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Mastering the barbecue

By Sharon K. Ghag McClatchy Newspapers

Here are some tips and tricks to doing barbecue right:

First, prepare the grill

Once you’ve determined how the food will be grilled, prepare the cooking grate.

Discard residual ashes. A thick layer of ashes will act as insulation and affect heat and air circulation.

Spread the coals as desired and replace the grill.

Scrub the grate with a long-handled stiff wire brush to remove residual food.

Lightly oil the grill with a thick rolled-up cylinder of paper towels dipped in flavorless vegetable oil.

Place the food on the grill, leaving space around each item for even cooking and heat penetration.

Keep the lid on as much as possible during the cooking process.

Allow the food to brown before turning it. Don’t turn food too often, as you could inadvertently force moisture out of it.

Apply sauces containing sugar, honey or molasses no sooner than the last 10 minutes of cooking to prevent the sauce from burning.

After the food is cooked, brush the grilling grate with a metal brush.

Source: “Kingsford: Complete Book of Grilling,” by Rick Rodgers; Wiley; $19.95

Choosing the meat

Here are some tips for ensuring your barbecue is a success.

Always buy cold meat and poultry. When shopping for groceries, buy the meat last, and when you get home, unpack it first and place directly in the refrigerator.

Prep the meat or poultry and return it to the refrigerator.

Meat, in general, should be at room temperature when you grill it, because it cooks more evenly than chilled meat.

Take the meat out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you are ready to grill. In hot weather or with small cuts of meat like chicken breasts, the meat may only need 15 to 20 minutes to come to cool room temperature.

As soon as it no longer feels cold to the touch, put the meat on the grill.

Ground meat is the exception and should be cooked when still chilled; ground meat is more susceptible to bacteria at room temperature; previously chilled patties or meatballs will keep their shape better.

Source: “Lobel’s Prime Time Grilling: Recipes & Tips from America’s No. 1 Butchers,” by Stanley, Leon, Evan, Mark and David Lobel; Wiley; $27.95

Cooking the meat

Here’s how to tell if meat is cooked:

For red meat, stick the probe of an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the meat. When the internal temperature reaches 5 to 10 degrees below what you ultimately want to eat, take the meat off the grill. Larger pieces of meat, such as a beef strip loin or a leg of lamb, retain heat and continue to cook.

Use the “touch test” to determine the doneness of steaks and chops. Most raw steaks are as soft as the fleshiest part of your thumb when your hand is relaxed. As they cook, the steaks get firmer and firmer. If you press your first finger and thumb together, and press the fleshiest part of your thumb, the firmness is very close to that of a rare steak. If you press your middle finger and thumb together, the firmness on your thumb is very close to that of a medium-rare steak. If you’re still unsure, take the steak off the grill and make a little cut in the middle so you can see the color of the meat inside. If it’s still too red, put it back on the grill.

Think pink for pork. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends pork be cooked to well done or 170 degrees; most chefs cook it to 150 to 160 degrees. A pork chop cooked to 150 degrees will have a little bit of pink in the center, and the meat will give a little under pressure.

The USDA recommends cooking poultry until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Keep in mind that in whole birds, the internal temperature will rise 5 to 10 degrees. Check thigh meat by inserting the probe of a thermometer in the thickest part between the thigh and drumstick or, insert a thin knife between the thigh and drumstick. The juices should run clear and the meat should no longer be pink at the bone.

Cook fish to an internal temperature of 125 to 130 degrees or until the whitish color is opaque all the way to the center. Shellfish will turn an opaque, pearly white color at the center when they are cooked.

Let personal preference be your guide when grilling vegetables.

Source: “Weber’s Charcoal Grilling: The Art of Cooking With Live Fire,” by Jamie Purviance; Weber and Sunset; $19.95

The Best Burgers

From “Kingsford: Complete Book of Grilling,” by Rick Rodgers; Wiley; $19.95.

1 1/2 pounds ground round beef (85 percent lean)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 hamburger buns

Mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, lettuce, sliced tomatoes, onions, and pickles for serving

Mix the ground round, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Form into four 4-inch patties. Handle the meat lightly and do not pack it, or the burgers will be coarse-textured and dry. Place on a waxed paper-lined plate, cover and let stand at room temperature while building the fire. Build a charcoal fire in an outdoor grill for pocket grilling and let burn until the coals are almost covered with white ash.

Lightly oil the grill grate. Place the burgers on the grill and cover. Cook, turning often, moving the burgers that drip fat and flare up to the cleared pockets in the coals, until the burgers are well-browned and feel somewhat firm when pressed in the center, about six minutes for medium-rare, or longer if desired. If using an instant-read thermometer, insert it horizontally through the side of the burger to reach the center. It should read 125 degrees.

Pocket Grilling: When the coals are almost covered with ash, use long tongs to dig one pocket in the coals for each burger. The burgers are seared over the coals, then moved over the pockets and covered to complete cooking.

Yield: 4 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving (without condiments): 560 calories, 30 grams fat (13 grams saturated, 50 percent fat calories), 47 grams protein, 22 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram dietary fiber, 143 milligrams cholesterol, 940 milligrams sodium

Beer-can Chicken

From “Kingsford: Complete Book of Grilling,” by Rick Rodgers; Wiley; $19.95.

One 4-pound chicken

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt to taste

1 tablespoon sweet paprika, preferably Spanish smoked

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

One 12-ounce can lager beer

Build a charcoal fire for indirect high grilling.

Brush the chicken with the oil and season inside and out with the salt. Mix the paprika, thyme, oregano, garlic powder and cayenne together in a small bowl. Sprinkle the spice mixture all over the chicken.

Place a disposable pie pan inside another identical pan. Open the beer can and pour out the top inch of beer. Insert the beer can inside the body cavity of the chicken and stand the can with the chicken on the pie plates, adjusting the chicken and can as needed so the chicken balances. Let stand at room temperature until the coals are ready.

Place the pie plates with the chicken and beer over the empty part of the grill. Cover and grill until the chicken is deeply browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh, not touching a bone, reads 170 degrees, about 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Yield: 4 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: Unable to calculate

Lamb Chops with Grilled Stuffed Mushrooms

From “Lobel’s Prime Time Grilling: Recipes & Tips from America’s No. 1 Butchers,” by Stanley, Leon, Evan, Mark and David Lobel; Wiley; $27.95

Lamb Chops:

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely grated onion (see Note)

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 loin lamb chops, each about 1 1/2-inches thick

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup dry red wineVegetable oil cooking spray

Mushrooms:

3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese (3 1/2 to 4 ounces)

1/4 cup cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon crushed dried marjoram

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

24 2-inch-diameter white or crimini mushrooms

Olive oil

Salt to taste

For the lamb chops, combine the garlic, onion, pepper, rosemary, thyme and salt in a small bowl and stir into a paste. Rub the paste into both sides of the chops. Put the chops in a large, shallow glass or ceramic dish, pour the oil and wine over them, turning the chops to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours or overnight, letting the meat come to room temperature before grilling.

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill and let heat until it is moderately hot to hot.

For the mushrooms, combine the feta, cream cheese, parsley, thyme and marjoram in a small bowl; season with pepper and mix well.

Remove the stems from the mushrooms, leaving a cavity in the cap. Rub the caps inside and out with oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Put the mushrooms on the grill, cavity side down, and grill for two or three minutes, until lightly browned and softened. Transfer the mushrooms to a pan, cavity side up, and spoon an equal amount of the cheese filling in each.

Lift the chops from the dish and let the marinade drip back into the dish. Grill the chops for six to eight minutes on each side for medium-rare, or until they are cooked to the desired degree of doneness.

Just before turning the chops, put the mushrooms filled side up on the edge of the grill, away from the hottest part of the fire, and cook for five to six minutes, until the cheese begins to melt. Remove the mushrooms and the chops from the grill and serve.

Note: To grate onion, rub the cut portion along a hand-held cheese grater or grate the onion in a food processor.

Yield: 4 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 416 calories, 26 grams fat (12 grams saturated, 56 percent fat calories), 36 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams dietary fiber, 128 milligrams cholesterol, 441 milligrams sodium.

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