Read time: 4 minutes
We all know that one person.
You know, that person who thinks they should run the grill at the summer cookout but burns everything to a crisp every time. The person who runs out of ketchup because everyone is trying to cover up the charred remains of what was once a perfectly-rounded beef patty.Nobody wants to be that person.
As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes I am that person.
I’m not too proud to admit when I am wrong and need to ask for help. I searched the internet high and low for grilling tips, but with so much conflicting information, I was overwhelmed.
Then it hit me.
Not only had I not asked for help from my dad in a general sense, I failed to realize that he has been grilling and smoking for meat for as long as I could remember. From fireman’s suppers to graduation parties, memorial benefits to anniversaries and everything in between, I had never really asked my dad on how he produced such delicious cuts of meat off the grill.
So that’s what I did.
As a beginner myself I wanted to get a good baseline knowledge established, so I focused a lot of my questions from the viewpoint of a beginner. If you are looking for some of Smokey’s more advanced tips, check out the audio interview here.
1. There are a lot of terms out there for outdoor cooking in the summer: BBQ, smoking, and grilling to name a few. What are the differences between these terms?
BBQ and smoking essentially leam the same thing. Similar to the oven in your house, you are using an enclosed cooker to smoke the meat or keep it at a uniform temperature. Typically, this is also done at a lower temperature, so it might take a while longer.
Grilling is the act of applying high, direct heat to the food you are trying to cook. Grilling is a lot faster and is the method most people are actually using when they talk about cook outs or BBQs. Grilling is a lot faster than smoking or BBQing meat, however, you can use much tougher cuts of meat when smoking because the longer time and lower temperature breaks down those tough cuts of meat more efficiently.
2. Do you prefer cooking on gas or charcoal?
For smoking meat I prefer cooking with a mixture of charcoal and wood. I use the charcoal to get the fire started and to generate some quick heat, but the majority of my cooking is done with wood.
That’s not to say you can throw some 2x4s or construction grade lumber on a fire and cook over top of it, you actually want to use the wood of fruit-bearing trees because they give off a better flavor when the wood burns.
Some common examples in the Midwest would be hickory, or my personal favorite, apple. As you get further down south, you will find people using woods such as mesquite, or even pecan.
When I am grilling on my flat-top grill, I actually use a combination of propane gas and charcoal. While the charcoal and wood provide a good flavor, the propane provides a source of constant and consistent heat, allowing me to cook a bit faster than purely using wood and charcoal.
3. Do you grill any non-meat items on the grill?
Occasionally yes, I do. I like to use a grilling basket or grilling tray when I’m cooking peppers and onions. Asparagus is delicious on the grill as well, in addition to zucchini and eggplant.
Sometimes people forget that you can grill vegetables just as easily as meat, and it really brings out a different flavor than most people are used to.
4. What is the best style for a beginner: gas or charcoal?
For a complete beginner, I recommend that you start with a gas grill. Until you really feel comfortable with cooking outdoors, a gas grill will give you more control over the heat distribution, which is a building block you have to understand before cooking with charcoal.
If you are looking for that smoky taste that comes from charcoal, you can always purchase a smoker box, fill it with wood chips, and set it on top of your grill grate next to the food you are cooking. This way, you get the benefits of total heat control as well as the smoky flavor from the smoker boxes wood chips. It really is the best of both world.
5. What are some good cuts of meat to practice with if you are just getting started?
For pork, I would recommend a boneless loin. For beef, a flat iron roast. It is a bit more expensive that the pork loin, but there will be very little fat in the cut so you will not be wasting much.
Contrary to popular belief, hamburgers can actually be a little tricky. It only takes one flareup to turn your beef patties into charred hockey pucks, so I don’t really recommend starting with hamburgers.
6. What is the most common mistake people make when they start grilling?
Heat. Most people think that you need half a bag of charcoal and the gas turned up to high in order to grill effectively. Sure, your meat might be brown on the inside, but if you cook it on high heat odds are you will still have raw meat in the middle. The only thing worse than burning your meat is having someone bite into a cold section of raw meat.
Which brings us into our final question:
7. For those people who are interested in getting better at backyard grilling, what advice would you give them?
Be patient. Patience is your best friend in any type of outdoor cooking, or cooking in general. As I mentioned before, you can spend a lot of money on buying nice cuts of meat and end up ruining it by blasting it with too much heat.
Also overlapping. The more you flip your meat, the drier and tougher it is going to be. Ideally you should cook it on one side for a few minutes, flip it once, and then let the other side cook. Maybe you flip it one or two more times, but anything beyond that and you are ruining your cut of meat.
Patience is the biggest thing, just slow down and take your time. Otherwise you are wasting your time on good quality cuts of meat and you are going to ruin it.
If you are interested in hearing more from Smokey about detailed tips for grilling this summer, check out the audio version of our interview here. This is our first audio interview, so don’t mind the typing noise in the background. I was taking some feverish notes!