Cooking Fresh: Secret Ingredient for Perfect Grilled Meat
Cooking meat outdoors over low, slow heat is a way to add lots of flavor, keep heat out of the kitchen and turn tough, relatively inexpensive cuts into meltingly tender slices or shreds.
It is the only way I cook outdoors, being unskilled at high-heat searing of steaks and lamb chops, never seeming to master heating high enough to sear the outside of these meats while keeping the insides moist. A basic Weber kettle with adjustable vents, supermarket charcoal and wood chunks and chips are the beginning and end of my outdoor cooking gear. But it’s enough to turn out great dinner — usually for a gathering of friends and/or family.
My technique is hardly perfected, and tends to fluctuate with the weekend schedule. Virtually any long, slow cook time can be manipulated to your convenience. If you can’t be around to start and finish your cooking project just in time for dinner, feel free to adjust. Some pitmasters recommend starting the slow cooking on the grill, infusing flavor for a couple of hours, then finishing in the oven. Others suggest cooking in the oven and finishing on the grill. I have been known to slowcook a brisket or pork shoulder for several hours on Saturday, chill it, then finish cooking, covered, in a 180° oven until tender and hot for serving.
Pork and beef ribs are a great use of this flexible technique, and help you pull off a weekend or holiday party without sacrificing an entire day managing the charcoal and wood chips in the grill. I prefer traditional pork ribs to baby backs, but follow your preference — and beef ribs stand up to this spice rub as well.
In addition to the smoke, a mix of spices adds flavor to the meat (and can be used when you move indoors for winter). Spice rubs come in every form imaginable: a mix of hot and sweet spices to a cook’s taste, dried herbs, garlic and onion powders. You can buy them premade in supermarkets and specialty stores (check out Penzey’s assortment at penzeys.com).
The one I’ve settled on for long, slow cooking on my outdoor grill is the following, taken straight from The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly (1998). I always double or triple the recipe and use it on a variety of meats in different amounts. Don’t use it too often in the same way, or all your food will begin to taste alike: a heavy coating on ribs today, a modest sprinkle on chicken next month. Balance the richness of the ribs by offering a selection of garden (or farmers’ market) fresh vegetable side dishes. Fresh tomatoes are a must this time of year, and a mixed salad is a great way to use up a gardener’s plethora of summer tomatoes, or a shopper’s temptation of mixed heirlooms. All colors, all flavor varieties, are welcome in this salad, as are a different mix of fresh herbs (use dill and parsley, or oregano and rosemary, if you want).
The fresh-corn cornbread recipe here is not like traditional Southern cornbread. With the addition of regular wheat flour and cheese, it is more moist and less crumbly. A quarter cup of hot jalapeños are not too much — they’ll provide a pleasant burn. If you end up with too-mild supermarket jalapeños, you might want to add a little cayenne or hot sauce to the recipe.