Many of us look forward to Memorial Day as the first long weekend of summer. The weather is usually pretty good, and we’re able to get out and enjoy time with friends and family. This weekend is often the inaugural use of the grill for many people: burgers, hot dogs, and grilled corn abound. As you brush up on your grilling skills, here are a few of our best grilling tips for your Memorial Day weekend festivities:
- Give charcoal a chance! It’s not as challenging to cook on a charcoal grill as you might think, and the payoff is worth it. Charcoal grills give food a richer, smokier taste than gas grills. As a side note, though, go with additive-free lump charcoal over briquettes, which can contain harmful ingredients.
- Always preheat the grill. Just like baking in an oven, it’s important to get your grill nice and hot before you toss on the food. It kills any leftover bacteria, and allows you to get a sear on your meat that will retain moisture. Bonus: a pre-heated grill is much easier to brush off than a cold grill!
- Know your temperatures. Recipes call for different temperatures. Here’s a general guide to follow:
- High: 400-450ºF
- Medium-High: 350-400ºF
- Medium: 300-350ºF
- Low: 250-300ºF
If your grill doesn’t have a thermometer, you can general estimate the temperature by using your hand. Hold your palm 5 inches above the grill rack. If you have to move your hand after 2 seconds, the temperature is approximately high; if you have to move it in 5 seconds, the temperature is around medium; if it takes 10 seconds before you have to move your hand, temperature is probably low.
- Oil the grill. Food can stick even to a clean grill. Avoid using cooking sprays, and instead soak a folded paper towel in your oil of choice and use tongs to rub the grill racks.
- Marinate your meat. Not only do marinades give incredible flavor, they also reduce the risk of meats forming carcinogenic HCAs (heterocyclic amines) while grilling. However, be careful of over-marinating your meat. 30 minutes to 2 hours is usually adequate. More time than that, and you run the risk of over-softening the food – especially if your marinade contains pineapple or other tropical fruits. Vinegar and citrus juice can make meat tough if it sits for too long.
- Make sure your meat is cooked. Invest in a quality meat thermometer so you can know when your meat is adequately cooked through. Here’s a temperature guide:
- Steak and Lamb: 165ºF for Well Done, 155ºF for Medium, 140º for Medium Rare, 130-135º for Rare
- Pork: 175-185º for Well Done, 155-165ºF for Medium Well,140-155ºF for Medium
- Chicken and Turkey: 160-165ºF for white meat, 170-175º for dark meat
- Fish: 135ºF for Medium, 120ºF for Medium Rare
- Veal: 145-155ºF
- Make good use of a grill basket. Some vegetables are just too small to place directly on the grill. Grill baskets easily solve this problem. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes (your local kitchen store will have an assortment) that make it possible to grill vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, or even avocado.
- Keep your skewers moist. Kabobs will taste better and stay juicier if the ingredients are touching. Don’t cram them on, but allow them to barely touch.
- Let meat rest. For the best flavor, allow your meat to rest for about ten minutes under tin foil before cutting into it. This more evenly distributes the flavor.
- Choose a good cut. Certain cuts of meat are better suited to grilling. If you’re going with chicken, thighs will withstand the heat better and stay moist. For beef, flank steak is a delicious cut to grill (just be sure to slice it against the grain when it’s done cooking). If you’re craving pork, a tenderloin is leaner and will taste better off the grill than pork chops.
In the midst of our celebrations, though it’s important to remember that Memorial Day is a holiday honoring those who have died in active military service. As we enjoy time off work, we can pause to reflect on the great sacrifices made to preserve our freedom.