GRILLING. Grilling is a fast, dry method of cooking tender cuts of meat and vegetables with radiant heat directed from below or from above. Its chief benefit is that it provides for the maximum amount of browning. In addition, a well-seasoned grill imparts a distinct flavor of its own to food cooked on it.
Virtually every American man either feels himself to be a master of outdoor grilling or experiences a twinge of guilt at falling short. The backyard barbecue has become for many the epitome of the suburban good life.
Grilling owes part of its appeal to its apparent simplicity: humans, fire, and meat. But many people are deceived by what looks like a simple process, and a lot of good food ends up ruined unnecessarily. Worse yet, some of the most delicious uses of the outdoor grill are ignored.
It is important to understand that grilling is not the same as barbecuing, even though both can be done on the same covered grill wheeled out of the garage on Sunday afternoons. Barbecue is an indirect slow-cooking process that uses long periods of exposure to low heat to tenderize tough cuts like brisket and chuck steak. It is generally agreed that the correct barbecue temperatures are from 180°F to 300°F. During the hours of cooking, extra flavor can be imparted from the smoky character of the grill, from the fuel used, and from sauces that are applied regularly. It is possible to get and satisfy a sudden impulse to grill. Barbecue, on the other hand, is a matter that requires planning, careful thought, and the provision of some form of amusement for the chef.
Methods of Grilling
Grilling can be divided into three major cooking styles, depending on how the heat source is configured. But all agree that the heat used must be above 500°F. The under-heat technique and grill roasting have the advantage of flavor enhancement from the grill itself; other methods only simulate some of the attributes of grilling.
In traditional or under-heat grilling, food is placed on a rack or grill bars over a gas or charcoal grill. Because of the fast nature of the cooking process, it is necessary to preheat the grill and the racks.
In top-heat grilling or broiling, used mostly in restaurants, the food is placed under a salamander, a professional overhead cooking oven. Again the grill (broiler) must be preheated, for quick searing. The process does produce a fine grill quality, but falls short in two areas. It does not leave the distinct grill marks so prized by many chefs and grill fanatics alike, and it also does not impart a smoke flavor.
Pan grilling, the third main method, is suitable for the most tender cuts. The food is cooked directly on a heavy cast-iron pan or ridged griddle pan. The cooking surface should be lightly seasoned to avoid sticking. One advantage of this method is that the food can be seared on a ridged pan, then finished in the preheated oven. This professional method is practical when preparing banquet menus, because the chef can be sure of consistently cooking to the same degree of doneness.
Other techniques. Grill roasting or indirect grilling is a hybrid technique. The procedure uses a conventional grill in a nontraditional way: fire is ignited under part of the grill, the food is placed over the unheated or coolest part of the grill, and the grill lid is closed. Some of the flavor of the grill is imparted to the food, which is usually browned over the heated part. Grill roasting is best for foods that are already tender but have a larger mass; birds and fish are good candidates.
Grill smoking is another variation on indirect grilling. Before you start to grill, place a metal dish or foil package containing moistened wood chips or herbs below the grill and over the fire. The heat will make lots of smoke that will fill the closed grill and flavor the food. This is a particularly good technique to use with brined foods.
In terms of grilling tips, simple common sense is the rule. Always trim excessive fat off meat; this will help stop flareup, which adds a combustion taste to grilled foods. Always remove silver skin and connective tissue; silver skin does not dissolve when cooking, and connective tissue can cause meat to warp on the grill as the elastin shrinks.
As is true with all high-heat cooking, the best results come from food of uniform thickness. Trim the tapered ends from chicken breasts and vegetables and cook separately or reserve for another use. If grilling a vegetable—asparagus, for instance—try to select pieces that are of uniform thickness. Cutting other vegetables on a mandoline—a compact, hand-operated wood-or stainless steel-frame slicing and cutting machine with various adjustable blades—makes uniform thickness easy to obtain.
Dry ingredients that are exposed to high heat brown, their protein transformed by a series of changes called the Maillard reactions. Browned meats are much more flavorful, and when people say that they love the smell of cooked meat, they are in fact admiring the aromas that accompany browning. Maillard reactions take place only at temperatures well above the boiling point of water, so it is essential to pat meat that is wet or marinated dry before grilling. Meat and vegetables can also be brushed with oil or rubbed with infused oil. This actually facilitates browning while it adds flavor and prevents items from sticking to grids.
Season at the last minute. Never (except when braising) let meat sit in a coat of salt. Instead, add salt or salt-and-spice mixtures immediately before cooking. If salt is left on the surface it draws out the juices and toughens the meat. Be careful not to burn spices. With dry herb-and-spice rubs used to impart flavor, brush off excess before grilling; an option is to brush over the surface with oil before cooking, to prevent burning dry-rub ingredients.
When using natural fuel (charcoal) make sure coals are the correct temperature, and burnt down. A two-second hand count (meaning you can't hold your hand over the grill for more than two seconds) is the rule for a grill between 450°F and 500°F. Nothing imparts a bad resin flavor like charcoal that is not fully ignited and a cool grill.
The Science of Grilling
Some understanding of cooking chemistry helps in grilling. Chefs are reexamining the use of brining or salting to produce juicy items today, and it is only a matter of time before the consumer catches on to this technique. Brining—soaking lean cuts in salted water—preserves moisture. For fish, pork, chicken, or shrimp, prepare a brine with one cup of kosher salt per gallon of water (some brines also call for a small amount of sugar). Soak chicken in brine for two to twenty-four hours, other foods for as little as an hour. Rinse well, pat dry, and use the indirect method described above. The science behind the brine is simple; meat proteins are made up of amino acids, some of which are highly charged. They interact with the salt ions in the brine to open their structure and to dramatically increase their water-holding capacity. The salt actually moves into the meat, and extra water is also absorbed; on the grill, the salt in the meat holds on to the moisture, and so does the protein. The result is a juicier product, even from the high heat of the grill or the medium-high heat of grill roasting. Another way to impart flavor is by use of marinades and basting. Before cooking, meat proteins and vegetables may be marinated in mixtures of oil with vinegar, wine or citrus juice, herbs and spices, and other ingredients to help tenderize and add flavor. Marinades should always be blotted dry before grilling.
The process of grilling must also be defined in terms of the fuel used. There are several different types of grills, but gas and charcoal are by far the most common. They are also the source of the great grill debate: efficiency versus flavor. Today, gas grills represent about 60 percent of sales to household consumers. It is clear that they have their advantages, the most touted being ease of use, not having to add more fuel during long cookouts, and a juicy end product. Grilling purists, however, argue that hardwood charcoal gives a better flavor, and a smoky, drier character. The fuel source for charcoal grills has been recognized for at least five thousand years. No one is certain who discovered charcoal, but evidence of early use has been found all over the world. What most consumers may not know is that charcoal is actually wood; it is created by heating wood to high temperatures. Charcoal does provide a distinctive flavor that is not easily reproduced. And with the use of hardwoods like hickory, cherry, and mesquite, the flavor profile of the final product may have infinite variety. It is a tough decision for many people: the convenience of a gas grill against the flavor of charcoal.
See also Barbecue; Broiling; Hearth Cookery; Marinating and Marinades; Meat; Roasting.
Cooks Illustrated Editors. How to Barbecue and Roast on the Grill. Cooks Illustrated Library. Boston: Boston Common Press, 1999.
McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribners, 1984.
BROILING. Broiling is a dry-heat method of oven cooking meats and vegetables in which the food is exposed to direct, radiant heat from a gas or electric element at about 550°F. The food is placed in a special pan and set several inches below the heating element until the desired state of doneness is achieved. Because little or no fat is added, broiling is considered a good method of cookery for those who are counting calories.
In Europe, broiling is considered virtually synonymous with grilling, but in America, the term "broiling" is usually applied to cooking in an oven, while "grilling" usually denotes the use of an outdoor or indoor grill.
In broiling meat, the objective is to sear the outside of the piece and seal in its natural juices or moisture, producing a browned, crusty exterior while bringing the interior to the doneness desired by the cook. In beef, this ranges from a state so rare that it appears to be tinged blue, to "well done," with no hint of pink. The classic beefsteak is cooked medium rare. Beefsteak, pork chops, chicken, and fish are the most commonly broiled foods, but a wide variety of foods can successfully be broiled, even fruit, such as bananas.
Broiling uses a sturdy, two-part pan that fits well in the oven and is normally provided with the oven when new. The top part is the cooking surface and is slotted to permit juices to drip into the bottom part, which can be lined with aluminum foil to make cleaning easier. Either gas or electric heating elements can be used. While restaurants almost always use gas, many home kitchens are equipped with electric broilers. An electric broiler can be an advantage for some foods, such as fish, for which a temperature lower than 550°F is desirable, since the broiler can be set to the desired temperature. Some, but not all, gas broilers can be similarly adjusted.
Since heat rises, it may seem odd that the food is put under the heating element. However, broiling works by radiant energy, in which the heat is applied directly from the gas flame or red-hot electric element, rather than by convection, in which hot, moving air carries the energy.
While the broiler should always be pre-heated for ten to fifteen minutes before the cooking begins, the broiling pan should be left out so that the food is put on a cold surface and then put in the oven. This is to ensure that the food is cooked on one side at a time; otherwise, a hot pan would begin an inadequate cooking process on the "down" side before the piece is turned and becomes the "up" side, exposed to the heating element.
No moisture is added in broiling. To assist in the browning process, however, a thin film of oil can be brushed onto the food piece. Salt and pepper should be added after each side is cooked, but not before; salt can draw out moisture and slow down the browning process, while pepper will burn at high temperatures.
Before broiling beefsteaks and pork chops, most of the external fat should be trimmed, since it will create smoke and contribute nothing to the cooking of the meat. (The juiciness of beef comes from the internal fat known as marbling and a substance called myoglobin rather than from its external fat.)
Adjust the rack so that the surface of the food will be the desired distance from the broiler (see "Position," below). Keep in mind that the pan and the food together will be two or three inches deep at least. Slash the external fat vertically at several points to keep the steak from curling up as the fat shrinks. Place the food on the broiler pan and put it in the oven; sear one side, add salt and pepper to the cooked side, and turn the piece to cook the other side. Remove when the desired state of doneness is reached; let stand for a few minutes to allow the juices to settle, and serve with sauce or a pat of butter.
Position. The distance of the food piece from the broiler depends on the thickness of the piece. Pieces of meat that are an inch or less thick should be placed about two or three inches from the broiler, with thicker cuts set farther away. Very thick steaks (three or four inches thick, such as a filet mignon) should be broiled on one side about four inches from the broiler, and then the pan should be moved to a lower rack, eight or nine inches from the boiler, to finish.
Time and doneness. While a well-done steak was once considered a mistake if not a tragedy, many restaurant patrons and home cooks have come to tolerate this cooking method. The reasons for this may have to do with the fact that the best steaks––those labeled "prime" according to the grading system of the U.S. Department of Agriculture––are expensive and sold mainly to restaurants or high-end food stores, so that most supermarket shoppers have little acquaintance with steaks whose flavor is at its peak before they are thoroughly cooked. Also, some people believe that undercooked steak is dangerous. In fact, harmful bacteria, if present at all, are present only on the surface and are quickly destroyed by the heat of normal cooking. Deep muscle meat is sterile except under very unusual circumstances, such as extreme illness in the animal, or mishandling of the food. This observation does not apply, however, to hamburger, which consists of ground meat that could include contaminated portions; the USDA recommends thorough cooking of hamburgers and other ground meat products.
The timing for beefsteaks of about one inch thick, placed two inches from the broiler is: very rare, one to two minutes per side (the interior will be purple with a hint of blue); rare, two to three minutes per side (red inside); medium, three to four minutes per side (pink in the center); well done, broil three minutes per side, then lower the rack several inches and cook six to ten minutes more (the steak will be grayish or brown all the way though).
Suitable foods. Beef cuts suitable for broiling include the tenderloin or fillet (the center part is used for châteaubriand, and the tip is the filet mignon); rump steaks; flank steak (for London broil); sirloin, rib-eye, and round steak.
Chicken legs, thighs, and wings can be broiled. Bone-in chicken breasts, as a result of their bulk, are better roasted or grilled than broiled in the oven; boneless chicken breast, however, is perfect for the broiler. The pan should be coated with oil to keep boneless breast from sticking, since it has almost no fat of its own.
Broiling is a good method for pork tenderloin but can easily dry out leaner cuts, such as pork chops, which usually benefit from cooking in liquid on the stovetop. Lamp chops broil well but will cook very quickly, taking two or three minutes per side for medium rare.
Fish fillets are thin enough to be broiled on a single side. Whole, cleaned fish (such as bluefish or mackerel) and fish steaks (such as salmon or tuna) can be broiled on both sides. A whole fish should have the head and tail left on for cooking and should be slashed in two places in the thickest part of the fish to let the heat reach the middle.
Some fruits and vegetables can be broiled, including asparagus; firm tomatoes, cut in half; and peppers. Broiling separates the skin from the pepper, leaving soft, cooked meat. Broiled grapefruit and bananas make tasty side dishes or desserts. Grapefruit, cut in half and topped with sugar, can be broiled until bubbling. Bananas can be peeled, cut lengthwise, and dotted with butter and sugar before broiling.
See also Barbecue; Cooking; Grilling; Hamburger; Iron Cookstove; Meat; Roasting.
Bittman, Mark. How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food. New York: Macmillan, 1998.
Conran, Caroline, Terence Conran, and Simon Hopkinson. The Essential Cook Book: The Back-To-Basics Guide to Selecting, Preparing, Cooking, and Serving the Very Best of Food. New York: Stewart Tabori & Chang, 1997.
Hillman, Howard. Kitchen Science: A Guide to Knowing the Hows and Whys for Fun and Success in the Kitchen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989.
Kamman, Madeleine. The New Making of a Cook: The Art, Techniques, and Science of Good Cooking. New York: William Morrow, 1997.
Robuchon, Joel. Larousse Gastronomique. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2001.
Wright, Jeni, and Eric Treuille. Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cooking Techniques. New York: William Morrow, 1997.
Richard L. Lobb