Successful outdoor cooking arises for a number of reasons, the most important of which are: having the right outdoor cooking equipment for the job in hand; having a great recipe; using good quality ingredients; taking great care when you’re preparing and cooking the meal and then there is the magic ingredient which is loving what you’re doing. In this article we look at the 8 most important things that need to be considered when ‘preparing & cooking meats outdoors’.
The following 8 secrets are in no order of priority or respective importance; they are all important in their own way to a greater or lesser extent;
1. Ask your butcher for some meat for cooking outdoors; he or she will know best; say what you’re planning and be guided by them
Popular TV & Magazine advertising would have us believe that bright red, fat free, fresh meats, rather than brown, fat streaked, meats, are those we should select. No, Fresh in, freshly cut, red meat is not yet ready for cooking. Steaks need time to age. They do this using naturally occurring enzymes that beak down protein in the meat that helps to build flavor & to tenderise. When you get your meat home put it in the fridge for 24-48 hours. Always try to select meat with some fat on the outside, or with veins of fat going through the meat. This is where all the juicy flavours come from.
2. Dry the steak and then salt it before cooking
The drier you can get the steak the less water vapour will be created at the start of cooking. This helps the process that builds a crust on the steak and gives it great flavour; this process is enhanced still further if you salt your steak after drying.
3. Cook your steaks on a really hot grill
Pre-Heat the grill to a high temperature-so that it’s almost smoking; then drop the temperature to medium before placing the meat. To test the temperature, hold your hand over the grill, if you can keep it there for 3-4 seconds, this is medium. If your grill is too hot your steaks may char; burnt outside & rare inside.
Don’t cook partially frozen steaks
Thaw your meat thoroughly. Do this in the refrigerator; this retains texture & flavor. Steaks & chops usually thaw in one day, large roasts can take 36 hours. Take steaks out of the refrigerator one hour before cooking; this will keep them juicy. Ensure your steaks are at room temperature before grilling. This avoids the shock of hitting the hot grill affecting flavor and texture. If you need to thaw meat quickly use cold water. Meat may be thawed in a microwave oven, DON’T! It will lose it’s juices making it dry & chewy.
5. Meat Cooking Temperatures
There is no right or wrong temperature for cooking meat as we all love our, meat particularly our steaks, cooked differently. Remember that meat with bone in takes longer than meat without. As a general guideline the following temperatures apply for different grades of meat:
Steak & Lamb
Rare 120-130°F. 6-7 minutes. Center of steak still cold when served;
Medium Rare 130-135°F. 8-9 minutes Cooked on outside, deep pink inside;
Medium 140-150°F, 10-12 minutes. Served uniformly pink throughout the center.
Medium to Well done 155-165°F. Almost totally cooked through with slight pink in the center.
Well done 170°F. 13-15 minutes Completely cooked through Has to be cooked slowly
Medium 140°F to 155°F Meat is slightly pink in centre
Well-Done 160°F to 185°F Meat is uniformly brown
Medium 145°F to 155°F
Cook to 165°F with juices running clear in the thickest part of the bird
6. Testing the temperature of your meat
Meat can be checked for how well its cooked by pressing with your finger. Rare meat feels soft; medium meat is springy & slightly firm; well-done meat feels very firm. The most accurate method is to use an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of your meat, away from the bone.
7. Don’t keep turning the steaks
To achieve even cooking and see those lovely grill strips across each steak, turn the steaks only once. Always use tongs, never a fork as puncturing the meat allows juices to escape.
8. Take your time and brown your meats first when cooking stews
The Maillard reaction is an important action when cooking stews that you want to taste great. When cooking stew always start by browning the meat in a skillet. What you are doing is allowing the Maillard reaction to occur. This reaction happens only when meat is cooked at a heat of over 115°C, which is when the meats natural amino acids start to react creating a melange of complex flavors. It is because of the Maillard reaction that crusted brown steak tastes so good.
So why is this important in stews? Well for the simple reason that if you cook your meats in a stew without first browning the meat then you’re reliant on the heat of the water to do all the cooking, which means the highest temperature the meat will reach will be 100°C; [the boiling temperature of water] meaning the Maillard reaction will not occur! Meaning your meat won’t be as tasty as might otherwise be.
So what should you do? Its simple: first cut your meat into cubes, season it; then heat a little oil in a heavy frying pan; then gently brown the meat on all sides over a medium heat. Do this in small batches. Never cook with an over filled pan and don’t turn up the heat to go more quickly; take it steady.