The art of charcoal grilling and why you should vacuum pack your steaks
The end of summer is nearing and while I am writing America celebrates Labor Day, for many the last blast of summer but hopefully the weather gods are in a good mood and give the barbecue fans among us a few more occasions to showcase what they love most.
Grilling meat over an open fire is as old as humanity itself which may explain why the craving for food grilled over charcoal is universal popular. Who doesn’t like the experience of a garden setting with a barbecue on standby and a table full of marinated meat and vegetable goodies ready to get cooked with that lovely smoky, charred smell and flavor to it?
Does charcoal flavor meat
Among barbecue lovers there are two kinds of people, one group prefers the convenience of the electrical grill and there is the die- hard group that sticks to the real charcoal thing. Some may use brisket, others use hard wood lump, wood embers or extruded charcoal.
Some cooks or self- proclaimed chefs swear by a certain source of heat in the belief that it makes a difference when it comes to the flavor of the grilled piece of meat on your plate. There is even one who makes charcoal from animal bones; you can have your pork chop grilled over pork-bone charcoal in his restaurant.
Well let me tell you that which ever type of charcoal you choose, it is not vital to the taste of the final product. The raw product (meat, fish and vegetables) is of primary importance together with your marinade and how you marinate.
Charcoal consists of pure carbon, called char and made by burning wood in a low oxygen environment, a process that can take days to complete. All water, tar, hydrogen and methane get burned off and the remains are known as charcoal.
When ignited, the carbon combines with oxygen and forms carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, other gasses, water and significant amounts of energy. The amount of energy is much higher than heat from raw wood. Char burns steady and slow, produces more heat than wood, less smoke and fewer dangerous vapors.
A perfect charcoal burn produces little or no smoke; the vapors we experience are solely produced by the drippings from the marinated product we place on top of this heat.
In practice charcoal is often not perfect and produces smoke when it is not fully ignited, when there is too little oxygen to vent the lot because new charcoal is added or the charcoal is not fully carbonized, this will add flavor to grilled products but is not the decisive factor that determines the flavor of the finished product.
If you master the perfect burning charcoal but love that smokiness to your meat, add some wood or a handful of wood chips to the barbecue and you get exactly that.
Our noses can detect smoke at one part to a billion, which is like a droplet to an Olympic sized swimming pool, a little bit goes a long way.
The deliciousness of the smoke comes from lignin, a complex molecule existing in wood but eliminated when wood is turned into charcoal.
A good set of drippings from a great marinade and a bit of lignin is then also the secret to a successful barbecue.
Smoke and drip for flavor
Temperature is another factor; charcoal produces more, intense heat than wood and therefore caramelization known as the Maillard (browning) reaction comes fast, it produces big flavors but can also destroy your carefully purchased and marinated meat and vegetables in an instance, the intense heat ensuring that caramelization turns into black burned meat or vegetables. Recognizable isn’t it?
To elude your party going down the drain make sure to have a ‘cooler’ section on the grill where you can park items that have achieved color but are not fully cooked yet, covering a part of your barbecue with a piece of aluminum foil works fantastic as well.
Marinating, vacuuming your food
Clean, Safe, Delicious
Vacuuming sealing meat after adding seasoning or a liquid marinade to the bag opens the pores of the meat and allows faster and better penetration of the seasoning, if you decide to have meat with bones, like back ribs or chicken drumsticks on the barbeque and you want to marinate a few days in advance, vacuuming packing ensures that your meat is stored in a clean, safe environment, it will not dry out in the fridge and it prevents accidentally messing up your fridge by toppling the bowl over or placing something inside a bowl with marinating food.
Vacuuming sealing your marinated food also allows you to expose your meat to the elements at the last minute ensuring better food safety.
A bit of science to keep in the back of your head, your vacuum sealer, a little help from the weather gods and as always:
A well prepared successful barbeque dinner comes with Good food, Good company and a bit of smoke.
Have fun and Enjoy!