In anticipation of celebrating our nation’s independence through fire and fare, we spoke with Drew Robinson, Executive Chef of southern favorite Jim ’N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, to give us some expert tips on manning the grill. Here’s what he had to say:
Estimate Your Time
Fish, burgers, chickens and sausages can all be grilled pretty easily and quickly over a hot fire. If you want to cook ribs or larger pieces of meat like a brisket or Boston butt, you’ll need a lower temperature fire and more time (4-5 hrs for ribs, 8+ for butts or brisket).
Choose Your Grill
Once the decision to grill or barbecue has been made, then you need to focus on your tools. A large Weber grill will do most jobs at home. If you’re adventurous, there are plenty of higher-end options out there like the green egg-style Kamado cookers or heavy-gauge steel cookers. The latter often come with offset fire-boxes that make it a little easier to slow-cook meat.
Prepare Your Fire
I like to burn natural charcoal at home versus briquettes, because they burn hotter and don’t have any fillers in them. Allow the coals to completely catch. You’ll know this when they start to get a grey ash over them. Temperature wise, you will know the coals are ready when you put your hand about three inches away from the grill and can only hold it there for about three seconds.
For barbecue and smoking, you want a much cooler fire, ranging between 200 and 220 degrees (having a thermometer in your grill will help determine this). When using a grill (in lieu of a smoker), you should build your fire on one side of the grill and let the other surface be for the meat; this is what folks refer to as cooking over indirect heat. If you do want to smoke, before your meat goes on, add to the coals some wood chunks that have been soaked in water. Another helpful trick is to have a charcoal chimney, which can be used to start your initial batch and prepare additional coals to refuel a fire when barbecuing for several hours.
My personal preference is to go flatter and ½ inch thick (the thinner patty allows for an ideal balance of flavor with the toppings). Season them simply with salt and pepper. Get your fire really hot (remember the three-second trick), oil the grates thoroughly, and then put your burger on. They should sear for a couple of minutes on each side.
Meatier fish like tuna or grouper do better on the grill. Flakier fish tend to fall apart no matter how well seared. Grill fish over a hot fire as well. My preference on white fish is to season with salt only; they are too delicate for heavy spices like black pepper. Fish like tuna, mahi-mahi or swordfish, however, do take well to black pepper.
Boston Butts & Pork Ribs
These fall into the low and slow method of cooking. Stay between 200 and 220 degrees for your cooking temperature. At Jim ‘N Nick’s, we make a basic rub that is well suited to different pork cuts; one part Kosher salt to one part sugar is the base, then we add a heavy dose of paprika, which is nice for its earthy flavor and the color it imparts. Black and cayenne peppers are good seasonings to lend heat. Beyond these basics, you should add the flavors that you like: garlic, cumin, mustard, fresh herbs, etc.
Cook your brisket using the barbecue methods mentioned. At Jim ‘N Nick’s, we season the beef heavily with salt and pepper. Kosher salt is a great base, and a good black pepper will bring some backbone to the flavor of the meat. You can also add hearty herbs like rosemary to the seasoning, or crushed red pepper, but if you buy good quality beef, the salt and black pepper are all you really need, aside from some hickory smoke. Cook brisket and pork butts to an internal temperature of 180.
There is nothing better than cooking a whole chicken. It is one of the few things that can be cooked over direct heat but at a lower temperature (eight count with your hand three inches from the grill) like barbecue. At Jim ‘N Nick’s we like to brine our chickens to get them seasoned to the bone. Before we cook them, we coat them with a rub that is rich with paprika. You can smoke the chickens indirectly, or put them over low heat and turn them often to get a smoky chicken with crispy grilled skin. Take it off when it reaches an internal temperature of 165.
Photo by Angie Mosier