Purists will argue that it’s only a barbeque if the food is cooked slowly, from indirect heat. Fast cooking, they argue, is ‘just grilling’. While the difference is partly a matter of semantics, there are two different styles and each has its purpose and strengths.
Slow cooking has distinct advantages, indeed it may be mandatory when dealing with certain cuts. A 10 lb chunk of beef brisket or a large pork shoulder simply won’t cook in an hour no matter how high the flame. You’ll end up with a piece of meat that’s scorched on the outside and a health hazard on the inside.
Slow cooking often involves a specialized device, such as a smoker. The actual heating chamber is separated from the meat and smoke is directed through a flue for heat and flavor. Water is often used in a basin, sometimes mixed with a little wine, to cool the chamber and add additional flavor and tenderness.
The liquid helps keep the meat tender throughout the long cooking period (sometimes as long as a day). At the same time the indirect heat and lower temperature help cook the meat evenly. The proteins have time to adjust, so you end up with an internal temperature that is just right, with a delectable ‘crust’ on the exterior.
But fast cooking is perfectly appropriate for certain cuts or types of meat.
A thin steak can be delicious, properly seasoned and cooked. They take only a few minutes over a high heat, often directly over flame. Special sauces can turn even an ordinary slice into gourmet food. The taste and consistency is top notch for a good cut well prepared.
Hamburgers, despite their ‘lowly’ reputation are served in the finest restaurants and make excellent candidates for fast grilling. With the right fat content, seasoned correctly and seared to perfection, no one need feel ashamed of enjoying one of America’s favorite foods. That they are often prepared badly doesn’t show they’re inherently unworthy.
For hot dogs, another food with an undeserved poor reputation, fast cooking is the only option. Using a fine brand and the right technique can result in a sausage that is the equal of any old world recipe.
To fast cook, it’s important to keep the lid open in most cases. Monitor the grill for any high flames. Scorching meat causes thick carbon to form on the outside, making the meal inedible and unhealthy. Fast grilling can lead to sticking. Starting with a super clean grill helps. A non-stick spray can eliminate the problem without imparting any unpleasant taste.
Have everything prepared and close at hand and fast cooking can result in a meal that is first rate and quick. And, these days, quick is definitely a value.
So, what’s your style?