Hostin' a smokin' barbecue

Your barbecue will be so good that people will be camping out in your backyard

Most men (at least the ones I know) like to claim the title of BBQ King, but this summer, you will rule the ‘cue. Grilling up the world’s best burgers, steaks and more is easier than you think – once you know a few tricks. Grab those tongs (and his silly apron) and head outside.

Best burgers
What to buy:

To make a top-notch burger, you need to start with the right meat. This is not the time to cut calories: lean ground beef is no match for medium or regular. The higher fat content is key for super-flavourful and juicy burgers. You’re only looking at a difference of a few grams of fat between lean and medium – besides, plenty of that excess fat will fall right through the grill anyway.

Remember that beef isn’t the only choice for making burgers. Switch it up and try a mixture of ground veal or pork with beef, which will give you a lighter flavour. Or try ground lamb, turkey or chicken. For a hit of flavour, mix ground meat with crumbled spicy sausage (the meat part only – discard casings).

Mixing 101:

Overmixing will result in burgers as rubbery as hockey pucks, so don’t throw too much in. Work your moderated mixture just enough to distribute the seasonings evenly and form the patties. For something a little different, tuck small nuggets of feta, blue or goat cheese into the centre of each burger. Try it out with our Fabulous four-pepper cheeseburgers. When it comes to shaping the patties, think big. Burgers shrink a lot when they cook, so make them bigger than you usually would, but not so colossal you won’t be able to flip them over without breaking. To prevent puffy burgers, use your thumb to make an indent in the centre of each patty before grilling. This will help them to cook flat and even.

Time to sizzle:

To prevent scorching flare-ups and burned bits, grill burgers over medium heat. Resist the urge to constantly poke or flatten burgers with a spatula during cooking – you’ll squeeze out vital and flavourful juices. Beef burgers need to be cooked until the internal temperature reaches 160F (71C).

Ready to impress? Try our Friday night burgers and let the praise begin.

Best chicken
What to buy:

Unlike other types of meat, there aren’t specific cuts of chicken that are better than others for grilling. Instead it comes down to personal choice – whether you like dark meat from the leg and thigh or white meat from the breast. Or buy the whole bird to get a taste of each. When shopping, skip packages that have liquid pooling in the bottom or ones with icy edges – the texture will be mushy. You may have noticed that chicken can range in colour – either slightly yellow or pale white. That’s completely normal. The colour isn’t an indication of freshness or quality – rather, an indication of how the meat has been processed.

Get more flavour:

Chicken has a very mild flavour, but it’s easily livened up with a zesty marinade or quick stir-together dry rub. If you’re running really short on time, you can use a bottle of your favourite salad dressing as a marinade. Most marinades contain an acid such as lemon juice, vinegar or wine. When marinating chicken, keep the acidity of the marinade in mind. Too much exposure to acid will “cook” the chicken, and you’ll end up with mushy or stringy results. If the marinade is very acidic, like our Lemony chicken with creamy basil sauce, only marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

If you’re using a marinade with low acidity – such as an herbed olive oil, spicy barbecue sauce or even coconut milk – it’s fine to marinate for a few hours or overnight. Try it out with our Thai green curry chicken.

Dry rubs – a mixture of dry herbs and spices, often with a little oil – are a fast way to add flavour. And your rub will stick to the chicken, forming a flavourful, toasty crust that also seals in moisture. Try rubbing a spicy creole mixture on chicken pieces before grilling: stir 1 tbsp (15 mL) each paprika and garlic powder with 2 tsp (10 mL) each onion powder, dried oregano leaves, cayenne and thyme leaves and 1 tsp (5 mL) each salt and ground black pepper.

Time to sizzle:

Chicken is fairly lean compared to other meats, which makes it tricky to keep moist when grilling. Marinated chicken will stay juicy thanks to the tenderizing seasonings. A favourite trick of mine is to grill the chicken with its skin on, then remove it after grilling (if I have the willpower).

When cooking skinless, boneless breasts or thighs, grill over medium heat. When grilling pieces with the skin on and bone in – such as breasts, legs and thighs – cook over medium-low heat and turn often. To prevent flare-ups, trim as much excess fat as possible. Keep a water spray bottle nearby to douse unruly flames.

Ready to impress? Take it slow on the barbecue with our Five-herb chicken.

Best fish
What to buy:

I’m very particular when it comes to how I grill fish. I love a whole grilled fish – the full deal, with head, tail and skin on. I find it stays moist, and the fresh, subtle flavour shines through. Many people prefer fillets, though. They don’t look as scary, and they’re easier to cook and eat. To ensure freshness when buying a whole fish, keep this checklist in mind.
Smell: shouldn’t be “fishy,” but sweet like fresh sea water
Eyes: bright, not sunken or cloudy
Skin: surface should be bright and lustrous – no spots of pink (which indicate bruises) or brown (which is a sign of spoilage)
Gills: bright red

To be really sure, ask your fishmonger if you can touch the fish before you buy it. Gently press the fattest part of the fish – it should feel firm and spring back. It’s a little trickier to tell the freshness of fillets or steaks, but the flesh should be bright and shiny and feel firm, not soft or waterlogged.

Time to sizzle:

If you’re going to cook fillets, I suggest you steam them in foil packets or plank them on a cedar board, which creates an aromatic, smoky flavour. Wrap fish fillets in individual foil packets. Place seam side up on a medium grill. You’ll know they’re done when a knife tip inserted into the centre of the fillets comes out warm. A good rule of thumb is to allow about 10 minutes per inch (2.5 cm) of thickness. Seal in the flavour of Curry-scented salmon in foil packets.

Planking is another favourite method of mine. Basically, it’s another way of steam-cooking fish, but as a bonus, it also gives fish a smoky flavour. Place fish on a soaked wooden board (usually untreated cedar), then place on the grill. The water-soaked plank creates a fragrant steam that cooks and flavours the fish. Look for planks at the fish counter in most supermarkets, then try them out with our Cedar-planked maple salmon.

Firm-fleshed fish, such as salmon, catfish or halibut, works well grilled right on the grill over medium-high heat. If the fillet has skin, leave it on while grilling. It helps to keep moisture in, and it’s easier to take off once cooked – just slip your metal spatula between the fish and skin. Savour the flavour of Grilled halibut with tomato-mint salsa.

Feeling brave enough to face a whole fish? Fire up the grill for Easy grilled fish with Mediterranean dressing.

Best steak
What to buy:

When buying a steak, look for lots of marbling – the white streaks of fat that run through the cut are a sign of a tender, juicy, flavourful steak. There are many different cuts to choose from. Click here to see what’s what.

Time to sizzle:

Bring steak to room temperature before grilling and nick edges to prevent them from curling up. Grill over medium-high or high heat. This will get the outside good and crispy while the inside stays moist and pink.

To determine doneness, keep these guidelines in mind. Or invest in an instant-read thermometer for more accurate results. And don’t make the mistake of cutting into the meat while it’s grilling just to check – you’ll let the best tastes escape. Let the steak rest 2 to 3 minutes before serving. This will evenly redistribute the juices, ensuring a moist, tender steak.

The following grilling times are for 1-inch- (2.5-cm-) thick steaks and will vary depending on the type of grill.

Rare: 3 to 4 minutes per side
Medium-rare: 5 to 6 minutes per side
Well done: 8 to 10 minutes per side

If using a thermometer, insert it into the thickest part of the steak.
Rare: 140F (60C)
Medium-rare: 145F (63C)
Well done: 170F (77C)

Steak cut Profile
• Small, round, incredibly tender steaks
• Also available as filet mignons, tournedos and Chateaubriand
• No bones and little fat
• Mild flavour and expensive
Rib eye
• Steak version of a prime rib roast
• Choose large thick steaks, at least 1-inch (2.5-cm) thick
• Cut from centre of short loin
• Has T-shaped bone separating small tenderloin section from larger top loin
• The most flavourful steak; meat closest to the bone is extra tasty
• Similar to T-bone but with a larger portion of tenderloin
• Not as common in grocery stores but often the butcher’s top pick
• Good value for money – you get both the T-bone and rib eye
Strip loin
• Butchers also call this New York strip
• A very tender cut – it’s what left when the tenderloin is “stripped” from the loin
• Generally cut to 2 1/2-inches (6.5-cm) thick
Top sirloin
• Enormous steaks – good for feeding a crowd
• Tender enough not to require marinating and incredibly flavourful
• Taken from an area between the loin and sirloin (the hip)
• Least expensive of the tender cuts and best value for money
Flank steak
• Thin flat muscle that runs along the underbelly
• Best cooked to medium-rare and sliced across the grain
• Benefits from a few hours or overnight marinating
Eye of round
• Looks like a big tenderloin steak, but has more flavour
• Often sold crusted with peppercorns and herbs
Inside and outside round
• Large steaks – good for sharing
• Better flavour and texture if marinated overnight
Make the world’s best… Burgers Chicken Fish Steak

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