Top prep tips for mouthwatering grilled meat

Barbecued pulled pork shoulder on wooden chopping board
Tasty treat: smoked pork shoulder tastes even more delicious served with creamy coleslaw Credit: Stockfood

It’s almost time to head outdoors and grill up a delicious al fresco feast with family and friends. Here, food and drinks writer Kay Plunkett-Hogge shares her tips for the perfect grilled meat.

The thing I love most about the barbecue is that it provides the chance to maximise flavour. All that smoky, mouth-watering goodness is simply too much to resist. To achieve it, it’s key to consider three things: what we’re going to cook, the kind of heat it will require, and what other flavourings we’re going to bring to it.

If we’re barbecuing things that cook relatively quickly — steaks, burgers, chops —it’s best to cook over direct heat. On a gas barbecue, this is straightforward. Turn on the grill, heat it up, and away you go. Over charcoal (which I prefer), you need to wait until all the flames have died away, and the coals are covered with a layer of hot white ash. As a test, you should be able to hold your hand about 10cm over the grill for about 4 seconds.

If you want to cook a spatchcocked chicken or a butterflied leg of lamb, I recommend banking your coals — moving the coals to one or both sides of the barbecue so that the fats don’t ignite and burn bitterness into the meat. This is a form of indirect cooking that allows heat and smoke to escape. For a classic American barbecue, we want to keep all that heat and smoke contained to allow us to cook slowly for six hours or more. Bank the coals, place a drip tray beneath the meat, add soaked wood chips to the coals (you can buy these especially for this purpose), put the lid on and let it go. I tend not to add a drip tray when I bank the coals for chicken or lamb, because I want some of those drippings to burn and smoke on the coals, and thus add flavour.

With these three techniques (which are possible with a gas barbecue too, though you may need to invest in a smoke box for your wood chips) you shouldn’t need to use any tenderisers. The cooking will do it all for you. But to add the maximum flavour, there are a few little tricks that can be employed.

A winning combo: pair your smoky grilled meat with a rich and juicy malbec Credit: Getty

Firstly, seasoning. I like to rub steaks with a cut garlic clove, some olive oil, and then season them with plenty of fresh ground pepper. Let them sit at room temperature until you’re ready to cook, season them generously with salt, and get grilling. Most importantly, let the steaks rest on a warm plate before serving.

With a whole chicken, I prefer to marinate it. Spatchcock the bird, cut slashes into its flesh, then rub in your favourite marinade and leave for 1–3 hours before grilling. Try mixing together olive oil, lemon zest, crushed garlic, pepper, Aleppo pepper, thyme and oregano in generous quantities. Season with salt just before grilling. It should take 45–50 minutes over banked coals. Stab into the thickest part of the thigh with a skewer and, if the juices run clear, it’s done.

For a glorious smoked pork shoulder, mix together a dry rub of 1–2 teaspoons each of paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, thyme, mustard, cumin, coriander, cayenne, powdered bay leaves and salt. Rub it into 2kg pork and leave in the fridge for as long as possible. Cook indirectly on a covered barbecue, with added soaked wood chips, for 4–6 hours. When it’s done, leave to rest for at least 20–30 minutes before slicing it to serve in rolls with barbecue sauce or with a fresh coleslaw.

Then enjoy them with a glass of Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec. Rich with juicy red fruits, strawberries and raspberries, this robust and lightly oaked red pairs perfectly with smoky grilled meats. A real winner.

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