CLEVELAND - It’s Memorial Day weekend and you can almost smell the charcoal burning. For many, that’s the scent of fear. It means another season of battling the coals, standing over the grill and watching dinner go up in smoke. Literally.
It shouldn’t be that hard. After all, it’s just fire and food. Heat it. Cook it. Serve it. Right?
Yes and no.
While it may sound clichéd, outdoor cooking over flame just takes a few minutes to learn and a lifetime to master, especially if you’re only a seasonal griller. No problem, there are ways to cheat the learning curve. You can be a better backyard cook by following some simple words of advice.
Have a plan. Half the battle of any task is coming up with a course of action. Figure out your menu, make a list of ingredients and get the shopping out of the way.
Do A Little Homework.
Read up on what you’re cooking, especially if it’s something you’ve never prepared before.
Do The Prep Work.
Chop what needs to be chopped, cut what needs to be cut, marinate what needs to be marinated—you get the idea. Make sure it’s ready and easily accessible when it’s time to start the cooking process.
Make sure you have the tools and utensils you need before you start cooking, and have them on hand when you do.
Get a Meat Thermometer
One of the easiest ways to wreck your success is by overcooking or undercooking meat. Cooking by sight alone is a gamble at best. Use a meat thermometer. The internal temperature of poultry should register 165 degrees when done. For rare beef or lamb it should be 125 degrees. For medium beef or lamb take it to 135. For pork, most people like it done, and that’s 155 degrees.
Don’t Stick It
Use tongs or spatulas to turn meat or remove it from the grill. Forks make holes. Holes leak juices. Leaked juices translate to dry meat. Dry meat makes me sad.
Keep It Simple
You’re cooking outside, it’s supposed to be rustic. Part of the beauty of it is its simplicity. Don’t overcomplicate the process. Go with basic recipes, let the smoke and fire infuse the flavor. Take the simplicity approach with your sides, too. The less complicated they are, the more time you’ll have to enjoy your celebration.
Know Your Grill
Every grill is different. Some burn hotter than others. Some vent differently than others. And always remember to create hot and cool spots in your grill. Do that by stacking charcoal deeper in some areas, and leaving other areas charcoal-free. You’re going to need that to vary cooking temperatures.
Use fresh ingredients when you can. Fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs just taste better. So do fresh baked goods.
There’s no substitute for quality. If this is a holiday celebration and you can afford it, spend a little more for better ingredients. Your taste buds, and your guests, will thank you.
It’s Always Snack Time
Have plenty of snacks on hand and within reach of your guests. Make sure you have a cooler of drinks, too. This is a celebration, and while you’re cooking your guests will want something to nibble on. Be ready so they'll be happy.
If it’s not fun, then somebody else should probably be doing the cooking, or you should be calling for carry out. It’s supposed to be a holiday. Love the process and the people who are choosing to spend their time with you. And, if things don’t go 100 percent right, don’t sweat it. That’s part of the process, too. Now, grab one of those cold drinks I suggested you have on hand. Relax. Don’t worry, you’re going to be a star!