Cooking is rarely an exact science, and that goes for grilling, too. Much of it depends on personal taste, and with so many different heat sources, grilling and barbecue styles, savory rubs, and marinades, you can take your outdoor summer eats in many great directions. There are, however, a few cardinal rules of grilling that most experts agree should be followed for consistently juicy, tender, and flavorful grilled meats.
Perhaps just as important, there are some easily avoided (but often fatal) grilling errors that will sabotage all your hard work over the hot flame. Tom Perini is a grillmaster of the highest order: He’s from Texas. Check. He owns and operates a popular steakhouse (Perini Ranch). Check. He’s even published a cookbook on the subject with his wife Lisa: “Perini Ranch Steakhouse: Stories and Recipes for Real Texas Food.”
You don’t spend that much time in the business without seeing a grilling gaffe or two, and so Tom was kind enough to share some of his top tips as well as some critical mistakes to avoid once you’ve busted out your grill for the summer. Tom even dropped in some of his must-have grilling tools and accessories.
Perhaps you’ve heard this one before, but according to Perini, it’s essential to cut all steaks against, and not with, the grain. If you don’t, your slices will be tough and stringy rather than tender.
It’s important to remember that all meat has a hangover (or carryover) heat and, the bigger the cut, the more hangover temperature. This means that steak doesn’t stop cooking when you remove it from the grill. It retains a lot of heat and takes a while to cool down. Of course, a steak that’s one and a half-inch thick will cool down much faster than a 14-pound roast, but you still want to allow for hangover heat and pull the meat a little sooner than the optimal temp.
“I think a lot of people cook a piece of meat until it reaches the desired temperature, take it out and say, ‘Boy, everything’s fine,’” says Perini. “Then, when it’s cut into a half-hour later, it’s well done. They think they overcooked it, but they didn’t take into account hangover heat.”
Whether you’re cooking your patties on the grill or in a cast iron skillet, resist the temptation to mash them down with your spatula to avoid losing delicious juices and moisture.
Some cuts are good for the grill; some are not. Sirloin might be fine for the family, but if you’ve got company coming over, spring for ribeye. Marbling (internal fat—the white flecks inside the meat) is also very important to consider. A ribeye typically has the most marbling and is, therefore, the most flavorful. A strip steak has medium marbling but is a little more firm to the bite. A filet is the leanest and has very little marbling, but compensates by being very tender. The more marbling you have the less chance you’ll end up serving dry meat to your guests.
Beef is graded by the amount of marbling in a steak. The grading should be listed on the label, but be careful, as there are lots of confusing and meaningless marketing terms employed to sell steaks at butcher counters and in grocery stores. For example, a steak that is graded “Prime” will be the most expensive and will have the most marbling. “Choice” is the next level of grading and is very good, along with being the most widely available. “Select” is the lowest level of grading and has very little marbling. You will notice that most select cuts of beef are very red. For example; a round steak, which is ideal for stew or braising meat, would not be good for grilling.
Always let the meat rest before slicing. If it’s a whole chicken, a Thanksgiving turkey, or a whole prime rib, the meat needs to rest before slicing. Letting the meat rest will allow the juices to settle down and not evacuate when sliced. You don’t want all that moisture escaping onto the cutting board. Even steaks should rest before cutting.
Grilling the perfect patty is only half the battle. Everything counts, from the ground chuck to the cheese to the buns. The bun should have enough firmness to stand up to the meat patty but should also feel soft when lightly pressed. Pass on wimpy buns that fall apart under the heft and juiciness of the meat. We top our Ranch burger with fresh roasted green chiles, grilled mushrooms, onions, and sliced cheese.
Invest in a sturdy pair of tongs so that you can turn or transfer your grilled dish and avoid puncturing any meat— without losing any of the juices. If you don’t have access to a grill, you can also cook a good steak at home in a cast iron skillet. “Lodge is a great American-made brand.” Perini suggests, “they also have a great line of tongs, which we sell at the Perini Ranch Country Market, along with the skillets. Another favorite item is our Perini Ranch Steak Rub, which is not just good on steaks, but also on pork, chicken, veggies, and even the rim of a Bloody Mary.”