There is a myriad of ways to cook cuts of meat with heat, and with Father’s Day right around the corner, this month is the perfect time to gift cooks of all experience levels the proper tools and tricks to kick their expertise up a notch in time for the next summer cookout.
Local barbecue expert and owner of St. Louis Home Fires in Ballwin Frank Schmer, has some advice on where to start.
Grilling, smoking, barbecuing, oh my!
When it comes to cooking meats, learning the terminology and differences between techniques – smoking, grilling and barbecuing – is a crucial first step.
While some may mistakenly use the terms interchangeably, Schmer said there is a difference between the three terms and the cooking styles they reflect.
“Smoking is going to be low and slow, and grilling is going to be hot and fast,” Schmer said. “I think barbecue is a more ambiguous term that means taking a cut of meat that might be mediocre or not as high-end and making it better, whether it’s through grilling or smoking techniques or through the use of rubs and sauces or smoking woods, marinades, things like that.”
For newbies to the grill or smoker, Schmer recommends starting out by experimenting with charcoal. While gas grills and charcoal grills are popular summertime fixtures, charcoal produces more smoke than gas, which lends itself to a traditional taste and smokey flavor.
“With anything charcoal-fed, you’re going to be able to achieve higher end or better flavor profiles and better results,” Schmer said.
Turning up the heat
While charcoal can bring the heat for an array of grills and smokers, more experienced cooks may want to incorporate some wood chips into their fire mix to add flavor variety.
“Typically your fruit woods, your apples, your cherries, your peaches, are going to lend themselves more to someone who is learning,” Schmer said. “They have a little softer, sweeter smoke. Your hickories and your mesquites are going to be harsher smoke, or a more pungent smoke. It’s going to be harder to control the smoke and then you’re more likely to over-smoke something.”
According to Schmer, being too ambitious with the amount of cooking materials is a rookie mistake that can lead to meats being over-smoked, resulting in a bitter flavor.
“Use (smoke) like you would an ingredient, just like you would use a rub or salt and pepper,” Schmer said.
The amount of charcoal or wood used is going to depend not only on the cooking method, but also the kinds of protein on the grill. While different kinds of meat have different cook times, according to Schmer, the most important factor in cooking cuts to perfection is monitoring the meat’s internal temperature while it is cooking.
If outdoor conditions are cold and windy, a cook may need to add more charcoal to compensate.
There are multiple grills that can monitor conditions to help newbies build skills or take the more seasoned connoisseur to the next level, Schmer said.
“One of the things we’ve seen in the grill business in the past seven years is the growth of pellet smokers and grills, which take some of the guesswork out of grilling and smoking,” he said.
Pellet grills are fueled by small pieces of hardwood such as mesquite or hickory. Chefs can add the hardwood pellets of choice to the self-feeding hopper, plug it in, set the temperature and go. According to Schmer, pellet grills are a popular choice this season and have seen a surge in popularity in recent years as more American-made models have become available in stores.
“It’s a product where you can set the temperature electronically, and the grill feeds itself the appropriate amount of pellets to achieve that temperature. So, with a charcoal cooker, whereas you’re messing with dampers and air flow and temperature control, pellet grills sort of take the guesswork out of that.”
The ability to set the temperature is key because different types of meat cook best at different temperatures.
The secret ingredient
For those who already own a trusted grill or smoker, one upgrade that can benefit any chef is the use of a remote thermometer to read the internal temperature of meats of all cuts.
“You can literally download an app on your phone, use a remote thermometer, stick the meat probe in your meat and monitor the internal temperatures whenever you’re cooking via your phone,” Schmer said.
An internal thermometer tastes the estimation out of determining a meats internal temperature. For some cuts or meat, especially steaks and lamb, a difference in 10 or 20 degrees can be the difference between a well done and rare finish.
“You can monitor the grill temperature (and) you can monitor the internal temperature of the meat,” Schmer said. That’s something that’s going to take a pretty accomplished guy and help aid him to be even more successful.”
“Whether you’re cooking hot and fast or low and slow, and those terms are really popular right now, you can monitor the temperatures either way because it’s all about internal temperature,” Schmer said. “A lot of people think that the longer they smoke something, the better it’s going to be. It’s really about achieving temperatures, not about time.”
The 3-2-1 Method for Ribs
When you want fall-off-the-bone ribs, the 3-2-1 method is a tried and true one by professional cooks and curers. It’s also a trick recommended by Schmer for those who are looking to show off their new barbecuing equipment or skills. Here’s how it is done:
1. Three hours of smoking the ribs directly on a pellet or other grill of choice. Adjust charcoal levels in accordance with the recipe or type of meat being cooked.
2. Two hours wrapped in foil while still cooking on the grill.
3. Finish with one hour of cooking unwrapped and slathered in the barbecue sauce of your choice. Serve and enjoy.
ST. LOUIS PORK STEAKS
2 handfuls hickory chips
2 teaspoons bacon grease or canola oil
¼ cup finely chopped onion
1 can beer
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
6 pork steaks
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bottle of your favorite variety
½ can of beer
• Put the hickory chips in a container and cover with water. Soak for at least 1 hour before making the charcoal fire.
• Make the baste by heating the bacon grease or oil in a saucepan on low heat and sweating the onions in it. Add the beer and Worcestershire and let simmer for 30 minutes. Keep warm until ready to use.
• Pat the pork steaks dry and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.
• Get a fire going by lighting about 25 briquettes. Let the coals completely ash over. Spread the charcoals in the fire pit with more coals on one side (the hot zone) and fewer coals on the other side (the cool zone). Throw a handful of drained hickory chips over the hot coals and replace the grill.
• Lay the meat evenly over the grill. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, flipping once halfway through. Start basting every 10 minutes and cook until the meat is done, about 2 hours. About 1 hour into cooking, add the second handful of hickory chips. You may also need to add a few more coals.
• If the steaks appear to be getting too dark on the edges, move them to the cooler side of the grill.
• While the meat is cooking, bring the sauce and beer to a low simmer and hold until ready to use. In the final hour of cooking, turn and sauce the pork steaks every 10 minutes or so until the outside is caramelized and the steaks are tender.