Barbecue Guru Steven Raichlen Addresses Common Grilling Mistakes

In honor of barbecue season and the tenth anniversary of the publication of his indispensible tome The Barbecue! Bible, author Steven Raichlen will put in an appearance at the St. Louis Jewish Community Center (2 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur; 314-442-3299).

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On Tuesday, June 17, at 7 p.m., Raichlen, who you also might know as host of PBS' Barbecue University, will be on hand to discuss all things 'cue. He'll cover the history of barbecue, participate in an audience Q&A and sign the tenth-anniversary edition of the Bible. Admission to the event is $8.

Raichlen's books, which also include BBQ USA, How to Grill and Beer-Can Chicken, have sold millions of copies and have been translated into fifteen languages.

After the jump: To help enlighten those who plan to spark up the grill this summer, Raichlen shared with us his insights on a passel of common grilling mistakes.

Here, in Raichlen's own words, are the pitfalls, and how to avoid them:

1. Premature ignition: Don't light your grill too early -- especially if using charcoal. Twenty to thirty minutes before you're ready to grill will do it. (Related mistake: not preheating your gas grill properly before starting to grill.)

2. More isn't necessarily better (a.k.a., the "guy" syndrome): A commonly but erroneously held belief (especially among males) is that if some is good, more is better. This applies to seasonings (if one tablespoon of rub is good, four tablespoons will be great), sauces (if ΒΌ cup of Tabasco sauce is good, a whole cup must be better), smoke (if adding a cup of wood chips per hour for the first four hours is good, you can achieve even better results by adding all four cups the first hour) and so on. The fact is that often in grilling, less is more.

3. Cooked and burnt are not the same: Cooking and burning are two different but related processes. The former transforms raw meats or vegetables into delectable -- and digestible -- pleasures. The latter takes the process one step further, turning good food into inedible cinders.

4. Grilling over flames, not over embers: As a rule, charcoal and wood fires should be burned down to glowing embers before you put the food on. This gives you an even, powerful heat for searing. Grilling in the flames tends to produce uneven cooking (burnt exterior, raw center) and a sooty residue on the food. (Note: As with every rule, this one has exceptions. Germans grill their Spiessbraten in the flames of a beechwood fire. And there's nothing like a flaming campfire for toasting marshmallows for s'mores.)

5. Overcrowding the grill: Filling the entire grill grate with food is a recipe for disaster. The reason is simple: You deprive yourself of maneuvering room in the event of hot spots on the grill or flare-ups. I work on what I call the "70 percent rule": I never cook on more than 70 percent of the grate. In other words, I leave 30 percent of the grate empty (I call this the "safety zone") so I have someplace to move the food if the active part of the grill gets too hot or has too many flare-ups.

6. Poor grill hygiene: Some people (again, mostly guys) confuse a well-seasoned grill with a dirty grill. A well-seasoned grill results from conscientiously brushing and oiling the grate each time you use it (right before the food goes on and right after it comes off). A dirty grill results from failing to brush and oil the grate. (And also from forgetting to empty the drip pan.)

7. Undercooking your meat: When grilling burgers and other ground-beef dishes, always cook them to 160 degrees. Ditto with chicken. So how do you know when you've reached the proper temperature? Use an instant-read meat thermometer, inserting it through the side, not the top of the burger or chicken breast.

8. Overcooking your meat: Steaks, chops and other beef, lamb and veal dishes taste best served rare or medium-rare. Use the "poke test" to check doneness.

Poke the meat with your finger: soft and squishy means rare (125 degrees on an instant-read meat thermometer), gently yielding means medium-rare (145 degrees), barely yielding means medium (160 degrees) and firm and springy means well done (190 degrees). Some people consider a well-done steak a crime against nature.

9. Forgetting you're playing with fire: Grilling is fun, and playing with fire is fun, but let's not forget that fire is fire, and it burns. When using a gas grill, always make sure the lid is open before pressing the ignition button. When grilling with charcoal, always work out in the open (never in a garage or under a carport). Use a chimney starter for lighting the coals. If you grill on a wooden deck, protect it with a fireproof grill pad.

-Meghan Edmonds


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