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Facts About Grilling Pork
"Pork is just about the perfect meat for barbecuing and grilling. Blessed with a generous amount of marbling, the meat keeps moist during prolonged cooking and has a robust flavor that stands up to fiery chiles, lively Chinese five-spice powder, and dulcet barbecue sauce." * Stephen Raichlen. 1998. The Barbecue Bible. p153. Workman Publishing Company, Inc.
There is no doubting the affinity between pork and the grill; it is a relationship that was cemented long ago in the mists of history. At heart it is the simplest of cooking methods: just lay the pork on the grill, season it, and cook it until done. But there is always room for improvement; here we offer numerous tips to make your grilling experience as easy and satisfying as possible.
- Grilled food tastes wonderful!
- It's a healthy way to cook; no fat is added, and fat drips away as it melts.
- It's low maintenance; no pots and pans to clean.
- It's a great way to entertain and it's fun to do.
- It reduces the pressure on the domestic oven, leaving it free for baking or other uses.
1. AM I BARBECUING OR GRILLING?
The terms "Barbecuing" and "Grilling" are not synonymous.To grill is to cook a food item quickly on a hot grill, with the heat rising from below. To barbecue is to cook a food item (almost always meat) slowly in an enclosed space, using smoke as a major flavour component. There would not be as much confusion over these terms if the equipment we use to grill were not called a "barbecue". Barbecuing is a difficult, complicated, yet very rewarding cooking method, requiring specialized equipment and skills. Grilling, once a few simple rules are mastered, is easy. Here we shall be talking about grilling only.
CHARCOAL VS GAS
Gas grills: Are seductively convenient, easy to clean and control, and are often equipped with all sorts of useful optional extras, like side burners and a rotisserie.
Charcoal grills: Are cheap and, depending on the skill of the cook, will impart an inimitable smoky flavour to the food. However, food cooked on a gas grill will always lack the outdoorsy aroma supplied by charcoal, whereas charcoal grills are messy to clean, take time to light and get going, and are more difficult to control.Hardened charcoal aficionados will always be slightly scornful of convenience-obsessed gas barbecuers, and those accustomed to the ease-of-use gas units, especially if plumbed directly into the domestic gas line, will never be persuaded to put up with the mess and inconvenience of working with charcoal. Each to his own!
2. DIRECT AND INDIRECT GRILLING
DIRECT GRILLING is what most people think of when the word "grilling" is mentioned. It entails cooking foods in a few minutes by placing them on the grill over a comparaÂtively high heat. The outside of the meat is seared to a flavoursome golden crust, and the interior is cooked as the heat migrates to the centre.Because the cooking process is rapid there is little margin for error; some attention to detail, experience, and a little skill is needed for a successful outcome.
Suitable Cuts: Direct grilling is suitable for cuts that are naturally tender, quite thin, and that cook rapidly. Pork cuts recommended for grilling include: loin and shoulder chops, steaks, tenderloin, kebabs, satays, sausages, and burgers. Ribs also can be cooked by direct grilling, but they usually require some pre-cooking.
INDIRECT GRILLING is more akin to outdoor oven-roasting; this achieved by lowering the temperature and closing the grill cover. Indirect grilling approaches, but does not equal, the traditional barbecue method favoured in the Southern United States. Indirect grilling allows the meat to cook slowly, so that flavour and tenderness are maximized, the meat doesn't have to be turned, and fattier cuts can be cooked without flare-ups and burning. Also, that great charcoal flavour can be added by using charcoal, wood-chips, or sawdust to introduce smoke into the cooking process.
Drip Pans: Place an aluminum foil tray under the meat and grill bars to catch fat drips. This will prevent flare-ups and protect your barbeque.
Charcoal Grills: With a charcoal grill, the oxygen supply to the coals is reduced, increasing smoke and lowering the grill temperature. Start the coals as for direct grilling; when the coals are ready, rake either to one side or to the edges. Set a drip pan in the area that is clear of coals and place your meat on the grill and over the drip pan; close the lid.
Gas Grills: With a gas barbecue, typically the burner on one side is set to 'low', and the other burner (if there are only two) is turned off. If there are three burners, leave the two side burners on low and use the central area for cooking. In both cases the meat is on the 'off' area, so that there is no direct heat coming from underneath.The grill temperature should be around 325ºF/160ºC when you place the meat on the "off" side of the grill. Close the lid and occasionally observe grill temperature and cooking state of roast. Keep lid closed and try to restrict "peeking" to a minimum.
Use a meat thermometer to gauge doneness of meat.
Indirect cooking on a gas barbecue is not an ideal cooking method; as propane burns much of the hydrogen combines with atmospheric oxygen to from water vapour; this tends to condense under the closed lid, compromising the end product somewhat. A good solution is to sear the meat on the hot side prior to indirect grilling.
Adding Smoke: To add smoke to a gas grill, place wood chips or sawdust in aluminum foil, perforate to allow smoke to escape, and place over hot area of grill. Smoke boxes, which perform the same function, will give a more measured, gradual smoke supply. Try to open the lid of a gas unit as seldom as possible - not only will your precious smoke billow out to flavour the environment, not your pork, but heat will also be lost too. Mesquite, apple, oak, and hickory are all good choices; do not use softwoods unless you want a very piney or resinous taste.
Suitable Cuts: Any large cut is suitable for indirect grilling: loin, leg, and shoulder roasts, and ribs. Pork should not be cooked at too high a temperature - about 325ºF/160ºC is about perfect, or even lower for the very patient cook. Tenderloin can be cooked by indirect grilling, but is more suitable for direct grilling.Ribs can be cooked from raw by indirect grilling. Season ribs and cook on medium (about 325ºF/160ºC). Back ribs will take about ninety minutes at this temperature, side ribs about two hours, or until tender. Once ribs have been cooked they can be finished by direct grilling, when a sauce can be applied if desired.
3. COOKING TIMES AND TEMPERATURES
Pork is at its best when cooked over a medium heat (325ºF/160ºC), but an initial searing over a high heat adds flavour and improves the meat's appearance. Only the surface is affected by the high temperatures, so the meat does not suffer.
Heat levels: Too fierce heat will char and burn meat. This is undesirable as it will not only taste unpleasant but also because charred meat is thought to be unhealthy if consumed in large quantities or too frequently. Furthermore, the outside of the meat will be overcooked before the interior is cooked, and the meat will become dry and tasteless through overcooking. If the heat is too gentle the purpose of a barbecue, quick searing and cooking, is defeated.
Gauging the Temperature: A good grilling temperature is reached when a naked hand, held about six inches over the grill, becomes uncomfortably hot after about three or four seconds. This time is reduced to two seconds for "hot", and five or more for a low heat. Grilling at anything less than 300º F/150ºC is not recommended for direct grilling.
CONTROLLING THE TEMPERATURE
Heat can be controlled in any of three ways: Choice of fuel, air supply, and distance from the heat source.
Gas units: For a gas barbecue, turning the gas knob is all that is needed to regulate temperature.
Charcoal units: For charcoal grills the choice of fuel is crucial. Charcoal briquettes burn slower and with less heat than hardwood charcoal, which burns quicker and hotter. For a lower heat, use less fuel, and wait longer before starting to grill.
As the heat gradually subsides, stir the coals and group them close together. If the temperature falls to below optimum, add more charcoal. A grill thermometer is very useful for gauging exactly when to add a few more pieces - a fall of more than 50º/15C indicates you should be adding more fuel.
Air: Without air there's no fire; to control the air supply adjust the side or bottom vents. For gas units, to build up a searing heat to brown meat, leave the lid closed until the temperature reaches 500ºF/260C. Stand back when you open the lid
Adjusting Distance from Heat: Some units have grills that can be adjusted to vary the distance from the heat to the food. Most gas units have an upper rack that is useful for keeping cooked food warm. The heat reaching the rack can often be sufficient to further cook food, so be careful not to over-cook food by leaving it there too long, particularly if the lid is down.
Experience and a meat thermometer are your best friends; be leery of instructions that give "minutes-per-pound" - there are too many variables that will confound cooking times. These include:
Outside temperature: Food will cook slower on a cold day, as heat will be conducted away from the grill.
Wind: Again, windy conditions will lower the temperature, lengthening cooking times.
Quantity of Food on the Grill: The more food there is on the grill, the longer it will take to cook.
Food Temperature: Meat straight from the refrigerator will take longer to cook than food allowed to come to room temperature.
Turning the Meat: Turning the meat frequently will lengthen the cooking time.
Opening the lid: When cooking by the indirect method, each time the lid is opened the temperature will go down. For all these reasons use a meat thermometer, your eyes, and sense of touch to gauge cooking times. Use tongs to turn meat - piercing meat with a fork will cause the pork to lose its precious juices. Don't turn meat more than necessary; a good guide is to turn pork when juices start to bead on the surface.
4. GRILLING PORK TO PERFECTION
The love affair between pork and the grill is as old as cooking itself. Grilling pork is relatively straightforward and requires no special skills. But different pork cuts - chops, tenderloin, roasts, ribs, and shoulder cuts - all need slightly different approaches.
Chops and steaks:
- Season with a marinade or rub, as desired. Brush on sauce, if using, when meat is nearly cooked; this will prevent sauce from burning.
- Use a medium heat; a fierce heat will tend to toughen the meat and dry it out.
- Lowering the lid will accelerate cooking times, and is essential on cold and windy days, but the heat under the lid can build up very quickly. As you can't see the chops under the lid, be aware of the possibility burning them.
- Turn the meat as seldom as possible, without charring or burning it. A handy guide to knowing when to turn the meat is to watch for small droplets of moisture appearing on the meat surface, these indicate that it's time to turn or remove the meat from the grill.
- Touch the centre of the chop with tongs or your finger. If it's perfectly done, there should be a slight "give". If in doubt, make a small incision into the meat; if there is still a touch of pinkness, it's time to take the meat off the grill and let it rest a few minutes - the meat will continue cooking as the heat equalizes.
- Do not overcook pork; for grilling cuts about ß - inches thick, grill on medium for about 2 minutes, turn 90 degrees, and grill for an additional 2 minutes; repeat for other side. Total grilling time should be between 6-8 minutes.
- Thicker chops will, of course, take longer; thicker chops - 1 Þ to 2-inches thick - either with or without the bone, take longer to cook and have great visual appeal; use a meat thermometer to ensure perfect doneness. They are also easier to cook to medium because their extra thickness allows for a little more leeway in timing.
- Tenderloin, as the name implies, is very tender, but it is not the most flavourful pork cut. Be bold when seasoning.
- Tenderloin is an exception - it can be grilled over high heat; turn frequently for even cooking and to avoid burning.
- Tenderloin can be cooked to medium-rare (145ºF/63ºC), or slightly higher. Allow to rest for about five minutes before serving.
- Tenderloins can be grilled whole, cut into thick rounds and grilled or use for kebabs, or cut crosswise and gently pounded to make small medallions.
- Use pork from loin, tenderloin, or shoulder blade cuts.
- Cut pork into cubes about 3/4 to1-inch square (2 - 2.5 cm).
- Season pork as desired and thread onto bamboo or metal skewers. Bamboo skewers can be protected by wrapping the exposed ends in aluminum foil, or by having just the meat-covered portion touching the grill - this will make turning them that much easier. Oil metal skewers to prevent them sticking to the food.
- Intersperse with vegetables such as red onions, zucchini, peppers, cherry tomatoes, fruit, or sweet corn, if desired.
- Grill over medium heat. As one side begins to brown, turn kebabs until all sides are nicely browned; check for doneness.
Ground Pork and Pork Burgers:
- Lean ground pork can make wonderful, deliciously different, burgers.
- Ground pork, like any ground meat, must be cooked to well done.
- Pork burgers can be seasoned with just salt and pepper, or with an exotic ingredient as the imagination allows.
- Four ounce burgers, about ß inches thick, will take about 10-15 minutes, turning once.
- As these are made from thin strips of pork they will cook very quickly.
- Use pork from loin or tenderloin.
- Cut into strips about Ú-inch thick, ß-inches wide, and three or four inches long.
- Marinate and thread onto skewers.
- Depending on the thickness, a minute on each side should be sufficient.
- Sweet sauces will tend to caramelize and ultimately burn if cooked for too long at too high a heat. Keep a sharp eye on how they are doing.
- Serve immediately - they will dry out if kept warm for any length of time
•Plan on about one pound (raw weight) ribs per guest.
•Remove the thin membrane from the concave (non-meaty) side of the rib rack.
•Saucy or dry? Ribs can be flavoured with a dry spice rub or a barbecue sauce - there are numerous commercial varieties of both dry rubs and sauces - or make your own.
•Apply dry rubs right at the beginning of the cooking process; sauces should wait until the final 15 minutes on the grill.
•Ribs, especially side ribs, can be pre-cooked by steaming (not boiling) and finished by a gentle direct grilling to heat through and apply barbecue sauce.
Back Ribs: •Back ribs can be cooked by indirect grilling, or can be pre-cooked and finished on the grill.
•To finish pre-cooked ribs, grill over medium-low heat until heated through. Apply sauce and turn ribs frequently.
•To cook back ribs by indirect grilling, place seasoned ribs, not overlapping, on cool area of grill, close lid and roast for about 1 1/2 hours or until very tender.
Side Ribs: •Side ribs, unless grilled very slowly, require preliminary cooking.
•Side ribs can be cooked from raw at a low temperature (about 225ºF/105ºC). It helps to apply a dry rub and to wrap the ribs in foil to preserve moisture.
•Side ribs will take about two to three hours at this temperature.
•Once ribs have been cooked, they can be finished by direct grilling, when a sauce can be applied if desired.
Country-style Ribs: •Despite the name, this cut is nearer to a roast than a rib, in the accepted meaning of the word.
•Country-style ribs can be cooked by indirect grilling; over medium heat (325ºF/160ºC) they should take about an hour to cook.
Button Bones: •Sometimes called, incorrectly, "riblets", and occasionally referred to as "back-rib tails."
•Button bones form part of untrimmed back ribs; they consist of a strip of loin meat with three small, button-like, bones.
•Button bones can be grilled on direct heat without any preliminary cooking.
•Cook to just done over medium heat; they will take about 10 minutes to cook.
•Season as for back ribs.
5. PORK ROASTS ON THE GRILL
All pork roasts should be grilled according to advice described in the "Indirect Grilling" section. Roasts can be flavoured by using a spice rub or herbs, basting with a sauce or flavoured liquid, using smoke, or by inserting garlic slivers into the meat.
Loin Roasts (excluding tenderloin) •If you have purchased a double roast, cut the string and separate into two individual roasts. This will halve the cooking time.
•Bring roast to room temperature; this will help roast to cook faster and more evenly. All other cuts can be cooked straight from fridge or cooler. Cook roasts as soon as they reach room temperature; never allow meat to remain un-chilled, especially outdoors. Never re-chill meat, once brought to room temperature.
•Bone-in roasts will increase cooking times by about 30-percent.
•Season roast to taste. Cook over medium heat (325ºF/160ºC) to about 150ºF/65ºC internal temperature and allow the roast to rest for about 10 minutes before serving.
Leg roasts: •Leg roasts are very lean, but need to be cooked a little longer than loin roasts.
•Grill as for loin roasts, but cook to an internal temperature of 160ºF/70C.
•Season leg roasts generously; they do not have the fuller flavour of shoulder roasts.
Shoulder Roasts: •Ask your butcher for boneless shoulder blade roasts; these will be much easier to carve, and will cook faster.
•Shoulder cuts have plenty of internal fat, "marbling", and so can be cooked to a higher internal temperature - about 175ºF/80ºC.
•Trim away most of the visible fat, and be sure to put a drip pan under the grill and meat.
•Shoulder cuts have plenty of flavour, and so a simple rub is all that is needed to season. Shoulder cuts cooked with smoke are simply sensational!
•To make "pulled pork", season a boneless blade roast with a barbecue rub, and cook over a low heat by indirect grilling. Adding smoke is customary and is recommended. Cook until the meat has a dark crust and is very tender throughout.
6. GRILLING DO'S AND DON'TS
Is your gas barbecue up to the job? •At the beginning of the season, test for gas leaks by spraying with soapy water; the presence of bubbles indicates a gas leak, usually at the valve joint.
•Check your gas cylinder gauge or your charcoal supply - do you have enough gas or charcoal to cook everything?
•Check hoses for brittleness, holes, and signs of wear.
•Have damaged hoses and gas leaks repaired by a professional.
•Clean gas valve and venturi tubes thoroughly following manufacturer's directions.
•Keep grill clean, and replace if necessary.
7. GETTING READY TO GRILL
•Use lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes.
•Spread out the charcoal in an area about slightly larger than your intended cooking area.
•Light coals according to manufacturer's instructions.
•Start the fire about 30 minutes before you're ready to cook.
•Let the coals burn until there is a thin coat of grey ash. You are now ready to start cooking.
•For indirect grilling, pile embers either to one side or to the perimeter.
•Check that your gas tank is full - or that you have a full back-up cylinder.
•Check that all control knobs are in the "off" position.
•Open the gas valve on the cylinder.
•Open lid, and follow manufacturer's instructions to light.
•Close lid and pre-heat to high (about 500º/260ºF). This will take 10 to 15 minutes, depending on external air temperature and wind conditions. Open the lid, and wait a few moments for the grill to cool a little.
•Turn off all controls, especially the cylinder valve, when finished.
8. A few tips to make your grilling experience safe and successful:
•Make sure that your grill is clean and free from burned-on food from the last time you grilled.
•Have all the utensils, food items, and sauces on hand so you don't have to leave the grill unattended.
•To clean grill, heat on high until grill begins to smoke. Turn off heat and, using warm water and a stiff wire brush, scrub until clean. Clean grill after each use.
•Heat the grill before you put any food on it.
•Keep the grill lightly oiled to prevent sticking - any light vegetable oil will do.
•Skewers: Bamboo skewers can be protected by wrapping the exposed ends in aluminum foil, or by having just the meat-covered portion touching the grill - this will make turning them that much easier. Oil metal skewers to prevent them sticking to the food.
•Keep a spray bottle of water to dampen flare-ups. Use only as a last resort on charcoal grills; the water will cause a cloud of ash to arise and settle on the food.
•Scrape grill clean each time before and after cooking on it. Wipe grill with a lightly oiled cloth or kitchen towel. This will not only help to prevent sticking, it will also improve the flavour of the food.
9. Now you're cooking...
•Trim most visible fat from meat to prevent flare-ups
•Add salt only when the meat is almost ready to take off the grill.
•If using a sweet sugar or honey-based basting sauce, cook over medium heat and turn food frequently to avoid burning.
•Sear pork briefly over high heat to give a good colour and taste, and then move to cooler area to finish cooking.
•Make sure that the gas is completely turned off at the cylinder when finished.
10. Some elementary safety tips
•The barbecue lid must be open when lighting the gas.
•Never use lighter fuel or gasoline to light the charcoal; use fire-starter liquid.
•Don't use any accelerant (gasoline, instant-light briquettes etc.) on lighted charcoal.
•Don't allow children to play around a lighted barbecue.
•Try to avoid loose clothing, scarves, or apron strings that can easily get caught in the grill.
11. WINTER GRILLING
Canada has more than it's fair share of sub-zero days. This is no reason to keep the cover on your barbecue from September to May. Grilling in the cold brings a welcome reminder of warmer months to the dining room table. To be an intrepid, all-seasons grill enthusiast all you need is a warm coat and a few simple tips.
•Always store fuel (charcoal and propane) in a secure area where small children, pets, and pyromaniacs can't get at them.
•Get EVERYTHING ready before you start; by getting organized you'll avoid needless trips in and out of the house or vehicle.
•Never grill in an enclosed area (a garage, porch etc); carbon monoxide is never a welcome guest!
•Wind, not the cold, is your main enemy; try to choose a sheltered spot where the wind isn't blowing all the heat away from the grill.
•Don't be too rigid about serving times; cold-weather grilling will take longer than summer grilling, but how much longer is usually in the lap of the gods.
•Try to choose items that don't need too much attention so that you can safely retire to the warmth to thaw out while the meat is cooking.
•Try to limit the times you lift the lid; precious heat will immediately be lost to the atmosphere.
•If using charcoal, start lighting coals at least 45 minutes before grilling.
Oven Thermometers: Most modern gas barbecues come with an installed thermometer. Failing this, place an oven-proof thermometer on the holding rack above the grill bars, or insert it through the vent on the grill cover.
Oven proof, analogue thermometers are inexpensive and can be left in place while cooking so that you can gauge the cooking process throughout. Depending on the model, these thermometers can give false readings.Digital thermometers are fast and generally very accurate, but they are not oven proof. There are thermometers on the market that use a probe that is separate from the readÂout display, so that one can read the temperature off the gauge, which is outside the oven. This type of thermometer is ideal, but, unfortunately, rather expensive.
To Use a Meat Thermometer:
Place the end of the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat, away from bone, fat, or stuffing. Remember to allow for a rise in temperature of between five to ten degrees Fahrenheit for larger cuts after removal from the oven.Unless you are absolutely certain that yours is an oven-proof model, do not leave the thermometer in the meat for longer than it takes to read the temperature.
13. FOOD SAFETY
Cooking al fresco is great fun, but the rules of food safety still apply:•Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator.
•Wash everything- hands, cutting boards, utensils - before and after touching food.
•Use diluted bleach to disinfect cloths, working surfaces, and cutting boards.
•Avoid cross-contamination: make sure that you don't put cooked food on the same plate or chopping board you used for raw food. Keep uncooked meat separate from other foods.
•Discard marinades which have been used for uncooked meats.
•Refrigerate leftovers and any perishable food promptly.
•Use a meat thermometer, especially when cooking ground meat of any type, to ensure a safe internal temperature has been reached.
•Keep hot foods hot (above 140ºF/60F), and cold foods cold (40ºF/4ºC or below).