When it comes to cooking, you want to pick the right ingredients to get the most delicious results. And when it comes to grilling over wood pellets, you want to pay special attention to two things: The meat, and the wood pellets themselves.
Celebrate low-cost cuts
The origin of the word ‘barbecue’ is generally considered to be ‘barbacoa,’ a word from the West Indies referring to slow-cooking meat over hot coals. But the Oxford English Dictionary leans toward tracing the word to the French phrase “barbe a queue,” meaning “from head to tail.” Either way, according to University of Virginia’s page on barbecue history, a 19th-century Southern gathering of rich and poor often took place around a meal of barbecue, using every cut of pork. Such church and political events continue nowadays in many parts of the South.
Whether you’re eating today at a barbecue shack, a church picnic, or in your backyard, you can count on smoking and traditional barbecue to make the best use of the most humble cuts of meat. Traditional barbecue selections include pork shoulder, beef brisket, ribs. They’re tough, chewy, fatty, and therefore undesirable for most other cooking methods. Slow cooking makes a virtue of fat and connective tissue, breaking down the tough stuff over hours of cooking time. The result is a pile of sweet, moist meat on your plate.
So make a point of shopping for humble cuts when you’re planning on barbecuing. Your investment will surely pay off.
Ingredients that go up in smoke
Consider your wood pellets as another ingredient in your dish. Here’s why: smoke adds something special to the flavor profile. In chef talk, smoke fits into a flavor category called ‘umami’—which describes meaty, savory flavors. Read more about flavors, and how they fit into barbecue menu planning, here.
At Griller’s Gold, we’re proud to use only one ingredient in our wood pellets: 100% natural wood. That means the smoke flavor you get is 100% natural, too. There’s nothing like it. But there are delicious differences in the strength of smoky flavor you get from different wood types, which is why we make five different blends. Read about some of the woods we use here.
And know that good food and good company are all the ingredients you need for a good time.
BACK TO BLOG
If everything in your menu is the same flavor profile, the same texture, and the same temperature, it’s not exactly a menu. It’s more like meal-in-a-pot. We don’t object to one-dish suppers, but they’re not as exciting as menus with multiple dishes that celebrate different facets of food. If you’re not following a menu straight out of a cookbook or magazine, but creating something of your own, you need to have a plan. Here’s a great one: mix or match. In other words, contrast or complement things about the dishes you’re serving.
You can choose to either contrast or complement your menu items based on taste, texture, or temperature. The most interesting and involved possibilities come into play with taste, so we’ll begin there.
The basics of taste
Your tongue only tastes four flavors:
There’s also a fifth flavor, known by the Japanese term Umami, a sort of savory mushroom-y meatiness that is perceived more throughout the mouth. Smoke is an umami flavor.
When professional chefs are creating dishes or menus, they will do a complex balancing act, looking at the interaction of all the four flavors within one recipe, and then again in the combination of items they serve together. For everyday people and their menus, it’s easiest to pick out one main flavor from your main dish and base your planning on either contrasting with that flavor or complementing it.
Let’s look at some examples of complementary or contrasting tastes on your menu.
If your protein is a black-pepper encrusted strip steak, it’s bitter (like all other dishes dominated by spicy hot peppery flavors). So you could either contrast with a salad with plenty of sweetness from watermelon or other fruit, or complement with a side of kale, dandelion, chard or other greens.
If your main dish is a slab of barbecued ribs in a sauce that’s dominated by vinegar, put it in the acid category. Then contrast with a salty mac and cheese (also rich in umami earthiness). Or, serve with a complementary, bright vinaigrette-dressed (and marinated) California cole slaw.
So next time you’re putting together a menu, have fun. Mix it up. Or play matchmaker. Either way, you and the people who are dining at your table are winners.
A brief discussion of texture and temperature
When it comes to texture, you can play. If you keep textures complementary, you might want everything on your menu to have tender and soft qualities. Think filet mignon with smooth mashed potatoes on the side. For contrasting texture, just go back to the example of gooey ribs and crunchy slaw (above).
Finally, you can satisfy and stimulate the palates of everyone at your table by paying attention to temperature. Contrast can be delicious: put jerk pork chops hot off the grill next to a simple salad of fresh tomatoes.
BACK TO BLOG
We’ve all been there. You head to the kitchen late Saturday morning, excited to start on that special BBQ meal you’re planning for the evening. And then you open the recipe in the cookbook or magazine or on your tablet and look up ‘marinated flank steak’ or ‘cooking time for BBQ brisket.’ Whoa! Marinating takes hours or overnight. Or you were planning on using a slow-cooking method like smoking. (Think ‘pig roast’—there’s a reason the professionals spend serious time with their meat on a spit.) Either of these favorite kinds of grilled foods take hours and hours for which you need to plan.
Marinating is done for two reasons: to tenderize meat and to add flavor. Let’s focus on the important tenderizing function, because that’s what impacts cooking time.
Active enzymes and acids in marinating liquids help break down connective tissue in the meat, thus tenderizing it. So certain cuts of meat that contain a lot of connective tissue really benefit from a marinade.
- Acid marinades might be based on wine, lemon, lime, or orange juice, vinegar, buttermilk or yogurt.
- Enzyme marinade ingredients include papaya, pineapple, kiwi and Asian pear.
Contact is key: the marinade must meet as much of the surface of the meat as possible. This is why flat cuts of meat, like flank steak, benefit most from tenderizing marinades. Don’t marinate thicker pieces of meat, because they’ll just get soggy on the outside while staying tough on the inside. See Slow Cooking (below) for thick cuts. Place meat in a heavy zip-top bag with the air squeezed out and turn it often to be sure all surfaces meet the marinade. Refrigerate to avoid the growth of harmful bacteria. Let meat come to room temperature before cooking.
More tender meats with less connective tissue benefit from a short bath in a marinade, mainly to add flavor. Chicken is a great example. Marinating chicken breasts will not impact your cooking schedule.
Chuck eye, flank steak, skirt steak and hanger steak are all good cuts of beef that do well when marinated. Other suggestions include bottom round, eye of round, and top round. Bonus: they’re much less expensive than more tender, ready-to-grill strips or rib eyes. Try this flavorful carne asada marinade recipe.
Fun reminder: The liquid in which meat marinates is called marinade (marinate is the verb, marinade is the noun).
Read more about the science of marinating here.
And remember, the same general principle of allowing ample time applies to soaking dried beans or brining meat. Check your recipe and put yourself on schedule to start your prep as far in advance as needed.
The cooking process itself helps break connective tissue down into gelatin. So slow cooking is ideal for thicker cuts that can’t be penetrated by marinades. While crockpot and oven braising also require you to budget your time, we’re going to focus on outdoor slow cooking here, namely smoking. When you’re smoking meat, it will be on your grill for upwards of 30 minutes per pound. Some cuts can be on the smoker for 20 hours.
Low temps and long cook times combined make smoking a great technique to employ for tender, really flavorful meals from those less-expensive, low-quality cuts. (Those pricey lean cuts of meat would dry out when slow-cooked.) Beef brisket, pork shoulder, and ribs are inexpensive cuts that wouldn’t be palatable unless they’re slow-cooked, so they’re often smoked and barbecued. Try this feisty recipe for smoky, spicy pulled pork using the boneless pork butt cut.
Make a plan and take your time to really enjoy your grilled and smoked meats. And read about a great meal that’s always worth the time you invest, grilled turkey
And a shout out to a most informative source for this article: TheSpruce.com
BACK TO BLOG
Here are two things about wood pellet grills that should fill your heart with gratitude this Thanksgiving:
1. True indirect heat, just like your oven.
2. Great taste unlike any appliance in your kitchen can deliver.
Do something different with that bird this Thanksgiving!
Roasting your Thanksgiving bird in the oven is the traditional way to go. But if you’re looking to take Thanksgiving to the next level, why not riff on tradition this year, using your wood pellet grill’s special super powers? You can get that crispy-skin-on-the-outside/juicy-meat-on-the-inside goodness, and fantastic flavor, too.
Indirect heat isn’t just something any grill can deliver. A wood pellet grill, however, controls temperature and circulates heat evenly throughout. There are no hot spots, no undercooked areas, no variation from one place in the bird to the next. It’s all good with indirect heat!
What’s even more amazing is the flavor. Wood pellets add a smoky taste that’s special. And simply delicious.
Let’s get cooking!
The farm-to-table experts at the University of Illinois Extension spell out simple turkey-on-the-grill guidelines here. And depending on how big your grill is, you can also fit in a few baking dishes on the side. Anything that you could cook in the oven, you can bake on a wood pellet grill. Try this scalloped potatoes recipe for a classic Thanksgiving side. You can also check out some tasty autumn vegetable dishes here for more inspiration!
Smoky flavor for everyone
If you’re one of those confident outdoor cooks who knows how to get indirect heat on your conventional grill, you can get smoky wood pellet flavor for your bird with a smoker box or tube. Thanksgiving is a great time to get smokin’ without a wood pellet grill.
Enjoy the holiday and thanks for reading!
BACK TO BLOG
Take advantage of great weather, cook with easy cleanup after work and school, enjoy menus that reflect the abundance of the harvest. What’s not to love about grilling in autumn?
Side dishes get really interesting during fall. It’s harvest time, and the farmer’s markets are simply overflowing. The choices, flavors, colors and textures are never better than in the autumn. What’s especially abundant?
- Apples and cider
- Sweet potatoes
- Sage leaves
Here’s a sample of recipes for a dream fall dinner, with a leading part played by your grill.
Pork’s taste and texture provide a perfect ‘canvas’ for an array of flavors. As the temperature drops, we crave more assertive, warming, spicy notes. And there’s not much that’s more popular on the grill than pork. Yes, this recipe has it all for autumn grilling.
Grilled fruit always adds great taste. And this apple salad features dressing made with another seasonal ingredient, apple cider.
Get the microwave going for this sweet, satisfying side dish to accompany your grilled goodness.
BACK TO BLOG
If you’re like a whole lot of people, when you’re talking about wood for smoking food, you’re thinking hickory. Griller’s Gold Premium BBQ Pellets are made of only one ingredient: wood. And since hickory is such an important wood for great BBQ, it’s in three of our blends.
The hickory tree is part of the walnut family.
Hickory nuts are edible, and you can forage for them in autumn; ripe hickory nuts fall to the ground so just pick them up. Eat them raw or roasted, and use them in pies instead of pecans, and in quickbreads and salads.
The United States has the most species of hickory trees
A dozen or so species exist in the United States alone. They tend to thrive in the Southeastern US; our neighbor to the north, Canada, has less than five species.
The average hickory tree will grow to be about 100 feet tall.
Hickory wood is exceptionally hard, dense and strong. Because of its durability and shock resistance, hickory wood is typically used for tool handles. It’s also employed in drumsticks, lacrosse sticks, archery bows, walking sticks, and on the bottom of skis. Historically, hickory was used in early airplane construction. Hickory wood is valued for the character its grain it brings to flooring, furniture, and ornamental woodwork.
A taste of the South
Smoked meat connoisseurs from the Carolinas to Tennessee to Texas talk up their hickory-scented favorite BBQ. Griller’s Gold offers an all-hickory flavor of premium BBQ pellets, and we mix hickory into Competition and Smokeshack blends, as well. For a recipe with seriously smoky attitude, try Hickory Smoked Beef Brisket from the author of The Paleo Kitchen.
Continue reading this series: Getting to our Roots: Maple
BACK TO BLOG