Five experts, four tasty ways to grill! Each shares their secrets for “grate” flavor. What’s the best? Let the heated debate begin!
Brine: DivaQ says it’s mighty fine…here’s how:
Expert: Danielle Dimovski, aka DivaQ
Although most of us associate brining with pickles, barbecue purists know that the brining technique can bring out the best in a wide variety of meats. Competitive barbecue champion Danielle Dimovski, aka DivaQ, is a big believer in brining.
Why she likes brines:
- Brines are perfect for poultry as well as various cuts of pork.
- Brining alters the chemical structure of proteins by breaking some of the bonds that give proteins their shape. The salt denatures the meat proteins, causing them to unwind and form a matrix that traps the water.
- The result: a juicy, moist, tender bird.
How to brine meats:
- “Brine for one hour per pound,” says Danielle. She soaks a 25 pound turkey for about 24 hours before she cooks it “low and slow.”
- The technique is also ideal for smaller cuts of meat, like chicken pieces, pork chops or pork tenderloins. “I brine those for about an hour,” she says.
Spice Rubs: BBQGeek vs. Girls at the Grill:
Experts: Mike Fincham, aka BBQGeek vs. Elizabeth Karmel, author, Girls at the Grill web site
Mike Fincham, who goes by the nom de‘que BBQGeek says, “Spice rubs are the most effective way to bring big flavors to meat while enhancing the natural flavors of whatever you are cooking. While marinating, brining, and injections are great ways to infuse flavor deep into the meat, spice rubs work on the exterior of the meat.”
Why he likes spice rubs:
- The spices are directly exposed to heat during the cooking process, which changes their taste by roasting and caramelizing them,” Mike says. “From an eating perspective, spice rub is going to be one of the very first things you taste.”
- “It is extremely important to chose a spice rub that compliments what you are cooking and apply it to the meat at the right time,” he adds.
How to apply spice rubs:
- “One of the great tricks I've learned in when cooking pork is to apply my dry spice rubs as far in advance as possible. In most cases, this means I'm putting the spices on at least 24 hours ahead of time.”
- The salt in the spice rubs “puts a quick cure on the meat, removing some of the excess water in the meat and allowing the spices to penetrate the meat deeply,” he says.
- You can mix wet and dry rubs, Mike says. “The choice of when to use a dry rub, wet rub, or a combination of both is determined by the meat you are cooking and the style of cooking you are executing.” The basic technique: first use a wet rub with a simple flavor profile.
- Then follow with a dry rub that has much more complex aromatic flavors. The wet rub binds to the dry rub and new and exciting flavor combinations develop during the cooking process. For instance, he uses a dry rub for Memphis-style baby back ribs, and a wet rub for Caribbean jerk chicken.
Elizabeth’s take: Creator of the Girls at Grill website and author of such cookbooks as Taming the Flame: Secrets for Hot-and-Quick Grilling and Low-and-Slow BBQ and Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned (Wiley, 2005), has a different philosophy. “I would probably not use a rub with brine unless it was a specialized rub, because the brine seasons the food inside and out.” She adds “Almost all rubs have salt in them and you definitely never want to add any more salt to a food that you’ve brined.”
Why she likes spice rubs:
- It gives you a nice flavor burst on the outside of the meat
- “A lot of times, dry rubs have sugar in them, and that promotes the formation of a really, really nice wonderful crust—in the barbecue world, that’s called a ‘burnt end’ and that’s the very intense caramelized exterior of the meat.”
How she applies spice rubs:
- Elizabeth uses rubs on vegetables and fish, as well as on all kinds of meat.
- She even uses rubs to create grilled desserts. “I have a cinnamon-sugar rub that I call my dessert rub that’s basically cinnamon, sugar and a pinch of salt which really just draws out all the natural flavors of the food.”
Mop Sauces: Let the “President” weigh in:
Expert: Lake E. High Jr., President of the South Carolina Barbecue Association
“The first time I ever saw mopping I was about five,” said Lake E. High, Jr., president of the South Carolina Barbecue Association. His uncle was barbecuing a whole pig and used a homemade contraption of rags tied to a broom handle to apply a mixture of vinegar and red and black pepper. While the ingredients and the equipment have evolved—commercially made barbecue mops are now readily available—the technique is timeless.
Why he mops:
- Mop sauces are best used as the final step in a long process. “If the meat is not ribs, competitive barbecue crews infuse the meat with apple juice or their special marinades using specially made syringes,” Lake explains. “Then they’ll rub the heck out of it with their ‘special rub.” As the meat cooks, it dries so they mop it with a blend of vinegar, pepper and some spices that complements the rub.
- The mop keeps the meat moist, though it does add some additional flavor elements.
How to apply mop sauces:
Add barbecue sauce about an hour or two before the meat is finished cooking. Whether it’s based on mustard, ketchup or whatever, Lake believes that barbecue doesn’t really need a finishing sauce. “The sauces have sugar in them, which is going to burn and blacken and make your stuff look not so good,” High explained. in the sauce and it doesn’t burn and you still get all that sauce flavor.”
Marinade: Author Jamie Purviance gives this method a shout-out
Expert: Jamie Purviance, New York Times best-selling cookbook author
Jamie’s favorite foods to marinate include chicken breasts, pork and vegetables. “Vegetables are often overlooked, and I think that’s a shame because they take marinades really well and generally more quickly,” he explains. “Marinades are a really effective way of distinguishing vegetables from one another. You know, vegetables often get thrown together in this hodge-podge of a ‘grilled vegetable platter' and they lose their distinctiveness. I would love it if more people would marinate their eggplant in one kind of marinade, and maybe marinate their onions in another kind of marinade and treat them with the same sort of thought process that they use with meat and poultry and fish. They’d be a lot more interesting that way.”
Why he likes marinades:
His enthusiasm for mixing things up when it comes to the vegetable course was inspired by Julia Child, with whom he was paired at the grill during a dinner years ago. “She immediately told me that she hated grilled vegetables because they end up being more similar than they end up being different.” Child decided that they would marinate each vegetable they were cooking individually, with specific flavors, and then serve the vegetables with various sauces. “You could have made an entire meal just out of those vegetables because they all had such a separate, wonderful identity. So she’s the one who got me rolling on this.”
How to marinade vegetables:
When prepping your vegetables, make sure to cut them so that you’ll have the largest surface area as possible. “That way they’ll absorb the marinade more readily and it also means that they’ll have more surface area on the cooking grate, which is where you create a whole lot of flavor. When that marinade hits that hot grate, something special happens. So this isn’t just a matter of the flavor seeping into the vegetables, it’s really a matter of the caramelization of the marinade.”
Jamie tosses in a few more tips to help get perfect marinated vegetables every time:
- Drain off the excess. “If you throw a wet vegetable on the grill it’s not going to brown as nicely as it could and, if there’s a fair amount of oil in the marinade—and there usually is—you’re likely to get some flare up and scorch the vegetables. So let the liquid drip off.
- Leave the veggies alone! “You really want to get a good sear on the vegetable for the best flavor. You should only have to turn them once or twice, generally cooking them with a medium heat with the fire right under them.”