One of the best ways to stand out in any neighborhood is to grill like a beast, and there’s no better time than summer to do it. Several years ago I went from zero to hero on my grill with very little past success. Sure, I could grill, but I couldn’t make something that made family and friends not want to leave the table.
Full disclosure: I have no culinary background or any experience as a pitmaster. What I do have, though, is the ability to follow directions, stick to the basics, and not overcomplicate things — all of which I was told by some of the best. This is an important aspect of all crafts in life, and I continue to do well by sticking to these simple rules.
I’ve learned a lot about grilling over the past few years, but I’ve condensed that knowledge into the most important lessons for upping your grilling game this summer.
There are a few tools of the trade that completely changed my grilling game. The first one isn’t mandatory, but I’m very partial to it: a wood-pellet electric grill, specifically by Traeger Grill. The food tastes better, it’s super simple to run, and it also has WiFi capability, which allows me to control the grill even when I step away to grab another drink or shoot at some targets. The great thing about pellet grills is that the moisture and flavor of the food is amazing, and it’s almost impossible to overcook it.
The second must-have item is a handheld thermometer. The reason this is critical is because I’ve learned that cooking isn’t about time on the grill or grill temperature — it’s all about that food temp. Learning to use a thermometer and understanding internal temps will change your life! There are plenty of brands out there, but I have a ThermaPen by ThermoWorks that’s portable. However, my friend Joe Rogan is a big fan of a model that mounts on the grill and constantly monitors the temps to a remote unit. Regardless of what style or brand you choose, get one!
Next on my list is having some basic and simple ingredients always in the kitchen. You can complicate things if you want, but the critical components are olive oil, rock salt grinder, pepper grinder, Traeger’s Prime Rib Rub, Traeger Pork and Poultry Rub, Whiskey Bent BBQ Blazing Bird Rub, and coffee. Yep — I said coffee because coffee rubs are hot right now! Coffee makes an amazing rub for beef and really changes the game.
The last thing you need to know is the purpose of a high-quality cooler in the grilling game. I know it sounds strange, but I was given a great tip from a Grill Master to put my Yeti Cooler to use to let meat “rest.” The purpose of “resting” is to let the juices of any meat redistribute throughout the cut. What happens is that when heat is on the outside, the moisture goes to the center of the meat. Once the appropriate internal temp is reached, you can let the juices redistribute to the entire cut by setting your meats in a cooler for about 20 minutes before slicing into it. This technique is also very useful once you learn to cook your veggies on the grill.
The Big 5 Rules
Below are five staples that are sure to crown you king of the backyard barbecue. Before getting into the step-by-step recipes, you should know these five basic rules — write them down and refer to them as often as necessary. Knowing these basics will make you a master.
1. Chicken. Chicken is easy to prep, and if you want great whole chicken, thighs, wings, or breasts, just stick to these simple temperature rules. Chicken should be cooked at 375 degrees Fahrenheit on a grill, and you need to stick to these fundamental internal temperatures: 160 degrees for breasts, 165 degrees for thighs, and 185 degrees for wings and legs. Also, be sure to season at the beginning and sauce at the end.
2. Beef steaks. Whether it’s a tomahawk steak or a New York strip, I like to cook beef steaks on the grill between 350 and 375 degrees to get a good, smokey taste. Regardless of cook temp, remember it’s the internal temps that are most important: 130 degrees for rare,140 degrees for medium rare, 155 degrees for medium, and 165 degrees for well done. There will be some trial and error to find the temperature that is your perfect number, but you should keep in mind that the temperature will climb a few degrees while resting. And remember to wrap your steaks in butcher paper, foil, or just leave them on a plate and let them rest in a cooler for about 20 minutes to redistribute juices through the meat. If you like a good sear on your steaks, then add that after the resting period. This is what you call a reverse sear! Get a skillet hot with sizzling grass-fed butter and then quickly sear both sides of the steak before slicing and serving.
3. Pulled pork. It’s hard to beat pulled pork, but a lot of people get it wrong. Seriously though, with a pellet grill, it’s hard to mess up. Here are the basics: Cook pork butts low and slow to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, set the butt in a foil pan, cover with several layers of aluminum foil, and seal it up tight. Then set the whole thing back in the grill and continue cooking until the internal temperature hits 202 to 205 degrees, depending on the quality of the meat. Remove it from heat and allow it to rest for at least an hour in a cooler before pulling it apart.
4. Venison steaks. I’m a huge wild game enthusiast. There’s nothing better than knowing where your food comes from. Deer, elk, antelope, or other red meats can be grilled the same way as beef steaks but with one exception — don’t overcook it! Wild game is much leaner than beef and isn’t raised with the intention of marbling. That’s the beauty of a luscious game meat. I would encourage you to never cook venison beyond a medium internal temperature of 150 degrees. The best thing to do is to pull it a little early, let it rest properly, and then cook it to the exact doneness you like using the reverse sear method.
5. Grilled veggies. The best friend to any steak is amazing grilled veggies including asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and corn on the cob. The key to perfect vegetables is tossing them generously in olive oil and then seasoning with salt, pepper, rosemary, garlic salt, or prime rib rub. Then throw them on the grill at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, which is perfectly timed with resting your meat in the cooler. My typical routine is to prep the veggies while the meat is cooking. Then, once meat hits the desired internal temperature, I crank the heat on the grill, add the veggies, and put the meat in cooler to rest. Then I have 20 minutes to set the table and get a reverse sear ready. Veggies are awesome once they have that slight char.