Summer means barbecuing, so this week is a good time to review the best way to do that. Where I live, our summers are short and far apart, and I sometimes worry that in between them I forget everything I know about barbecues. Still, some of the things I’ve learned over the years, plus some of the new discoveries I’ve read about, stand out in my mind. So here are my lists of what to do and what not to do, not only to keep your barbecue safe, but to get the best possible taste.
- Use pre-made burgers if they’re cheaper or more convenient. They’ll taste good when they’re grilled — everything does.
- Make homemade burgers bigger than you think they’ll need to be — burgers shrink in cooking, as I seem to forget every winter.
- Thaw the meat — unless its package directions say not to — before grilling, so it cooks evenly.
- Toast the buns by putting the two halves separately, cut side down, on the grill for a few seconds.
- Keep side dishes simple. If you’re having burgers, all you need is a salad. If it’s meat without buns, add potato salad or garlic bread.
- Keep insects out of the food: Wrap each set of cutlery in a napkin, as they do in some restaurants. Cover serving dishes loosely with plastic wrap till you’re ready to eat.
- Trim fat from the meat before grilling. Dripping fat can cause flare-ups and charring. And, though grilled meat is safe if it’s cooked properly and eaten in moderation, charred meat may have something to do with a risk of cancer, according to the USDA.
- Pre-cook meat in the microwave to make sure it’s cooked through — IF it’s thick enough that you’re concerned about this. The step isn’t usually necessary with burgers.
- Cook meats to the same temperature you would indoors — the safe temperature recommended by the USDA.
- Learn where the hot spots are on your grill. It takes time.
- Put the cooked meat on the same plate you used to carry out the raw meat; it’ll get contaminated.
- Settle for packaged hamburger buns. Unlike pre-made burgers, they don’t undergo any magical transformation on the grill. Try Kaiser rolls or similar bakery buns; just today I bought eight of them from the store’s bulk bins for $2, about 50 cents less than a package of eight smaller, bland looking hamburger buns.
- Let the meat char. If it happens, cut off the charred part (see above).
- Cook meat partially on the grill and take it off to finish cooking later. Unlike starting your meat in the microwave, it’s not safe.
- Reuse marinade, or use it as a sauce for the meat. If your marinade’s so good that you want to pour it on your meat after it’s cooked, put some aside when you’re making it.
- Limit yourself to burgers and other more familiar barbecue foods. You can cook lots of other dishes, even pizza, on your barbecue.