How to Barbecue Meat and Chicken
There are times when we produce barbecued meats that are fit for the gods — as burnt offerings.
Beef can be a relatively simple meat on the backyard grill. Cook burgers until they are heated through and steaks are grilled to your preference. Bacteria on steak rests on the outside, so once you have thoroughly grill the outside, the steak is safe. But there are other meats that are more tricky. To cook them completely, you run the risk of charring the outside too much.
Chicken is one of those tricky meats. It comes in pieces that are not uniform in size — thighs, legs, breasts and wings. They need to be heated through so that the meat near the bone is as cooked as the surface, but cooking them on a backyard grill may frequently leave them incinerated on the outside and still red and raw near the bone.
But you can produce perfect chicken every time, evenly cooked, crispy on the outside, moist, succulent meat cooked through to the bone. You will be the backyard grilling hero of your chicken-loving friends and family.
The secret is to marinade the chicken and then precook it in the marinade. The simplest system is to lay out your chicken pieces in a Pyrex baking dish, pour over your marinade, cover with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator for at least an hour, up to several hours if you have the time.
While you are marinating the meat, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Once the oven is hot, take the chicken from the refrigerator, pull off the plastic wrap and place it in the oven for one hour. Cooking the chicken in the marinade does several things. The heat of the oven will cook some of the fat out of the chicken but the meat will also absorb the hot marinate, infusing it with flavor and helping to keep the meat moist.
While the chicken is cooking, start your fire. If you have a charcoal grill, set up the chimney starter with several sheets of newsprint and the charcoal in the top. Once you have the chimney started ablaze, soak a handful of wood chips in water. If you are using a gas grill or an electric grill, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to get the grates hot.
Once the charcoals are hot, empty out the chimney starter, spread the coals evenly over the lower grate, and add your wood chips. Place the chicken on the upper grill, laying to down around the outside of the grill so it is not over the hottest of the coals. Place the lid on the grill. This will give you a smoky fire which will infuse the smoke flavor into the chicken meat. Smoke the chicken for about ten minutes, five minutes to a side. The chicken, still hot from the oven, will be crispy on the outside and moist and cooked on the inside. Even if your health-conscious diners discard the crispy skin, the moist meat underneath is infused with the marinade and smoke flavor.
Pre-cooking your chicken is also less labor intensive. You do not have to constantly monitor the chicken pieces on the grill and poke them with a thermometer. You can forget it while it is in the oven, reacting only when your timer goes off.
Nor is this limited to a cut up whole chicken. Another wonderful way of serving chicken is to cut it into bite-sized pieces and cooking it on skewers. This technique was originally started by tribesmen in a Caucuses who would skewer pieces of meat on their swords and cook them over their campfires. To do this at home, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces, soak in a marinade of your choice and put the chicken and the marinade in a Pyrex dish and cook it in the marinade in the oven. While the chicken is cooking in the oven, prepare your skewers. I prefer using metal skewers, but when I use wooden or bamboo skewers, I soak them in water for at least a half hour.
Once the chicken is cooked in the oven, place the meat on the skewers. You can make skewers of just meat or you can alternate the meat with cherry tomatoes, onion wedges and pieces of green and red pepper. Place the meat-laden skewers on the grill and close the lid to get a smokier fire and cook for about five minutes and then roll to a different side and cook for another five minutes. Lift the skewers off the fire with tongs and deposit on the plates.
The water-soaking will keep the wooden skewers from burning over the fire. If you are using metal skewers, just wash them off after using and you can use them again and again.
Cooking the chicken in the marinade works with commercial bottled marinades, such as Italian salad dressing, but it also can work with your own custom marinades. Below are some marinades you can use to soak your chicken.
Chicken in herb sauce
3 to 4 pounds of chicken pieces
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage
1/4 cup chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
1 to 2 cloves garlic
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well with a whisk. Pour over chicken leg quarters and marinade two hours or even overnight.
Oil and vinegar marinade
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup wine vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 garlic clove, chopped fine
1 medium onion chopped fine
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Blend the Tabasco sauce and the vinegar together, stirring with a whisk, add the dry ingredients, the soy sauce, the Worcestershire sauce, mix that well, then slowly pour in the olive oil, whipping it with the whisk as you pour it in.
Another tricky meat to grill is sausage, thick Italian sausages, either hot or sweet. Italian sausage hot from the grill, wedged in a crisp bun and topped with onions and sweet red peppers sauted in butter is a perfect backyard sandwich for a summer afternoon. But sausage is another one of these meats that needs to be cooked all the way through. The time on the grill it takes to cook raw Italian sausage all the way through can leave the outside of the meat incinerated.
Before you grill the sausage, set up a metal steamer basket in a saucepan with water just up to the level of the bottom of the steamer. With a sharp paring knife, cut slits in the sausage skin and place them in the steamer slit sides down. This way, as the sausage steams, the fat will seep out through the slits and be replaced by moisture from the steam. Once the sausages are steamed, which should take about twenty minutes, pull the sausages out of the steamer with tongs and place on the grill, closing the lid to get a nice, smoky fire to infuse the smoke flavor into the meat. Leave on the fire about ten minutes, rolling a few times to get a nice even crispness on the skin. Serve in long rolls with onions sauted in a skillet with butter.