Making crosshatch grill marks
Is there anything handsomer than fish steaks or veal chops neatly crosshatched with grill marks? You will be amazed to know how easy it is to achieve this professional look at home.
Preheat the grill to high and thoroughly clean, preheat, and oil the grate. Place the steaks or chops on the grill, all lined up in the same direction. After 2 minutes, use a spatula or tongs to rotate each piece 45 degrees to make a diagonal crosshatch or 90 degrees to make a square crosshatch. Cook until seared to taste, about 2 minutes more.
Invert the steaks and repeat the procedure on the other side. The exact cooking times will depend on what you’re cooking, the thickness of the steak or chop, and how you like it cooked.
How to grill a perfect steak
When Americans are polled about their favorite foods for grilling, steak always heads the list. A slab of beef is the perfect food for the grill: Its broad surface area soaks up charcoal and smoke flavors, and its relative thinness allows for quick cooking. The most common mistake made in grilling steak is overcooking it; the second most common is undercooking. Here’s how to do it just right.
- Pick the right kind of steak. Tender cuts like sirloin, tenderloin, porterhouse, New York strip, and shell steak are the best. Fibrous steaks, like skirt and flank, also taste great grilled-especially when thinly sliced on the diagonal. Save tough cuts like chuck and blade steak for long, slow, moist cooking methods like braising.
- Some people let the steak come to room temperature before grilling. Most professionals, including myself, don’t bother. If you do cook a room temperature steak, reduce the cooking time slightly.
- Preheat the grill to high. If cooking a very thick steak (say a strip steak 2 inches thick), build a two-tiered fire. On a gas grill, preheat one side to high, one side to medium-high.
- Season the steaks generously with salt and pepper. Use a coarse-grained salt, like kosher or sea salt. Coarse grain salt crystals dissolve more slowly than fine table salt, so they hold up better during cooking, and steak pros all over the world use this. I always use freshly ground or freshly cracked black pepper and I apply it generously both before and after grilling. Some people don’t add the salt until after cooking. The salt, they argue, draws out the juices. Believe me, you won’t get much juice loss in the short time it takes to cook a medium-rare steak. And besides, you can’t beat the flavor of salt mixed with caramelized meat juices.
- Oil the grill grate. The easiest way to do this for steak is to use a piece of steak fat held in tongs or at the end of a carving fork. Rub it over the bars of the grate. An oiled rag or folded up paper towels work fine, too.
- Place the steaks on the oiled grate, all lined up in the same direction. After 2 minutes, rotate each steak. Normally I rotate 45 degrees. This creates an attractive diamond crosshatch of grill marks on the steak. Sometimes I rotate 90 degrees; this produces a square crosshatch. Cook the steak until beads of blood appear on the surface, 1 to 2 minutes for a steak 1/2 inch thick, 3 to 5 minutes for one 1 inch thick, 6 to 9 minutes for a thickness of 1 1/2 to 2 inches. Turn the steak with tongs or a spatula; never use a fork. The holes made by a fork allow the juices to escape.
- Continue cooking the steaks on the other side, rotating them after 2 minutes. You’ll need slightly less time on the second side. The best test for doneness is feel: Press the top with your index finger. A rare steak will be softly yielding; a medium steak will be firmly yielding; a well-done steak will be firm. Never cut into a steak to test for doneness. This, too, drains the juices.
- Transfer the steaks to plates or a platter and season again with salt and pepper. At this stage, I like to brush my steaks with extra-virgin olive oil (à la Tuscany) or with melted butter (à la Peter Luger, the Brooklyn steak house). This is optional, but it sure rounds out the flavor.
- This last step is usually overlooked, but it’s the most important. Let the steaks rest for 2 to 3 minutes before you serve them. This allows the juices to flow back from the center of the meat to the exterior, giving you a moister, juicier steak.
How to Grill the Perfect Whole Chicken
In my estimation, if you really want to cook the perfect whole chicken, you need to equip your grill with a rotisserie.
Why is spit-roasting over or next to an open flame such a perfect way to cook chicken? I have a few theories. First, the slow rotation in front of a live fire provides a gentle, even heat that cooks the legs through without drying out the breast meat. Second, as the bird cooks, the fat under the skin melts, basting the meat continuously. Third, the steady, even exposure to the flame crisps the skin without burning it.
Grilling on a Rotisserie:
- Start with a good chicken, preferably grain fed, free range, and organic. Remove and discard the fat just inside the body cavities of the chicken. Remove the package of giblets and set aside for another use. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water, then drain and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels.
- Generously salt and pepper the bird, inside and out. For extra flavor you can put a peeled garlic clove, bay leaf, strip of lemon zest, and/or a sprig of rosemary inside the body and neck cavities. (My editor, Suzanne, inserts slices of garlic under the skin.)
- Tightly truss the bird, using either butcher’s string and a trussing needle or skewers. Trussing helps the meat cook evenly and it gives the bird an attractive shape for serving.
- Set up the grill for rotisserie cooking (see page 20). If using charcoal, light 50 to 60 coals and let them burn down until glowing red and covered with a thin coat of ash. Rake one row of coals just in front of the place the chicken will be turning and one row just behind it. Place a drip pan directly under where the chicken will be. If using a gas grill, turn the front and rear burners on high and leave the middle burner off. Put the drip pan in the center.
- Place the chicken on the spit according to the rotisserie manufacturer’s directions, then set the spit in place on the grill and turn the rotisserie on. Cook, covered if possible, until the chicken skin is gorgeously browned and the flesh is cooked through, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Every 15 minutes or so, baste the rotating bird with the juices that accumulate in the drip pan. When cooked, the bird’s internal temperature will read 180°F on an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the inner muscle of one thigh, not touching the bone. Another test is to pierce the thickest part of the thigh with the tip of a skewer or sharp knife; the juices should run clear. Unspit the chicken and transfer it to a cutting board or platter. Let stand for 5 minutes before carving. Remove the trussing strings (or skewers) and get ready for great eating.
Grilling without a Rotisserie:
You can also make a delicious chicken using the indirect grilling method. As above, you must start with a good chicken and season and truss it.
- Set up the grill for indirect grilling, placing a drip pan in the center of the grill, under the grate, and preheat to medium. Place the chicken, breast side up, on the hot grate over the drip pan.
- Cover the grill and cook the chicken until the skin is nicely browned and the meat is cooked through (as determined above), 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Baste the bird with the pan drippings every 20 minutes or so as it cooks. If using a charcoal grill, add 10 to 12 fresh coals per side per hour. Let the chicken stand for 5 minutes before carving and serving.
How to Grill Perfect Chicken Halves and Quarters
Chicken is one of the most popular foods to grill, yet it causes more trouble than any other grilled fare. More often than not, people serve birds that are burnt on the outside and raw in the center. It’s understandable: A halved or quartered chicken with the skin on presents a twofold challenge.
The first problem is that the fat in the skin melts and causes flare-ups. The second problem is that, because it contains bones, chicken takes longer to cook than, say, steaks or burgers. And because of food safety issues, you don’t want to eat chicken anything less than well done.
To cook chicken halves or quarters to perfection, use the two-tiered method, which will enable you to control the heat by moving the birds back and forth over hotter and cooler sections of the grill:
- If using charcoal: When you build your fire, pile the coals in a double layer on one side of the grill and in a single layer on the other.
If using a gas grill: Preheat one side to high, the other to medium. In either case, leave yourself plenty of room, so you can move the birds around to avoid flare-ups. Season the chicken pieces with salt, pepper, or any other seasonings you plan to use.
- After oiling the grill grate, place the pieces, skin side down, on the hotter section of the grill. Cook until the skin starts to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Move the pieces to the cooler section of the grill and continue grilling until the skin is thoroughly browned, 5 to 7 minutes more. Watch carefully and use tongs to move the pieces away from flare-ups.
- Turn the pieces and move them back to the hotter section of the grill. Brown the second side well (3 to 5 minutes), then move the pieces back to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking. The total cooking time will be 16 to 24 minutes. When ready, the chicken will be crisp and golden-brown outside and the juices will run clear when the meat is pierced. If the recipe calls for basting and you are using an oil- or wine-based marinade, you can brush the chicken continuously.
- If using a sugar-based marinade, start brushing it on during the last 5 minutes of grilling.
Bird without Flames:
You can avoid the risk of flare-ups entirely by grilling halved or quartered chickens using the indirect method. Set up the grill for indirect grilling, placing a drip pan in the center, under the grate, and preheat to medium. When ready to cook, oil the grill grate. Place the chicken pieces, skin side down, on the hot grate, over the pan. Cover the grill and cook until the juices run clear, about 40 minutes for halved birds, 30 to 40 minutes for chicken quarters. (In general, breast pieces require less cooking time than leg pieces.) The advantage of this method is that it’s absolutely fail proof; the disadvantage is that the bird will lack the charred flavor you get cooking over direct flames.
Cook Like You Mean It!