Top 10 Grilling Essentials
Grassfed meat is different from factory meat, and should be grilled differently. Our ancestors have been cooking it for many thousands of years, and they left behind a lot of valuable tips. I have adapted many of these traditions for modern times, and here are the ten I consider most essential:
1. Never grill grassfed meat directly over a heat source. Most Americans define grilling as meat cooked directly over flames, at high heat. But our ancestors rarely did this, preferring to cook their grassfed meat in front of, not directly over the fire. Grassfed meat has far less water than factory meat, and will toughen if you cook it directly over a hot heat source. The studies that have found that carcinogens are formed by grilling have cited two ways in which these substances are created. The first is caused by meat being charred directly over high heat, especially when the flames touch the meat. The second way carcinogens are created is when the fat drips directly on a heat source. The fat is vaporized, and driven back into the meat as greasy smoke. Both of these risks are avoided if you do not grill directly over the heat source. Grassfed meat cooks faster, and does much better when cooked in front of the heat source, rather than over it.
2. Choose grassfed beef that is marbled with specks of fat, the more the better. Even the fattiest grassfed meat is considerably leaner than factory meat. Grassfed fat has many valuable nutrients, and adds great flavor to the meat. Beef with little or no marbling will have less flavor, and will be much tougher. Bison and lamb do not have marbling, so this tip applies only to beef.
3. Do not trim all the visible fat from grassfed meat. Most butchers and people are conditioned to trim all visible fat from their meat before grilling. If you do not grill directly over the heat source, the fat will not drip onto the heat and turn into greasy smoke. The visible fat adds great flavor to the meat when it cooks, also making the meat more tender. This is especially important for roasts, where the slow natural basting given by a melting fat cap gives incredible flavor to the meat.
4. Do not put cold grassfed meat on the grill. Grassfed meat should be allowed to reach cool room temperature before cooking. Putting cold grassfed meat on the grill will toughen it.
5. Use lump charcoal, or one-hundred-percent hardwood briquets, as your grilling fuel. Hardwood charcoal, which has been used for thousands of years, is perhaps the most common grilling fuel used by our ancestors, and it adds great flavor to the meat. Factory briquets have a number of non-traditional ingredients, which have an adverse effect on the taste of the meat. True charcoal is made entirely of charred wood, and is a reliable fuel. In the case of one-hundred-percent hardwood charcoal briquets, a starch binder to hold the briquets together is fine, but there should be no other ingredients beside the hardwood itself. Gas grills add no flavor, and our ancestors did not grill with propane.
6. Know your fuel. Choose charcoal that has been made from virgin wood, not factory scraps. Unfortunately, a lot of hardwood charcoal, even lump charcoal, is made from wood scraps from flooring factories and other industries. There is not supposed to be any chemical residue, but I have found charcoal made from virgin wood to be much better for cooking, and to give a much better flavor to the meat. The virgin wood used to make this charcoal is almost always made from fallen branches, so the tree is not killed.
7. Use a covered grill, and cook with the cover on. This gives you much more control over the heat, and more barbecue flavor. You also do not have to deal with flare-ups, and the weather has much less of an effect on what you are cooking.
8. Marinate your meat before grilling. A traditional marinade will make the meat more tender, and bring out the wonderful natural flavor of the meat. Our ancestors usually marinated their grassfed meat. The marinade does not have to be elaborate, as the best traditional marinades often have only a few ingredients, sometimes only one. Studies have found that marinating meat greatly reduces or prevents the formation of toxic substances during grilling.
9. Do not use a wine or vinegar based marinade on grassfed meat. Wine and vinegar based marinades will toughen grassfed meat. This is one of the most common mistakes I made when I used to ruin grassfed meat, before I learned better. This was a surprise to me, as many traditional marinades use these ingredients. After researching some older recipes, I have come to believe that a big reason for using these ingredients was to preserve the food, rather than make it tender. The refrigerator will preserve the meat without making it tougher.
10. Do not pre-salt grassfed beef or grassfed bison until just before cooking. Pre-salting these meats, which is very common today, will make them tough if they are grassfed. Grassfed meat contains much less water than factory meat, and is toughened if salted for a period before cooking. If you add salt, it should be added just before the meat is placed on the grill.
My cookbook, Tender Grassfed Barbecue, has much more information on barbecuing grassfed meat.
Photo Credit: Craig McCord
Chris Regan and Ashley Mayne produce a wide array of delicious greens for the Hudson Valley.
With his new book, Forrest Pritchard tells the stories of 18 farms from all across America.
Forrest Pritchard and Smith Meadows are prime examples of sustainable family farming.
Jonathan Waxman shares his food philosophy with Slow Films.
A group of star chefs play with fire for a good cause.