The Secrets to Cooking Great Meat Dishes Outdoors

If you want to cook great meat dishes outdoors then you need: the right outdoor cooking equipment for what you’re going to cook; you need a great recipe; you absolutely must use good quality ingredients; you need to take care both when you’re preparing and when you’re cooking the meal and above all you must love what you’re doing.

Here are eight principles which will guide you along the way to a great meal. They are in no order of priority and are all important in their own way to some extent or other;

1. Get to know your butcher; ask for some meat that going to be great for cooking outdoors; say what you’re planning and be guided by them; they know best!

Today's advertising would have us believe that bright red, fat free, fresh meats, rather than brown, fat streaked, meats, are those we should select. No, fresh in, freshly cut, red meat is not yet ready for cooking. Steaks need time to age. They do this using naturally occurring enzymes that beak down protein in the meat that helps to build flavor & to tenderize. When you get your meat home put it in the fridge for 24-48 hours. Always try to select meat with some fat on the outside, or with veins of fat going through the meat. This is where all the juicy flavors come from.

2. Make sure that you dry the steak and then salt it before cooking

The drier you can get the steak the less water vapor will be created at the start of cooking. This helps the process that builds a crust on the steak and gives it great flavor; this process is enhanced still further if you salt your steak after drying.

3. Always cook your steaks on a really hot grill

Preheat the grill to a high temperature-so that it’s almost smoking; then drop the temperature to medium before placing the meat. To test the temperature, hold your hand over the grill, if you can keep it there for 3-4 seconds, this is medium. If your grill is too hot your steaks may char; burnt outside & rare inside.

4. Beware, don’t cook partially frozen steaks

Thaw your meat thoroughly. Do this in the refrigerator; this retains texture & flavor. Steaks & chops usually thaw in one day, large roasts can take 36 hours. Take steaks out of the refrigerator one hour before cooking; this will keep them juicy. Ensure your steaks are at room temperature before grilling. This avoids the shock of hitting the hot grill affecting flavor and texture.

If you need to thaw meat quickly use cold water. Meat may be thawed in a microwave oven, DON’T! It will lose it’s juices making it dry & chewy.

5. Be guided by ideal meat cooking temperatures

There is no right or wrong temperature for cooking meat as we all love our, meat particularly our steaks, cooked differently. Remember that meat with bone in takes longer than meat without. As a general guideline the following temperatures apply for different grades of meat:

For Steak & Lamb

  • Rare 120-130°F. 6-7 minutes. Center of steak still cold when served;
  • Medium Rare 130-135°F. 8-9 minutes Cooked on outside, deep pink inside;
  • Medium 140-150°F, 10-12 minutes. Served uniformly pink throughout the center.
  • Medium to Well done 155-165°F. Almost totally cooked through with slight pink in the center.
  • Well done 170°F. 13-15 minutes Completely cooked through Has to be cooked slowly

For Pork

  • Medium 140°F to 155°F Meat is slightly pink in center
  • Well-Done 160°F to 185°F Meat is uniformly brown

For Veal

  • Medium 145°F to 155°F

For all poultry:

  • Cook to 165°F with juices running clear in the thickest part of the bird

6. You can test the temperature of your meat with your eyes and hands

You can test how well your meat is cooked by pressing it with your finger. Rare meat feels soft; medium meat feels springy & slightly firm and well-done meat feels firm; but the most accurate method is to use an ‘instant-read’ thermometer inserted into the thickest part of your meat, away from the bone.

7. Avoid turning your steaks more than once

To achieve even cooking and see those lovely grill strips across each steak, turn the steaks only once. Always use tongs, never a fork as puncturing the meat allows juices to escape.

8. Take your time and brown your meats first when cooking stews

The Maillard reaction is an important action when cooking stews that you want to taste great. When cooking stew always start by browning the meat in a skillet. What you are doing is allowing the Maillard reaction to occur. This reaction happens only when meat is cooked at a heat of over 115°C, which is when the meats natural amino acids start to react creating a melange of complex flavors. It is because of the Maillard reaction that crusted brown steak tastes so good.

So why is this important in stews? Well for the simple reason that if you cook your meats in a stew without first browning the meat then you’re reliant on the heat of the water to do all the cooking, which means the highest temperature the meat will reach will be 100°C; [the boiling temperature of water] meaning the Maillard reaction will not occur! Meaning your meat won’t be as tasty as might otherwise be.

So what should you do? Its simple: first cut your meat into cubes, season it; then heat a little oil in a heavy frying pan; then gently brown the meat on all sides over a medium heat. Do this in small batches. Never cook with an over filled pan and don’t turn up the heat to go more quickly; take it steady.