There’s more to grilling a perfect steak than just throwing some meat on a fire and hoping for the best. Scott Bridi, the founder of the charcuterie company Brooklyn Cured and a chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, offers his wisdom on how to grill up some meat to impress.
Clean the grill. At my first restaurant job, my sous chef told me early on, “You can’t cook if you can’t clean.” I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant at the time, but eventually I got it: You can’t make good food in anything less than pristine conditions with clean equipment.
Before I share any grilling pro tips with you, please do me a favor and grab a grill brush and clean the grate on your grill thoroughly. Like, right now. And promise me you’ll do the same after you’re done cooking on it, rather than leaving it for the next time. Promise? Okay, cool. Let’s get into it.
Charcoal versus gas. You get better flavor cooking with charcoal or wood instead of gas, but I’ve still managed to cook some great meals on a gas grill this summer. The goal of grilling is to get a charred crust on your food—and you can totally do that with a gas grill. So don’t worry; either kind of grill will do the job.
Keep it lubricated. While your grill is getting hot, and after it’s clean, you should lightly lubricate the grates with a bit of canola oil. Drag a folded paper towel dipped in canola oil across the grilling surface with your tongs. This will ensure that your food doesn’t stick and that it gets nice marks.
Choose the best cuts. The best cuts of meat for grilling are the cuts that are most naturally tender, such as steaks and chops. Most steaks and chops are cut from the loin of the animal, which are not heavily used muscles, thus the meat naturally remains pretty tender. Bone-in chicken parts are obviously great on the grill, but they take a while to cook. It’s one of the few grilled items that you need to close your grill in order to cook through.
When grilling fish, choose fatty and sturdy species such as salmon, sturgeon, and Arctic char. Striped bass works really well too. Stay away from flaky white fish like cod and halibut—they’re prone to falling apart on the grill and do better with more gentle cooking methods, such as poaching or steaming.
Summer vegetables are great on the grill as well, especially eggplant, zucchini, and peppers. Grilled red onions can also be a great compliment to any grilled meat or fish.
Add #CrossHatchMarks. To get nice crosshatch marks on your grilled meat or fish, make sure the protein is patted dry and that the grill is nice and hot. Place the item presentation-side-down on the grill. (For fish, this is usually skin-side down.) Do not move the item until the grill marks are clearly defined. You may peek if you’re not sure, but make sure you don’t rotate the item as you check. Once the marks are clearly defined, rotate it 45 degrees to get the crosshatch effect. Again, don’t move the item until the second set of marks is clearly defined. Turn over and repeat on the other side.
Manage your heat. For the best results, make sure your grill has a hot spot and a not-so-hot spot. You won’t be able to get a nicely charred steak on moderate heat, so you definitely want to make that happen over high heat. But if you have a double-cut, Flintstone-style steak, it won’t cook through over high heat before the exterior starts to burn. The same goes for bone-in chicken parts. Once these longer-cooking meats are nice and charred over high heat, move them to a part of the grill that’s more moderately fired up.
An easy way to manage your heat on a gas grill is to have one or two quadrants turned to medium heat rather than high. For charcoal grills, you can start with a mound of coals in the middle that tapers off toward the edges. You can get some nice char in the center of the grill and finish cooking your items more moderately on the edge of the grill.
Don’t forget the marinade. We know that marinades are great flavor boosters, but the cool thing about marinades on grilled food is that they also enhance the char. The base of any good marinade is acid (vinegar or citrus juice), fat (olive oil), a sweetener (sugar or honey), and aromatics (herbs, garlic, shallots, etc.). Because sugar burns when you apply heat to it, a little bit in your marinade really gives grilled steaks, chicken, and fish some extra-crusty tastiness.
Start with some dogs. Don’t forget the sausages and hot dogs. Cook those up on moderate heat (if the grill’s too hot, they could become dried out) until they’re crispy and golden on all sides. Start out with some sausages and dogs because they cook up relatively quickly. They’re perfect for snacking on while you have a few beers and leisurely cook the rest of your meal.