Tips and Tricks | The Language of Barbecue
An ode to barbecue…
A barbecue in Canada is used for grilling. A grill in America is used for grilling. A grill is not to be used for BBQ.* A barbecue (appliance) can produce BBQ (food) served at a BBQ (gathering). You can cook barbecue or grill chicken. You never grill barbecue (food). You can smoke on a grill or a BBQ, but it’s very hard to grill on a smoker. Some grills and barbecues are smokers, few smokers are grills, and some barbecues are grills. When you find a great barbecue (grill/smoker/etc.) – you will know. When you find great barbecue (food or restaurant) – you will know. The same goes for lousy BBQ (appliance or food).
Regardless of your definition we’re committed to great barbecue and great barbecues every time.
As the above wordplay shows you, some standard barbecue terms can mean different things, and it can be confusing to keep it all straight. Whether you’re new to grilling or have been flipping steaks for years, you may be unaware of the meaning of common terms. Let us clarify a few for you.
This is a name for the outdoor appliance we use to cook burgers and steaks. It can be interchanged with the term barbecue, though this can be confusing (see above).
In Canada and most of the world, we see barbecue as both the grilling machine and the food, but in the US, there’s a big difference; barbecue is low and slow with smoke and natural wood.
A term to describe a smoker or grill that runs on gas, either propane (LP) or natural gas (NG).
A smoker is either a horizontal or vertical chamber, typically fuelled with charcoal or wood and used for smoking meat. Smokers are designed for low and slow cooking but can be used for high heat grilling.
The cooking grids (or grates) are the cooking surface in your grill. They come in a few different variations and materials. Broil King grids come in cast-iron, cast-stainless and stainless-steel rod. The cast grids are double-sided, with a pointed side for searing and a grooved side for roasting.
The heat tent is a stamped metal plate that rests above the burners in your grill to disperse heat and protect the burners from drippings. On Broil King grills, we call these plates Flav-R-Waves and are made wider than comparable heat tents to offer better coverage and vaporization for superior flavour. They help prevent flareups and aid in the vaporization process.
The spit is the name of the rod used to suspend meat for rotisserie-style cooking. It can be used for open-flame cooking when doing something like a pig roast. Or it can be used with a rotisserie motor on your grill for smaller roasts and chickens.
Stands for British Thermal Unit and is a measurement of energy. It is defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. The standard range on a gas grill is 75-100 BTUs per square inch of cooking space. While it’s easy to think that more BTUs means more power and thus a better grill, the actual construction of the heat and insulating capability matters more. Grills on the lower end will take longer to heat up and cook, while grills on the high end can heat up too much and may overcook your food.
Can be used to describe the food, such as roast beef or pork, as well as the style of cooking (roasting). Roasting on the grill is common when preparing chicken or vegetables and generally occurs between 350˚F and 375˚F. It’s usually done over a longer period (though not as long as smoking).
This occurs during high-heat grilling, such as with steaks. Sear marks are produced on foods when they come into contact with a hot surface, such as your cooking grate or griddle. It is a chemical reaction that occurs in the food, called the Maillard Reaction (see below) and appears as a dark brown crust on your food. Typically this happens at temperatures between 500˚F and 600˚F. Searing food on the grill is done quickly, following a hot and fast method.
Grilling with wood planks – also called planking – is when we grill foods on wooden planks using indirect heat. Using wood planks is one of the best ways to impart woodsy flavour to your food when cooking on a gas grill. Wood planks are popular when cooking salmon or cheese on the grill to protect the delicate items from intense heat while creating a new flavour profile.
The heat emitted from our burners extends far past the flame, and we call this radiant heat. The intensity of the heat diminishes as it moves further from the source, but it is radiant heat which cooks our food. It also transfers energy to our cooking surface, be it cooking grates, a griddle or a wok, which then conducts more heat to our food through direct contact.
Direct grilling is what we associate most with gas barbecues. From seared steaks to mouth-watering burgers, when you grill over a burning heat source, you’re direct grilling. Direct grilling usually happens in the HIGH-temperature range and is often equated with searing. Think of the most iconic grilled items like steaks, pork chops, chicken wings, burgers, sausages, kebabs, or any other items that are quick to grill.
This cooking style occurs when we’re cooking food without an intense heat source directly below. Instead of relying on the direct heat from your burners, indirect grilling uses radiating or convective heat to roast your meal. Indirect grilling usually happens in the mid-temperature range and is often referred to as roasting or baking. When you hear indirect grilling, picture larger, slow-roasted items like prime rib, whole chicken, a turkey, cedar-planked salmon, or a leg of lamb.
This is a scientific term that refers to the process of liquid changing into a gas state. When we’re talking about vapourization in barbecue, we’re referring to the melting juices and fats dripping onto a hot surface, such as the Flav-R-Wave and turning into smoke which rises back up and adheres to our food. Vapourization is imperative to grilling, as it is what gives us the unmistakable barbecue flavour. The more vapourization that occurs, the better the taste and the less waste in the form of unused juices.
Collagen is a connective tissue protein that contributes to your meat’s tenderness and texture. It is found in skin and muscle and is composed of three molecules of amino acid chains that wrap around one another to form a strong bond. This makes it more difficult to break down, and if left intact, it can make your meat very chewy and tough to cut. The best way to break down collagen is through slow, moist cooking, as is done with brisket or pork shoulder.
Caramelization happens when sugar is introduced to heat. Sugar is found naturally in foods like fruits and vegetables or in added sauces and marinades. Visually, caramelization causes the sugars to darken, resulting in a brown crust on your food. But caramelization also affects the taste of your food, as the process releases compounds which can produce bitter, nutty, toasty and buttery notes. Caramelization can only happen in dry heat (so it can’t be achieved by steaming, blanching, boiling etc.), and it needs high heat to happen quickly.
When we grill items, they undergo a chemical reaction that alters our food taste. It produces a golden brown appearance and an unmistakable grilled flavour. We call this the Maillard Reaction. It’s why barbecue food tastes different from food cooked in the oven. When amino acids and sugars react at temperatures over 280˚F (140˚C), they produce a golden-brown appearance and unique flavour.
Marinating is the process of soaking food in a seasoned liquid before grilling. You can use premade marinades from the store or make your own. Generally, marinades will have some type of acid – such as vinegar, lemon juice or wine mixed with other herbs and oils. Including an acid is essential when marinating meat, as the acids help tenderize meat by breaking connective tissues so that more moisture is absorbed for a juicier result. Marinating can happen in a few minutes or over a span of hours, depending on the size and cut of meat.
A brine is a high salt concentration in water solution and can be used to preserve or marinate food. Brining vegetables and fruits is a process also known as pickling. Brining meat and fish over a shorter period enhances the tenderness and flavour.
Doneness is a multi-faceted word that doesn’t just cover the internal temperature of what you’re cooking but also the look on the outside. With beef, there’s a range of internal temperatures that relate to doneness – rare, medium-rare, medium and well done. When it comes to chicken and pork, you’ve got fewer options, as these meats need to be cooked to a minimum temperature to avoid food-borne illnesses. The best way to look for doneness is to use a meat thermometer.
A barbecue pit refers to the method of cooking meat and vegetables in an enclosed pit – either above or below ground. The method of cooking food below ground in “earth ovens” has been around for thousands of years. But this cooking style has become popular in US southern barbecue, where meat is smoked inside clay or brick huts.
Silver skin is the thin membrane of connective tissue found on larger cuts of meat. It has a silvery sheen, which is where its name derives. You will find this membrane most often on pork and beef tenderloins and the underside of ribs. You want to remove the silver skin on meat before cooking, as it will produce tough and chewy meat if left intact.
A rub is a mix of seasonings applied to meat before cooking. Rubs can be wet or dry – a blend of liquids and sauces or powdered ingredients.
Rendering refers to the process of melting and clarifying fat. When cooking fatty cuts of meat like ribs, brisket or pork belly, we want the fat to render, to melt, adding flavour while reducing the chewiness of the meat.
When smoking large cuts of meat like a brisket or pork shoulder, the meat undergoes a period of time when the internal temperature stops climbing or even reverses. This is called the stall, and it can be discouraging when anxiously waiting to eat. But this is a normal part of the process and simply requires planning or use of a wrap to speed up. Usually, around the 3-hour mark, when your meat is between 150˚F and 170˚F, the moisture in your meat begins to sweat and evaporate, balancing out the heat produced by the grill. When this happens, the temperature of your meat plateaus and will not continue to climb until enough moisture has evaporated so that it doesn’t offset the heat coming from the grill. You can be patient and simply wait for the usual process to carry itself out, or if you’re on a time crunch, you can wrap your meat in tin foil (known as the Texas Crutch) or use butcher paper (which is a better alternative) to help speed up the cooking process.
The bark is the dark, crispy outer layer of meat that develops on brisket. The best bark should look burnt and crispy but will reveal tender pink meat on the inside. Using a wrapping method to speed up the stall can alter the texture of your bark. While effective in speeding up cook times, using tin foil will lead to a soggy bark since you’re trapping 100% of the moisture inside the meat. Butcher paper, on the other hand, is a better option as it still allows some moisture to pass through and evaporate while trapping some moisture and heat, which will still give you a crispy bark.
The smoke ring refers to the dark pink section that develops just below the surface of the smoked meat. Meat contains a compound called myoglobin, which gives meat its pinkish colour and darkens when heated during the cooking process. This is why something like steak has a brown exterior while the centre remains pink, as the myoglobin in the centre does not receive enough heat to change colour. So what differs during the smoking process? When wood and charcoal burn, they produce nitrogen dioxide gas. That gas then reacts to the hydrogen molecules in meat and forms nitric oxide. Nitric oxide interacts with the myoglobin to maintain its pink colour despite its exposure to heat. The depth of the smoke ring depends on how deep the smoke penetrates the meat.