Whether you are cooking for a large group or just a few people, one of the fastest ways to ruin a BBQ is to overcook and dry out your meats. Cooking meat to the desired temperature is simple, but not necessarily easy. However, there are some foolproof steps that you can take to produce consistent results every time when grilling your favorite dishes.
If you are working with pork or poultry products, one of the most overlooked steps to prevent overcooking is to allow your meat to sit at room temperature for approximately 45 minutes. Bringing your meat to room temperature will promote even cooking, and help prevent burning and drying out the outside before the center has fully come to temperature. If you are familiar with your grill and the cut of meat you are grilling you can establish some sort of timing system that should be fairly consistent. However, many cooks of varying experience levels will opt to use a food thermometer to gauge the internal temperature. Poultry is safe to eat after the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F, and pork is considered safe to eat once the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees F. If I am using a food thermometer I typically try to remove my meats from the grill when they are a degree or two short of my desired temperature as carry over cooking occurs even after the meat has been removed from the heat.
When cooking steaks or hamburgers I try to avoid using a thermometer, as poking holes in the meat will allow juices to escape and can dry them out. Some people will tell you to bring your beef to room temperature as with poultry and pork, however if you are aiming for a lower internal temperature like rare or medium rare this can be counter productive as you are trying to sear the outside while keeping the middle at a lower heat.
If you are cooking a hamburger the first thing you want to do is make sure that your beef patty is even in thickness. A hamburger with a skewed thickness will have different internal temperatures on either side of it. Another mistake people often make is to poke prod or excessively flip their burgers. When cooking a burger you should really only have to flip it once. If you elect to not use a thermometer you can tell approximately where your burger is at by looking at it. Place your burger on the grill and don’t flip it until you see juices running out of the top un-cooked portion of it. It takes several minutes for juices to begin running from a burger so remember to be patient and to not play with your food! If you are looking for a rare to medium rare burger, then you should flip it as soon as you start to the see juices run. If you want a medium well to well done burger flip it after the juices change in color from red to clear. After you flip your burger repeat this same visual gauging process with the already cooked side of it. As with the techniques mentioned above, trial and error is the best way to master your ability to gauge a burgers temperature. After a few attempts you should have a solid idea of what you are looking for.
When preparing steaks if you elect to not use a thermometer the best way to judge the internal temperature is by poking the steak with your finger. Generally, the softer or more giving the steak feels the lower internal temperature it has. A good way to become accustomed to this method is to feel the steak with your finger while it is still raw than feel it periodically after flipping it. This will allow you to feel the different levels of firmness throughout the cooking process. The softer and fleshier it feels the more rare your steak is. A well-done steak will be firm to the touch almost like a clenched muscle. Again, if you are having trouble with this concept than a great way to learn is to use a thermometer as an aid until you are confident about judging it just by feel alone. Steaks can be enjoyed at a wide range of temperatures from very rare being around 100 degrees F to well done at around 160 degrees F so there is a lot of room for interpretation.
Whether you are an experienced cook looking to enhance your grilling techniques, or just starting out and looking for advise if you fallow these simple guidelines you and yours will be enjoying delicious BBQ cooked to your liking every time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Will Ives is a freelance writer with several years experience working as a chef in the Mid-Coast of Maine. Originally self-taught, Will received his degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management from Champlain College is Burlington, Vermont. Having a passion for the unknown as well as all things food, Will has spent the better part of the last two years traveling through the Mediterranean, as well as Central and Eastern Europe discovering many of the traditional dishes of the “Old World.”