The Ultimate Grilling Guide | Popular Mechanics

TREVOR RAAB

The trick to a perfectly cooked hunk of protein is to get the temperature close to uniform throughout the flesh. That’s not easy to accomplish if you consider the physics of heat transfer. When heat hits meat, the molecules on the outside start moving quickly, and then gradually transfer their energy toward the center.

“Hot air cooks the outside of the meat, and the outside of the meat cooks the inside,” says Meathead Goldwyn, author of Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling. “But this takes time because meat is 70 percent water and water is a good heat absorber, especially when entrapped in muscle fibers and fat.”

So when cooking meat outdoors, it is critical to understand the makeup of your meat and match it to the right heat source. Meat is muscle tissue, made up of mostly water, protein, fats, and minerals. When you look at a steak, you see streaks of intramuscular fat woven among the thick bundles of muscle fibers called myofibrils.

You may or may not see connective tissue like collagen that surrounds the muscle fibers. Lean meats like chicken and tenderloin don’t have much collagen. Thicker, tougher cuts like ribs, shoulder, and brisket have a lot.

“A good rule of thumb is the thicker the meat, the lower the heat; the thinner the meat, the higher the heat,” says Meathead. (Goldwyn prefers to be called Meathead, a name bestowed upon him by his father during the reign of the TV show All in the Family.)

“I’m talking about skinny foods like skirt steak, shrimp, asparagus,” he says. “You want what I call Warp 10 cooking; crank that grill and give ’er all she’s got, Scottie!”

“YOU WANT WHAT I CALL WARP 10 COOKING; CRANK THAT GRILL AND GIVE ’ER ALL SHE’S GOT, SCOTTIE!”

That method delivers a dark brown sear to the surface (known as the Maillard reaction) without overcooking the center. Keep the lid up or off and flip your food often, almost like a rotisserie. Thicker, tougher cuts of meat (like beef brisket, pork shoulder, and ribs that have a lot of fat and collagen) should be cooked low and really slow—“that’s when the magic happens,” says Meathead. The collagen slowly breaks down and melts into a rich, silky liquid called gelatin.

One of the biggest mistakes backyard chefs make is cooking thick cuts at too-high heat to accelerate cooking. An experiment by scientist Greg Blonder, Ph.D., a professor at Boston University’s College of Engineering, demonstrated how impatience can ruin a meal.

The scientific advisor to the barbecuing website AmazingRibs.com roasted two identical 4″ by 3″ pork loins, one at 325º F and the other at 255º F. He inserted a thermometer into the surface and center of each. When the center hit the perfect 145º F, the outer layers of the loin roasted at higher heat were overcooked and dry, while the loin cooked longer at 225º F was moist throughout, except for the delicious brown crust.

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KNOW THE LINGO

The terms grilling and barbecuing are often confused and used interchangeably. But they’re very different cooking methods.

Grilling: With the lid up, you use high-temperature direct heat on the bottom of the food, instead of all around it. This is conduction heating; food is cooked by direct contact with a heat source: the metal grates. High heat produces little smoke. It brings meat up to its internal doneness temperature quickly; typically, within five to 20 minutes. Best foods for grilling are thin steaks, chops, hamburgers, seafood fillets, and vegetables.

Barbecuing: This is “low and slow” convection cooking: low temperatures (200° to 300° F) bathe all surfaces of the food, transferring heat indirectly for 2 to 18 hours. Only slow cooking over indirect heat will break down the connective tissue on tough cuts like brisket. “Smoke is the essence of barbecue,” says Meathead.

You can barbecue with smoke on most grills by creating a low-heat zone.

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Source: The Ultimate Grilling Guide