Fifty Minute Classroom

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50-Minute Classroom: Teaching Grilling

05 April 2013

Generally speaking, a perfectly grilled item should have a nice brown coating on the outside and be moist and juicy inside. Here’s how to successfully teach the technique of grilling within a shorter class period.

By Adam Weiner, CFSE

January’s 50-Minute Classroom was about whether it was more important to teach recipes or techniques. I concluded that both were important. February was teaching how to read and write a recipe.

Now it is time to continue the discussion on how to teach different techniques. I’ve already addressed how to teach your students braising(September 2010), baking (July 2011) sautéing(January 2012) and steaming (March 2013).This month: grilling.

1. Teach Your Students the Difference Between Barbecuing, Smoking and Grilling:

  1. Barbecuing is a cooking method where the food is cooked in a pit, or on a spit or grill, over hot coals or hot wood. Generally, there is a cover enclosing the food and the heat source. Teach your students that putting barbecue sauce over something that is cooked in another fashion does not make it barbecued: it is simply food with barbecue sauce. The most important factors in barbecuing are time and smoke.
  2. Smoking is curing and/or cooking food with smoke that comes from a heat source that is not under the food. This is called indirect cooking, and means that the burning coals or wood are in a different chamber or area and the smoke wafts its way across and surrounds the food being smoked. Smoking can be part of the curing process (like with bacon), or can be used to both cure and cook with wood, like many sausages, smoked turkey, smoked fish, etc. Smoking involves an incredible amount of time and careful monitoring of temperature. The type of smoke is also of major importance as it affects the flavor.
  3. Grilling is cooking foods quickly on a heavy metal grate over high heat. The heat source (whether gas, wood, charcoal, infrared or electric) is not very critical since the food is not on the grill for a long time. In a short period of time, the food won’t absorb much flavor or smoke from the heat source itself. As opposed to barbecuing, the food is seldom covered when grilling and the food is cooked quickly. In commercial kitchens, most grills are gas fired

2. Teach How to Prepare the Grill:

  1. The best way to keep food from sticking to the grill is to keep it clean, and to make sure it is well heated before each use. A hot grill will also give better grill marks (see below).
  2. Never spray non-stick substances on the grill (which is a dangerous practice) or rub oil on the grill with a rag to keep the food from sticking. The problem with this approach is that most grills cook at a temperature higher than the smoke point of the oil. In other words, the oil will just burn off—either becoming useless, or worst yet, adding a burnt flavor to the food.

3. Teach How to Get Grill Marks and a Perfect Color:
Generally speaking, a perfectly grilled item should have a e brown coating on the outside and be moist and juicy inside. Unless grilling something narrow like a hot dog, or small like a mushroom, the food should have diamond marks made by the grill. The format for proper grill marks is:

  1. Put the food on the left side of the grill, not touching other food, in the 10:00 position. (Teaching this is not as easy as it used to be. Many, if not most, young students have no clue what the 10 or 2 position is on an analog clock.)
  2. When it is nearly done on that side, turn it to the 2:00 position on the left side of the grill.When it is done on that side, turn it over and move it to the right side of the grill in the 10:00 position. When the food on the right is nearly done, move to the 2:00 position.
  3. While the items on the right are cooking, reload the left side of the grill.

Now, the trick is that the food only gets moved once on each side, and only turned once: 10 then 2 on one side, turn over, 10 then 2. If you move it a bunch of times, it will just look burnt.

How do you know if it is ready to move or turn? Let the food tell you when it is ready. Try to lift a little corner gently with tongs. If it lifts easily from the grill it is ready. If it sticks too much, let it cook a little longer.

Teach your students that the hardest part of grilling is being patient and not moving the food around before it is ready.

4. Teach the Students Professional Technique:

  1. If grilling something thick or dense, put the grill marks on and then finish the item in the oven. Otherwise the outside will burn before the inside is done. The same applies if the customer wants something cooked more than medium. (I know of many restaurants and large volume establishments that put grill marks only on one side and finish everything in an oven. These chefs realize that very few diners will turn over their grilled item to see if it has grill marks on the bottom side. Don’t believe me, check for yourself next time you go to a banquet.)
  2. Be patient. The hardest thing to do in grilling is not move everything around too much or too soon.
  3. Don’t overcook the food (remember the heat is high) and because of carry over heat it will continue to keep cooking after it is removed from the grill
  4. Don’t press down on the food with a spatula. All you are doing is pushing the wonderful juices out of the meat and onto the grill––which makes the meat less juicy and causes flare-ups which burn the food (and your hand).
  5. Don’t use a fork to turn over grilled items, or when carving them. All this does is let the juices escape. Use a pair of tongs or a heat proof spatula for turning. Use a pair of tongs in the closed position or a CLEAN towel to hold the food while carving. (Remember to teach your students about carryover heat, and letting most proteins rest before carving.)
  6. To keep the food from burning and for safety reasons, don’t walk away from the grill. As with all commercial cooking, mise en place is critical. The grill cook shouldn’t have to leave to do any prep, get a tongs, or secure a serving plate.

5. Teach Grilling Is More than Hot Dogs and Hamburgers:

  1. Grilling chicken, pork, beef is obvious.
  2. What about shrimp (as in “throw a shrimp on the barbie”) or fish? Even clams, mussels and oysters can be grilled. When grilling seafood you probably will want to lower the heat because these proteins cook quickly and overcooking yields a rubbery result.
  3. Moist vegetables lend themselves to grilling as well. I recommend a little olive oil plus salt and pepper on vegetables (and most proteins for that matter) before grilling. Smaller vegetables may require a grill basket. Don’t have a grill basket? Use a fry basket or make one out of several layers of aluminum foil with small holes punched in the bottom.
  4. Be creative: Avocados and bananas work great on the grill. (In San Antonio at the 2012 CAFÉ Leadership Conference, Avocados From Mexico showed numerous photos on how to grill avocados. Even lettuce, peaches, pineapples and strawberries are wonderful grilled. If your students are reluctant to try any of these creative treats I suggest that you grill peaches (whole with the pit inside) or watermelon. Then, chill them, slice them and serve them over ice cream. They, like you, will become true believers in grilling creativity.

Now, in the words of Oprah: You Go Grill!


Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE, teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain on the San Francisco Peninsula.

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