Barbecue brush-up

Grilling: A summer refresher course for all of us fair-weather cooks.


Summer means grilling. Just like a tennis player who only takes to the court in the summer, the seasonal barbecue buff may be a bit rusty in technique after the winter hiatus.

There are the usual questions: What is the best cooking method? How long should I grill the burgers? When is a steak perfectly rare?

Help is on the way. The Barbecue Industry Association maintains a Web site ( with safety tips, product information and recipes. The Weber Grill-Line, which is open from April 1 through Labor Day, has a staff of home economists trained to answer grilling questions. The number is 800-474-5568. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hotline, 800-535-4555, is a source of information on food safety issues, including how to properly store and prepare animal products.

To brush up on grilling techniques, check out the answers to some common questions.

Q.What is the proper heat for grilling different types of foods (such as steaks, hamburgers, chicken, fish, vegetables)?

A.Cook poultry, pork and fish over medium to low heat, depending on the thickness of the food. Beef, including ground beef and steaks, can be seared quickly over medium-hot coals to seal in juices, then finished at medium heat. Because kebabs are a mix of small cuts of meat and vegetables, medium-low to low heat will prevent burning. Vegetables, which are a bit more delicate than animal products, benefit from low to medium coals. To prevent overbrowning or burning, wrap veggies in foil.

Q.What is meant by direct and indirect cooking?

A.A new cookbook, "Weber's Art of the Grill" (Chronicle, $35), describes each method:

* Direct cooking means that foods are cooked directly above the heat source. Burgers, steaks, hot dogs, chops, fish and most vegetables are grilled this way.

* Indirect heat resembles oven roasting. Briquettes are placed at each end of the grill and the food in between the heat source, not on top of it. With a gas grill, the heat jets are lighted on one side of the grill, and the food is arranged on the opposite side. The heat reflects off the sides and top of the grill and circulates around the food; turning the food is unnecessary.

Indirect cooking is best for large pieces of food, whole chickens, roasts or ribs, which benefit from slow-cooking.

Q.Should I marinate foods before grilling?

A.Chef Bobby Flay, star of TV Food Network's "Hot off the Grill" and "Grillin' and Chillin,' " suggests simplicity. "It's perfectly acceptable just to brush food with olive oil and sprinkle it with a little salt and pepper before putting it on the fire," he says in his new book, "Bobby Flay's Boy Meets Grill" (Hyperion, $32.50). He includes marinade recipes in the book but warns, "Don't overdo [rubs and marinades] or they will dominate the taste of the food."

Q.What is the difference between marinades and spice rubs?

A.A marinade usually contains liquids such as oil, wine or vinegar, while a spice rub is a blend of dry spices and herbs. Marinades bathe food in a seasoned liquid that can help to tenderize but, more importantly, imparts flavor to the food. A spice rub is applied to the surface of uncooked food.

Q.How do you judge when a steak is cooked rare, medium or well-done?

A.A medium-rare steak will register 145 degrees at its center, which will be very pink. At 160 degrees, a steak is cooked medium with a light pink center and brown exterior. A well-done steak is uniformly brown throughout. A 1-inch porterhouse steak will cook to medium-rare to medium doneness in 14 to 16 minutes over medium coals, suggests the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Q.Is eating a rare hamburger safe?

A.The U.S. Department of Agriculture still recommends cooking ground beef thoroughly -- 160 degrees on a quick-read thermometer -- because of the risk of E. coli contamination. The agency recommends cooking burgers to medium doneness, or until the juices are no longer pink. A half-inch-thick burger should reach medium doneness in 11 to 13 minutes over medium coals.

Q.Are there any other health risks associated with eating grilled foods?

A.Diets high in grilled meats have been linked to a greater risk of certain cancers, such as colon and stomach cancer. That's because carcinogens are formed in the black char when meat or seafood is cooked at high temperatures.

A report on diet and cancer from the American Institute for Cancer Research acknowledges the risk but did not recommend eliminating grilled foods. However, Karen Collins, a registered dietitian at AICR, suggests:

Use sauces -- which tend to burn -- judiciously during grilling, or wait until the end of the cooking time to coat foods with sauce. Cut off any charred portions of meat, poultry or fish.

Choose lean cuts of meat, and briefly precook foods in the microwave before grilling. When meat juices and fat drip down from the grill, carcinogens formed in the heat are carried upward in smoke.

Pub Date: 06/27/99

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