Mixon / EVERYDAY BARBECUE
HOW IT’S DONE
Remember this, folks: My job here in this book is to show you that barbecue is food that you can enjoy every day. I’m going to break it down and make it as easy as possible for you to make at home.
Six different cooking methods work for the recipes in this book:
1. Smoking on a smoker
2. Smoking on a charcoal grill
3. Smoking on a gas grill
4. Grilling on a charcoal grill
5. Grilling on a gas grill
6. Using an oven
Now I don’t want to confuse you with too much information up front. So what I’m going to do is offer up a general primer right here, right now, and give you all the steps you need to adapt just about any recipe in this book to whichever your preferred cooking method may be. And along the way if there’s additional information you need about cooking methods, I’ll give it to you then and there.
How to Ready a Charcoal Grill
Spread coals on the bottom of the grill.
Using lighter fluid: Pour the lighter fluid on the coals as directed in the instructions, and move away from the grill before you strike the match.
With a chimney starter: These are the very popular 6- to 8-inch-wide cylindrical canisters with handles attached that make good fire starters. To light charcoal (or wood, either way), place a few sheets of newspaper or some lighter-fluid-touched charcoals in the bottom. Place the chimney on the charcoal grate, touch a lit match to the newspaper or charcoals, and the coals will begin to blaze. When most of the coals are white-hot, lift the chimney and dump out the coals into the base of the grill.
Spread the hot coals on the bottom of the grill. It may take up to 30 minutes to get to 500°F (for high heat). Use the hand-pass test to determine the heat: For medium-high heat, rake the coals into a slightly thinner layer and let them burn 5 to 10 minutes longer, so your hand can linger over the coals comfortably for about 5 seconds (count to 5 slowly: one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, etc.); if you can make it to five without having to pull your hand away, the temperature is right. For medium heat, spread the coals even wider along the bottom of the grill and do the hand-pass test for 7 to 8 seconds. For medium-low heat, let the coals burn for 10 to 15 minutes longer than you did for medium-high. You should be able to hold your hand six or so inches above the hot coals for 10 seconds.
The last thing to do before laying your meat on the grill: Make sure your grill grate is clean. The kettle itself can be smoke-and-spice seasoned, a condition that imparts another layer of flavor onto your meat, but you need for that actual grate to be pretty free of encrusted leftovers. When the grill is heating and you’ve already lit the coals, it’s in its “preheated” state: First, brush the grate with a long-handled wire brush. Then use a spatula to scrape off any pieces of debris. Now oil the grates, and there are two methods that work for me. In a hurry: Using heavy-duty potholders, carefully remove the cleaned grate from the grill and spray it with nonstick cooking spray or some olive oil from one of those misting canisters. A little more time: Leaving the grate on the grill, take a couple of sheets of folded-over paper towels, dip them in about ¼ cup vegetable oil to coat, and, grasping the oil-soaked paper towels with tongs, rub them up and down the bars of the hot grate.
How to Ready a Gas Grill
Set all burner dials on high. Preheat until the temperature reaches 500°F. This usually takes 10 to 15 minutes. For medium-high, preheat the grill to high, then turn the burner dials down to medium-high. The temperature should read about 400°F. For medium, preheat the grill to high, then turn the burner dials to medium. The temperature should read about 350°F. For medium-low, preheat the grill to high, then turn the dials down to medium-low. The temperature should read about 325°F.
How to Prepare a Smoker for Smoking
Smokers are made for smoking, but there is a wide range of options from the charcoal-burning “bullet”-style smokers to the ceramic Big Green Egg. In any of these you need to choose which wood you’ll smoke, and I recommend fruit woods because they’re mild in flavor, and high in sap, and generally have fewer impurities in them; you can choose from whatever is easiest to find near you: apple, cherry, grape, and my personal favorite, peach. Soak your wood chips an hour before you plan to light your smoker. Start your charcoal in a charcoal chimney as described above. Place the coals in the bottom third of the smoker (the firebox). Scatter the pre-soaked wood chips on the coals. What I want you to do that you may not already know about is to put a pan of water in the bottom of your smoker. A water pan is not a requirement to cook barbecue; it’s a stylistic touch that I like. I like it because it has a significant benefit: The water pan creates a steamy water bath inside the smoker that helps maintain the meat’s moisture, which is found naturally in its marbling (or fat). The water helps maintain a moist juicy texture in the meat and prevent it from drying out. To set up a water pan, simply fill a medium heavy-bottomed pan (no bigger than a 13 by 9-inch lasagna pan) about halfway with water and place it in the bottom of your smoker. The grill racks (there are usually two) fit above the water pan. Close the lid and monitor the fire until it reaches your desired temperature.
How to Prepare a Kettle or Other Charcoal Grill for Smoking
Take about a cup of your favorite wood chips (I like peach wood, being from Georgia) and soak them in enough water to cover them for at least an hour or, even better, overnight. When you’re ready to cook, drain the wood chips. Wrap them in aluminum foil and seal the edges; the best description I’ve seen of this technique is to make it like a “burrito”—a packet of soaked and drained wood chips. Using a long wooden skewer or a sharp-tined fork, poke several holes in the top of the packet. Set the packet aside. Then prepare the grill: On a standard kettle grill, bank your charcoal to one side, leaving a cold area for the meat to be placed (an “indirect” heat area, where the meat is not directly over the flame but is still being cooked by it). Then place that packet of wood chips underneath the charcoal. Place the lid on the kettle and control the level of the heat with the kettle grill’s vents, opening them up more to cool the smoker and closing them to raise it.
How to Prepare a Gas Grill for Smoking
Most models of gas grills have either two or three burners that can be controlled individually. Here’s what you do: Take about a cup of your favorite wood chips (I like peach wood, as I mentioned above) and soak them in enough water to cover them for at least an hour or, even better, overnight. When you’re ready to cook, drain the wood chips. Wrap them in aluminum foil and seal the edges; the best description I’ve seen of this technique is to make it like a “burrito”—a packet of soaked and drained wood chips. Using a long wooden skewer or a sharp-tined fork, poke several holes in the top of the packet. Set the packet aside. On a two-burner gas grill, light only one side; on a three-burner unit, light the two outside burners and leave the middle one cold. Place that packet of wood chips on the lit section (or sections). The flame will smolder the wet chips, producing smoke to cook and flavor your meat. Then you will place your meat on the unlit section of the gas grill and cook it under indirect heat. That’s it. Don’t worry about the grill’s side vents and making them closed airtight; do the best you can to shut them, but don’t worry; none of my smokers are what you’d call “airtight” either. And I win money with my food all the time.
Indirect Versus Direct Heat
You will hear me talking about “indirect” and “direct” heat throughout this book. Direct heat is simple: The food is cooked directly over the heat source. Food is cooked fast and hot—like my Perfect Grilled Rib Eyes (page 83) or my Mexican-Style Grilled Corn (page 245). Indirect heat means the heat source is a bit removed from the food. If the left burner is lit on your gas grill and you’re cooking Myron’s Dr Pepper Can Chicken (page 88) on the right side of the grill, that’s cooking with indirect heat. In that case, we’re not creating smoke, but if we were, we’d be smoking. Here’s the important difference: We’re not always smoking when we’re using indirect heat, but we’re always using indirect heat when we’re smoking. Got it?
How to use a Kettle or Other Charcoal Grill for Direct-Heat Grilling
In other words, you’re using high heat to cook thin (or thinnish) pieces of meat like steaks and chicken breasts, kebabs and veggies, and the grilled sandwiches and French toast in this book.
Regulating the heat is particularly important with direct grilling: Too hot and you’ll char your food, too cool and you won’t cook it at all. Real barbecue guys use the “hand-pass” test: Hold your hand about six inches or so over the coals. Count to three slowly (one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand), and if you can make it without having to pull your hand away, the temperature is about right for the kind of fast, hot cooking you’re about to do (you’re looking for about 500°F here). Direct grilling almost never requires you to close the grill, so you can stand right by your steaks and make sure they don’t, God forbid, catch on fire.
How to use a Kettle or Other Charcoal Grill for Indirect-Heat Cooking
Even if you don’t plan to smoke something, if you’re making something large on the grill—a whole chicken, say, or a pork roast—you sure can’t cook it at full fiery blast. What you’re going to do is follow the steps above to light and prepare your grill down through oiling the grate. Then what you’re going to do is bank the heated coals on either side of the grill and leave the bottom of the center of the grill empty. Next you’re going to arrange the food in that center cool spot, above but between the hot coals. Then you’re going to close the grill and control the temperature using the vents. The temperature you’re aiming for in indirect grilling is about 350°F.
Regulating the Heat in Any Smoker or Grill
As I’ve said time and time again, cooking over fire is not complicated. And making sure your temperature stays consistent is very important but not very difficult after you understand how it’s done.
Obvious fact #1: As charcoals burn, they cool. This starts to happen after about an hour. If you’re cooking something for less than an hour, don’t worry about it. If you’re cooking something that requires more time than that, you’ll have to do something.
Obvious fact #2: When you’re using a smoker or a grill for indirect-heat cooking, you’re going to need to replenish the coals about every hour, or every time the grill temperature dips 50 or more degrees below what you need it to be.
Obvious fact #3: This is as easy as watching the temperature, opening the grill, adding the new coals near some already well-lit ones, and making sure they catch fire. Monitor the cooker’s temperature and then add your new coals when necessary, and you’ll be able to maintain a consistent temperature in your cooker.
Myron’s Backyard Barbecuing Tips
When you’re smoking and grilling, don’t open the lid if you don’t have to. Every time you open it, you lower the temperature inside it by about five degrees or so—and it’ll take several additional minutes of cooking time to make up for that loss of heat. In using a grill and a smoker, maintaining consistent temperature is very important.
Make your life easier with aluminum foil baking pans. Now some folks in the world of barbecue look down their noses at cooks like me who use aluminum foil to wrap meats and who put meat in aluminum pans. They don’t think this is “authentic” enough—cavemen didn’t have foil, that’s their attitude. Well, cavemen didn’t have satellite television either, and I do. I use aluminum pans because they’re the easiest ways to convey meat from the house to the smoker and then from the smoker to the table. They keep the meat from falling apart, which you risk when you transfer it from a prep station to a smoker, and they make cleanup a whole lot easier.
Use charcoal and lighter fluid to start your fire. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a whole lot of time to waste rubbing sticks together to get a so-called natural fire burning. On the barbecue circuit I’m a “stick burning competitor,” which means I cook meat over smoking whole sticks of wood, which I believe flavors it like nothing else. However, I start my fires with charcoal to get a blaze going to burn the wood, and I start the charcoal with lighter fluid. Some of my fellow competitors protest and scrutinize this method, saying it makes the meat taste like lighter fluid. That’s only true if you don’t read the damn directions on the bottle of fluid about how to use it. After you apply a small amount of lighter fluid to coals, don’t do anything until the coals burn white. Then the fluid has burned off, and you’ve started your fire as easily as possible while still having the benefit of cooking over real wood.
Let your meat rest after you pull it off the grill or smoker. Transfer your beef, chicken, lamb, or pork from the grill or smoker to a cutting board, loosely cover it, and let it rest for at least a few minutes before getting into it and serving it. This seals the juices in and keeps the meat from drying out. Do not cut until you are ready to immediately serve and eat it. Keep those juices flowing till the last minute—you’ll thank me.
Excerpted from Everyday Barbecue by Myron Mixon with Kelly Alexander. Copyright © 2013 by Myron Mixon. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.