Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My wife kicks ass when it comes to grilling and I'm less of a man now.

Dear Tricia, I'll admit it - I let my wife grill. She's gets it right every time. I panic. . . I either cut it to check how cooked it is (medium rare for steaks, medium well for burgers is what I like - but they have to be seared on the outside) or I take it off and have to put it back on or I turn it too many times or I overcook it for what I wanted (although I almost never actually burn it). I'm also clueless for making marinades and sauces. . . I prefer spicy / vinegary / pepper type of sauces over sweet ones. I'm so ashamed.

So you feel like a girly man, huh? When I think the opposite of a girly man, I think of 2 things: Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Hans and Franz. But because I'm not a Republican, I'll go with a Hans and Franz themed post. In hopes of becoming more like the Hans and Franz of grilling, lets pump *clap* you up with some tips. We'll begin with marinades, since you’re going to be making that before you grill. A marinade has two very important qualities: it flavors the meat, and it tenderizes the meat. “What is tenderizing?” you ask? Well… that just means it starts to break down the connective tissues so that when you cook it, you get a tender product that you can gently saw your knife into, rather than hack and cuss at like a stale piƱata. A marinade needs a nice balance of acid and flavorings. Acid is what will break down the meat fibers: citrus juices or vinegars are great options, and so is alcohol. In fact, alcohol will speed up the tenderizing in twice the time that a citrus fruit will, so I’d suggest adding a beer or some wine to your marinade. The most fun part of this is deciding what you want to add: do you like spicy stuff? Great. Add some crushed red pepper flakes, jalapenos, and Sriracha. Do you like something more deep and earthy? Add that red wine from the back of the fridge. The point is you must add something acidic in order for the marinade to do its work, and just have fun with the flavors. Always add a little bit of vegetable oil to the marinade to keep the meat from sticking on the grill. Also, poke some holes in the steak before you marinate it, that way it will reach the inside of the meat, and not just the surface. Marinate in the fridge, not out on the counter so that you’re not risking any bacteria growth, but let the steak come to room temperature just before you cook it.
(Here’s a fun fact to impress your guests with while you’re grilling: in Pre-Colombian Mexico, they used to wrap cuts of meat in papaya leaves because a naturally occurring enzyme called “papain” breaks down the fibers in meat. It also exists in pineapple, and you can find a derivative of it commercially, at the grocery store.)
Now, let’s talk grilling. To start with, set the grill to two different temperatures. Put one half on high and the other half on medium. This is so important and I’m surprise at how many people never do it! The high temp side is what you’re going to sear the meat with. Take the marinated meat, season it with some extra salt and pepper, brush it with oil. (Don’t use olive oil, it burns too fast.) and put it on the high side. Leave it there to get some really nice dark grill marks. Let the grill do all the work, don’t lift it up and keep checking it. When it has a nice dark color, flip it over and sear the other side. Brush that side with oil too… this helps keep it moist. If you like your steak rare, you won’t need to cook it any further, just a few minutes on each side to get dark color, and then take it off the grill. If you like it medium rare, you’re going to move it over to the medium temp side to finish cooking. Letting it cook at a lower temperature protects the outside from burning while the inside cooks. When you take the meat off the grill, let it rest for about 5 minutes before you serve it. This is going to let the juices settle and make it easier to cut, and the meat will also continue to cook a little bit on its own.
If you want to learn how to tell when the meat is done without cutting it to check, get a food thermometer at the grocery store and check the steak’s temperature. Here’s your guide:

Rare –125 degrees, red in the center and warm throughout
Medium Rare- 130-135 degrees, pinkish red in the center and fairly hot
Medium- 140-145 degrees, pink in the center, grayish brown surrounding, hot throughout
Medium Well- 150-155 degrees, grayish brown center, only a trace of pink
Well Done- 160 degrees, gray in the center

As you practice more, you’re going to remember how the steak feels when you press on it and you will be able to tell when the steak is done without a thermometer. Meat will continue to cook another 5 degrees or so after you take it off the grill to rest, so remember that when you’re taking the temperature.
Happy grilling, and congratulations on your new-found manhood. Feel free to celebrate your non-girlyman-ness by grilling in a weight lifting belt and talking in with an Austrian accent.

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