connective tissue and collagen, and are therefore more tender. These are the prime cuts such as tenderloin and rib-eye.
Cheaper cuts such as brisket and chuck usually have more connective tissue and collagen, so are generally tougher. Tougher cuts should be cooked slowly on a lower heat. This allows the collagen to break down into gelatine, which dissolves and moistens the meat from the inside.
Searing meat is all about flavour and trapping those juices inside. Pat the meat dry with a paper towel first, before adding to a piping hot pan. The pan must be at a high temperature to get a caramelized, deep-brown sear, with stainless steel or cast iron best suited to the job.
Reverse searing is the opposite to traditional searing. Instead of searing the outside of the meat first and then slowly cooking the inside, reverse searing cooks in the oven first, and then sears at the end. This method allows for a more controlled cooking, making sure you get the “doneness” of the steak just right.
We’ve talked before about smoking food and how it’s the most challenging way to cook on the barbecue, but it’s also the most rewarding.
With barbecue smoking, the meat isn’t placed directly over the heat, but instead is placed to the side, where the hot smoke from the fire passes through it, cooking it slowly for several hours. This method allows the meat to retain its moisture, the end result is the meat falling off the bone, as well as having a unique, smoky flavour.
Rotisserie cooking isn’t really considered when it comes to home barbecues, but that’s only because home barbecues are usually too small for a rotisserie. That’s not a problem of course for the Engel Fire!
There are many advantages to rotisserie cooking, with the slow roasted, self-basted meats tending to be juicier than grilling.
The importance of resting times
One of the biggest mistakes budding chefs make when cooking meat is not letting it rest before slicing.
When a piece of meat is cooking, the juices inside are forced into the centre. By allowing your meat to rest, you are allowing those juices to redistribute themselves throughout the meat. As a result, meat that has rested will shed much less juice than meat sliced straight after cooking.
There is also the “carryover cooking effect” to be considered. Meat will continue to rise in temperature after it’s taken off the grill, meaning that a prime cut should be removed when it's 5 to 10 degrees below the desired serving temperature. This only applies to red meat and not to fish or poultry.
The right tools for the job
A workman is only as good as his tools, so if you’re planning on barbecuing your meat to perfection, then you’re going to need the right tools for the job.
The first thing you’ll need is a good set of barbecue tongs. These will do most of your heavy lifting, so they need to be of a high-quality, stainless steel. Avoid tongs made from light-weight aluminium; you’ll know they’re not sturdy enough the moment you pick them up.
Unless you’re a professional chef, you’ll need help in knowing when your meat is cooked to perfection. A temperature probe will help you with this, and with a instant-read thermometer, your steak will be perfect every time.
When it’s time to carve your perfectly cooked meat - after letting it rest of course – you’ll want to use a proper carving knife and a solid carving board. A good, sharp knife is the final touch to your cooking experience, and a quality chopping board will let you catch any juices and transport your delicious meat from barbecue to dinner table with ease.
The ultimate cooker for the ultimate barbecue
When it comes to the intricacies of barbecuing meat, you will need the very best cooker available, and without a doubt, it is the Engel Fire outdoor cooker.
This is the only outdoor cooker which does everything, and we mean everything!
Incorporating an outdoor fire, a barbecue grill, a wood fired oven, a smoker, a pizza oven, and rotisserie, the Engel Fire was designed because there was nothing else on the market available to do it all.
Simple to use, flexible, and extremely durable, the Engel Fire is the ultimate outdoor cooker, big enough to cook for the largest summer barbecue party.
If you would like to know more about our custom-made cooker, then contact us today and we’ll be happy to talk more about how you can have your own personalised Engel fire.