More grilling tips – lid open or closed?

By Chef Dez | Jul 31, 2013

In my last column I discussed my 5 Golden Rules of grilling on your outdoor gas barbecue. If you missed that column, I will be more than happy to email it to you. Please contact me at dez@chefdez.com.

To round off this information session about outdoor gas cooking, I want to focus on a few more areas: using a thermometer, using tongs and also address the age-old question "lid open or closed?

A thermometer is an essential tool for meat cooking of any sort, but especially on your outdoor grill. It is crucial to make sure that meat is cooked enough, but also not cooked too much.

We all know poultry, for example, needs to be cooked thoroughly in order for it to be safe to eat, but when was the last time you had a chicken breast that was overcooked and dry?

This happens far too often because people become afraid of serving meat under-done. It is wonderful that you won't be poisoned by salmonella bacteria, but it would be even more wonderful if your dinner was still juicy and cooked to perfection.

Spot-checking with an instant-read thermometer will help you achieve these perfect results.

These devices can be easily purchased from a variety of food and kitchen retailers. Digital ones are the easiest to read and operate, but keep in mind that usually the more you spend, the better the quality.

The most important thing to remember is to not insert the thermometer too many times as each puncture will result in lost juices.

This brings me to my next pointer: use tongs, not a fork, to turn your meat on the grill. Although barbecue forks are a common inclusion with grilling utensil sets, frequent use of this tool will cause more punctures in the meat than necessary and will result in an excess of lost juices.

Using tongs (or a flipper as in the situation of flipping a burger) will help to keep the precious juices in the meat.

Whenever I do a cooking class that requires the use of an outdoor gas grill, many people are amazed that I do 99 percent of the cooking with the lid open. When they inquire as to why I am cooking with the lid open, I ask them "why do you close it?"

Some say because the manual tells them to, but most don't have an answer.

For the most part, lid closed cooking should be reserved to larger cuts of meat where you want to cook indirectly (meat not directly above the flames) so your gas grill will perform more like an oven.

This will help to cook the meat internally to the degree you want without burning the outside.

Mostly for small pieces of meat like chicken breasts, steaks, pork chops, etc., I will grill with the lid open to achieve better crusting (grill marks) on both sides.

The main reason why we grill meat (instead of boil it, for argument sake) is because of the flavor of the browning of the outer crust. Better crusting of the meat will always happen when raw meat hits the hot grates of the gas grill.

Closing the lid will result in both sides of the meat cooking at the same time: the underside by flames and the hot grates, and the topside by trapping hot air.

Ideally, when we turn the piece of meat over we want the topside to still be raw so we can achieve that same degree of searing and crusting of the meat. This won't happen as well if that topside is already partially cooked from the trapped hot air.

In closing, I want to remind you that your outdoor gas grill is an appliance. It needs regular cleaning and maintenance in order to perform its best for many years.

For example, burners should be inspected at least at the beginning of each grilling season. Look for corrosion and carbon buildup that may block the burner gas ports and clear them with a paper clip.

If you have never performed a burner inspection on your grill, chances are your grill is due for maintenance or perhaps even a complete overhaul.

Chef Dez is a food columnist, culinary instructor and cookbook author. Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Send your food/cooking questions to dez@chefdez.com or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4.

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