"Do I still have eyebrows?" my fiancé said to me a couple of weeks ago after he was standing too close to my parents' outdoor grill.
You see, we turned the grill on, started talking and forgot to turn the heat down. Once we opened the grill, a blast of 650-degree heat came shooting out, burning (or singeing) anything it touched. In this case, it was my fiance's eyelashes and eyebrows. They were both scorched.
As funny as it was (sorry, Randall), it was also dangerous. That's the last time my family will forget to turn down the heat on the grill before taking off the lid, or at least won't neglect the rapidly rising temperature.
Because we don't want you, dear readers, to scorch your face or torch a piece of meat, we spoke with two chefs who know a thing or two about grilling, chef Ronnie Killen of Killen's Steakhouse and Killen's BBQ, and chef Edelberto Goncalves of Fielding's Wood Grill, to find out what the most common grilling mistakes are and how to prevent them.
1. Using a Poor Product
The first comment from each chef was to go for quality. Whether you're grilling a steak, chicken or even vegetables, you need to use good ingredients. As chef Goncalves says, "If you want to get good results, you need to get a good product first."
2. Place Meat on Grill Directly from Refrigerator
How many times has this happened? You're in a rush to cook dinner, so you take it out of the refrigerator then plop it on the grill. Big no-no. Just as you should let your butter and eggs come to room temperature before baking a cake or cookies, you should let your meat come to room temperature before placing it on the grill. This story continues on the next page.
3. Don't Properly Prepare Your Grill
You don't want to be like my fiancé and singe your eyebrows or eyelashes, so don't let the grill get too hot before opening the lid. At the same time, though, you must properly heat the grill (charcoal or gas) before cooking the food. For a charcoal grill, Killen says you need to burn the coals down until they are white (after you add the lighter fluid and start the fire) then put the meat on the grill.
4. Use Too Much Lighter Fluid
Speaking of lighter fluid, no one wants to taste chemicals when they bite into any food. After your coals become ashy or white in color, Killen says you need to use as little lighter fluid as you possibly can, and make sure that it burns enough before you start grilling.
5. Over-Marinate Before You Grill
Yeah, this shocked me too. But despite popular opinion, you should not heavily marinate your meat before grilling, especially with salt. Chef Goncalves says you don't need a lot of seasonings if you have a good piece of meat. He also says a lot of marinades have sugar, which burns on the grill.
Chef Killen notes that these store-bought marinades, or homemade marinades with lots of oil, vinegar, powdered seasonings and salt, actually take moisture out of the meat. "Season it very lightly," Killen says. "Let the steak or thing your grilling speak for itself. People go buy marinated fajitas in a bag and then they'll throw them on the grill. Those things are terrible. They're tender because they've got so much tenderizer and stuff in them, so of course they're going to be tender, but they're not that good."
Lightly season with olive oil, pepper and chopped garlic at first, then add your salt at the end of the cooking process, like Goncalves and Killen say.
6. Move and Flip Meat with Tongs
If you can't use tongs, then what else are you supposed to use? Chef Killen suggests using a heat-resistant glove so you don't puncture the meat or knock off seasoning. But, if you are nervous about using a heat-resistant glove, then gently use tongs to move or flip your meat.
Chef Killen also recommends using a pancake turner or large spatula to flip chicken. You can easily scoop up the entire bird without cracking into the wings or legs, resulting in a dry chicken.
"I always tell my staff to treat it like a baby," Killen says.
This story continues on the next page.
7. Use One Temperature Zone
Use your grill to cook products on direct heat and indirect heat. Chef Goncalves says, "Use the very hot zone to fill all those juices inside the meat or vegetables, then move them to a lower temperature zone to make sure it cooks through. Dual temperature zones will help you manage things on the grill." You will need to keep an eye on any meat cooking over direct heat as it can burn quickly.
8. Check the Temperature with a Thermometer
Chef Goncalves says the Fielding's Wood Grill staff checks the temperature by touching the meat to determine its tenderness. "If it doesn't spring back at all, it is rare," chef Goncalves says. "When it springs back, it is medium, and when it is tough and hard, it is well done."
Chef Killen explains that checking the meat with a thermometer punctures the meat, which releases the juice, creating a not-so-tender protein. Use the fat pat between your index finger and thumb as a reference for determining doneness. There are a variety of methods to test for tenderness, but one of the best is to press the tip of your thumb to the tip of your index finger forming a circle, then poke the fat pat -- that is what a rare steak feels like. Place the thumb tip on the tip of the middle finger for a medium-rare steak, on the ring finger for a medium steak and on the pinky for a well-done steak.
9. Remove Meat From Grill and Immediately Slice
Even if you followed every step up until this point, you would throw it all away by cutting into the meat once you take it off the grill. Yes, it is tempting when you have starving friends and family members insisting you serve the main attraction, but don't do it. Wait at least 10 to 12 minutes. Chef Goncalves says letting the meat rest after it cooks actually helps the fibers tenderize.
If you cut into the meat and see a puddle of liquid on the plate, then you didn't wait long enough. Like chef Killen says, "The key to a nice juicy steak, or anything you grill, is allowing it to rest."
10. Not Cleaning Your Grill
You should always clean any piece of equipment you cook with, especially your grill. Leftover ash from burning coals and residue from food is gross. But, before you begin to clean your grill, you need to make sure the fire is gone. Never clean a grill with flames present. (Yes we had to add that).
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.