Fourth of July Cooking: Let Common Sense Be Your Guide
If you waited for July 4 to fire up the grill for the first time this summer then shame on you. This is South Florida where grilling in December is no big deal. You should be an expert, and it should show on Independence Day.
Whether you're grilling steaks, chicken, fish or vegetables the key is patience. First of all, it's summer and it's hot. That alone is enough to slow you down, but you don't want to be running around and end up with heatstroke. At the same time moving too fast will ruin your barbecue. It'll make your food rubbery, dry, and an embarrassment to both yourself and our great celebration of American independence.
Here are a few common-sense tips that will make your barbecue something special, and something people will lobby you to repeat throughout the rest of the year.
5. "Pre-heat" your meat
You remember that chicken breast that burned on the outside but was raw inside? I bet you took it straight from the refrigerator to the grill. The only thing worse is straight onto the grill after a short time thawing. See when you slap a cold piece of meat on a hot grill the outside cooks much faster than the inside. Professional chefs might tell you this is a no-no. You can tell them to stick their heads inside their infrared broilers that can hit temperatures above 1,000 degrees. Give your meat 10 or 15 minutes on the countertop covered with a piece of paper towel and allow it to start coming to room temperature. Just don't forget about it while downing drinks poolside. Meat that spends too much time over 40 degrees Fahrenheit runs the risk of growing bacteria.
4. Get it salty, quickly
In the Momofuku cookbook David Chang advises you to salt a ribeye steak as you would an icy sidewalk in the middle of winter. Those of us not keen on having a heart attack prior to age 50 feel free to use less salt, but be sure to get it on the meat and let it sit for just a couple of minutes, until you see the salt begin to dissolve. Some claim that salt left on meat for a long time will help tenderize it. However salt will also draw the moisture out of the meat, making it harder to get that smoky, crispy char everyone looks for on grilled meat. Plus, if you leave meat out for too long while letting the salt do its magic you again run the risk of bacteria.
3. Do not press your meat
Have you ever gone to someone's house and watched them endlessly flip burgers, steaks or chicken, then press down on the poor thing with all of their might? Ever notice how there's a slight flare up after they do so? It's because pressing on that meat squeezes out much of the juices, including the fat where all of the flavor is. Fat is flammable (think Victorian-era oil candles) thus causing the flare up. Respect your meat. Don't press it.
2. Rest your meat
We just discussed that fat is where the flavor comes from. So imagine all of the fat inside your preferred meat as a stick of butter. (Paula Deen's downfall has left a huge hole for a new butter spokesperson and we intend to grease and fill it.) When you heat the butter, it melts into a liquid. The same thing happens inside meat. So when you take it straight from the grill and serve it to your guests, who start cutting with juices running everywhere, you're actually being a bad host. You're depriving then of the deliciousness and flavor they were expecting. Twelve-steppers aside, it's as though you invited them over and offered them nothing to drink other than O'Douls and lukewarm water. If you let the meat sit for a few minutes (loosely covered with tin foil if you're scared of it going cold) you give all that tasty fat some time to cool down, solidify and be a part of each scrumptious bite.
1. Have appetizers ready to go, even the cheap kind
All of the aforementioned tips require one thing: TIME. You know why some so-called grill masters are caught flipping and pressing burgers into dry oblivion? Because the party is staring at them with ravenous, Donner Party-esque eyes and the poor cook is overcome with pressure to produce. When a dozen or more drunk people have been waiting a half hour to eat you're obviously not going to ask them wait an additional seven minutes while their meat rests, are you? Buy some pita and hummus. Get some vegetable sticks and ranch dressing. Set out chips and salsa, even some nice processed cheese cubes. The most important thing is to keep the savages off your back while you take the steps necessary to produce a proper barbecue.
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