As the weather continues to warm up, folks looking to escape hot home kitchens increasingly cook food outdoors. There are many ways to do this. The most commonly used is a radiant grill. There are many books written on the subject that I feel complicate and confuse more than necessary.
I was asked recently about what I would use to marinate chicken. My answer was simply herbs like rosemary and thyme. What I didn’t get a chance to talk about was that marinating for a long period of time is not necessary and can actually yield some undesirable results.
When grilling a lean meat like chicken I always stay away from the boneless, skinless variety because they can easily end up dry if you aren’t careful. Instead I go for any piece with the skin on in either halves or quarters, bone in or out, whichever you prefer. Bone in versus out cooking is a discussion left for another time.
Preparing to grill chicken is fairly straightforward: let it come up to room temperature and season it with whatever you like. Bringing the chicken up to room temperature is a good way to minimize the risk of the meat drying out on the grill. I rub it with some herbed oil and salt, saving some for the cooking process. As it is cooking, I will baste it with this mixture. When it is done cooking, I rest it on a wire rack so I am not continuing to cook the meat in its own juices. I use the juices that drip off and the marinade to continue basting the meat. As it relaxes, the flavour will be able to penetrate through, having the initial desired result of marinating. Resting also prevents the meat from drying up right after you cut into it. Be mindful that meat will cook a few extra degrees in doneness as it rests.
When cooking on a grill, charcoal or gas, you want to have as much control as you can. You don’t want the grill too hot so as to char your food before cooking it and leaving carcinogens behind. You also don’t want to have the heat too low so as to let your meat steam when it hits the grill. Also, making sure there is no moisture present when placing it on the grill will prevent steaming. What I look for is the perfect heat that will achieve a nice sear and allow the meat to cook halfway on the one side without burning. When it is ready to be flipped, it will release itself. I then let it cook until it is done on the other side. There is no need to play, poke and prod your meat. Each time you touch the meat you are releasing delicious juices and sending them off to the bottom of your grill.
Cooking steak is very similar. First, choose a pieces of meat suited to dry heat cooking, tender cuts like rib eye, tenderloin, striploin, etc. Again, make sure the meat is at room temperature before you put it on the grill. If the meat is too cold you will end up with uneven colouring of the meat. It will go from well done on the outside to medium-rare versus an evenly cooked medium-rare throughout. For steaks I usually opt for very little seasoning beyond salt. I like to taste the quality of the meat I am eating. Developing the flavour with good caramelization is all that is needed for a good steak.
- Heat cooking surface up enough to caramelize, not burn meat
- Ensure surfaces are free of moisture before cooking
- Let it cook, don’t play with what you’re cooking
- Baste with marinade as it cooks
- Let it rest so it’s not sitting in its own juices, it will continue cooking
- Baste with cooked juices
- Enjoy deliciousness