Charcoal or Gas?
For purists, this isn’t even a question, but there are advantages to both.
Charcoal provides a delicious taste that can’t be beaten, but – let’s face it – not all of us are fire starters and the mess and time it takes to get to the ready-to-cook stage can take ages. Gas provides instant and even heat so it does get the job done.
Grilling versus barbecuing?
While we do tend to use the same words when we talk about BBQ action, grilling refers to the faster cooking action (steaks, sausages, smaller cuts) while barbecuing can be an all-day affair, where the use of a pit or enclosed structure very slowly cooks larger cuts and is especially good for tougher cuts that are very flavoursome but need that additional cooking time to make them great.
Using either heat source, choose your cooking method to achieve different results
Indirect heat means the heat source is adjacent to your food not directly on top of it. The heat difference can be major, and vary by as much 80 degrees. The choice to slow down the cooking and use indirect heat can be really useful for larger cuts that you want to cook more gently over a longer period, whereas items such as kebabs, burgers and steaks want faster cooking times, so need direct, intense heat to get the job done. We suggest the following:
- Use direct heat for sausages, chops, steaks and hamburgers.
- Use indirect heat for roasts and larger cuts of meat.
- Cover the grill when cooking less tender cuts of meat.
- Prevent your cuts from curling by simply snipping the edges of the steak or chop diagonally about 2cm into the meat.
- Don’t press down on the meat as it cooks. This forces out moisture that you want to stay inside. Don’t forget to rest your meat as well as you would out of the oven.
- Those super-tender cuts like eye fillet, sirloin and rib eye are so flavoursome, they don’t need marinade additions. Don’t overdo it – just add salt and pepper and get cooking.
- Marinating tougher cuts, like skirt steak, first will give even more flavour.
- Don’t be afraid to go low and slow on cuts like brisket and shank – they deserve it.
- Try pre-cooking and using the grill or BBQ to simply finish and add flavour. Spare ribs are a great example, where prepping and cooking in advance makes a slow process much faster.
- Low- or no-fat cuts are best cooked fast and rare.
- Start your sausages on a high heat so they get a nice char on them before moving them to indirect heat to cook through.
If you have a gas BBQ, one burner can be turned off to give you indirect heat that is gentler; on a charcoal grill, pile the coals around the edges of the BBQ and cook in the centre. We suggest using a drip tray at all times for easy clean up. Cat litter is a fantastic item to have on hand for BBQ season to line trays with.
Invest in a meat thermometer. Accurate temperature checking means you can safely serve up meats to your BBQ guests without fear of offending picky palates or risking food poisoning with undercooked chicken.
We suggest the following cooking temperatures for best results:
Medium-rare - 63C
Medium - 72C
Medium-well - 74C
Well done - 77 C
Ground Meats (burgers etc.) - 72C
Time to get ready!
Before you grill or bbq be ready for the action with a few simple steps:
- Clean your grill, especially the rack, before each use. Use a wire BBQ cleaning brush to get off any burnt-on food that can burn further and cause acrid tastes.
- Oil the rack prior to heating to prevent sticking. Keep a spray bottle filled with canola oil handy in case of unexpected sticking, but be sure to use oil sparingly to prevent flare-ups and injury. Oiling meat before it hits the rack will also help.
- The area of the fire needs to be wider than the area of the food you’re grilling. If you are cooking a variety of items using charcoal, pile coals at different levels to achieve the right level of heat for each item. Don’t overfill your rack. Allow enough space between items.
- Preheat your charcoal grill well and don’t skimp on the charcoal. Light the coals at least 30 minutes before you plan to begin cooking. Do not put foods on the grill until the fire dies down to glowing coals. You just can’t rush charcoal, so don’t go to all the trouble and then be disappointed because you rushed it.
- Even gas grills need to preheat. Turn on the flame at least 15 minutes before putting food over the fire. This will help to warm up the grate and stabilise the temperature of the grill environment.