One can wonder how can there possibly be arguments over the right technique for wonderful afternoons grilling on the deck? There can be many. If one is a proponent of traditional American barbeque, slow-smoke cooking, is smoking and slow-cooking best on a Traeger or with a “Big Green Egg”? Do you prefer grilling over wood coals or gas? In which case is the kettle grill to be preferred over the fancy outdoor stainless steel gas grill station? Or do you think you get better roasting results in your pizza oven? It isn’t just for pizza, is it? There are so many different techniques and styles, each of which can produce a different and wonderful result. If you have a wood-fired pizza oven, try putting a whole chicken or a cut up chicken in a cast iron frying pan in the pizza oven and roast the chicken in the wood burning environment. You will be amazed at the flavor. But don’t put the chicken directly on the pizza stone, use the cast iron fry pan—otherwise the chicken fat will soak into the pizza stone, rendering it useless for making pizza (the pizza dough will burn and stick and pick up off-flavors). So we are back to that old bugaboo, correct technique.
Tempurature for BBQ
The first question is what temperature? If you are going to roast a chicken in the pizza oven you don’t want the skin to turn to charcoal the minute you put the chicken inside. But if you are making pizza you want the oven and the stone to be very hot—to crisp and cook the pizza dough quickly. So while 700 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 900 degrees might be perfect for pizza, it will burn the skin on a chicken. Do all your grilling, roasting and barbeque devices have an accurate thermometer? Have a hand-held infrared thermometer on hand to test the temperature of a pizza stone or a cast iron pan.
Professional bakers knew how to judge temperature without a thermometer. They did it for generations. If you can only hold your hand over your coals or grill for one second, that is very hot! Two seconds: then that is a slightly cooler coal bed or grill. Three seconds: a medium-hot coal bed or grill. And so on. Learn how to judge your cooking temperatures.
If you have read our articles on scallopini or on stewing, one of the mantras was: “Do not overcook the meats as this will make them tough, dry, and chewy.” We want our foods to be moist, tender and delicious. In this article we are going to explain the wonder of sous vide, and how it enables perfect grilling.
Sous Vide: Slow Cooking for Summer BBQs
I can remember the first time I knowingly experienced sous vide. I am a great fan of short ribs. I was at one of the top restaurants in Torino (Turin) which had short ribs on the menu, so of course I ordered them. The chef told me that they had been cooked for 25 hours at 120 degrees! I was shocked, especially when the short ribs arrived “spoon tender” (no knife required) and were still pink or medium rare in the middle!
“Sous vide,” which means “under vacuum” in French, is now all the rage, and you can buy the implements you need at all the best cooking stores. In this technique, food is vacuum-sealed in a cooking pouch and, at a precise temperature, heated in a water bath.
The science of sous vide
What actually happens using the sous vide technique? Science has taught us that meat does not necessarily overcook by long exposure to heat, and long, slow cooking actually tenderizes it. It is a high internal temperature that causes meat to become overcooked, dry and chewy. Sous vide is a technique which allows long exposure to low heat during cooking, tenderizing the meat, but not stealing its moisture. What matters is not timing, but precise temperature control.
Invite a Crowd
How to prepare the perfect barbeque
Back to the barbeque. A great Fiorentina starts with a great slab of meat cut from the T-bone or porterhouse. There are two ends to “ribs,”—tell the butcher you want your Fiorentina cut from the end which has the larger piece of filet. (The T-bone has two sides, the filet and the strip, and the best Fiorentina’s are from the end with the larger filet.) Assume now you wish your beef to be “blood rare,” that is “purple” or “saignant” as the French would call it. This means an internal temperature of 115-120 degrees. Yes, you can put your steak on the grill and grill it until a meat thermometer reads 115 degrees, take it off, cover it with foil and let it rest to reabsorb the juices. During this interval the internal temperature will rise to 120, or maybe 125. Longer resting, more juice reabsorbs, but at some point the meat will also start to cool. And if the large piece of meat is three fingers thick (two to three inches thick), did the outside get burned while waiting for the inside to cook to the right degree?
Grilling a large piece of meat also requires time. You invite your guests for dinner at 7 PM. What time do you put the steak on to cook so that it will be ideal? And then your guests show up 15 minutes (or, perish the thought!) half-an-hour late. Is your meat going to be ruined? Or do you now put your meat on the grill until the guests arrive so you know it won’t be overcooked but you will spend time away from your guests while doing the grilling. Sound familiar? Sous vide to the rescue.
The technique of sous vide is simple. You vacuum pack the meat in a sealed plastic bag and then immerse it in a water bath. There is no air around the meat as the vacuum process sucks out all the air. The meat in the bag does not actually come in direct contact with the water, so will not be steamed or become soggy. Set the sous vide machine to 120 degrees and put the vacuum-packed steak into the water bath. The water bath will perfectly cook the meat. There is no risk of it becoming overdone. Remember the science. Meat cooks to medium rare or well done because the internal temperature becomes higher, and here the internal temperature cannot rise because the poaching water is controlled at a set temperature. Your guests are 30 minutes late? So what, the steak will not be overcooked. You can relax and have a martini. The longer exposure will only make the steak a little more tender.
Last step: how to caramelize the meat
The one drawback, however, to sous vide cooking is that the Maillard reaction will not occur (that nice caramelized char on the outside of the steak or roast). But this is easily solved. When you are ready to serve the meat, take it out of the bag put it on a hot grill or over hot coals for a moment until the nice crust or caramelization forms. Slice and serve.
It is much easier to ruin a pork tenderloin than a rib eye. The rib eye steak has enough fat to be able to suffer being cooked medium rare rather than rare, but the pork tenderloin is not as forgiving. So cook the tenderloin sous vide. You will be amazed how tender and moist it will remain. The water bath in this case will have to be set for a different (higher) temperature. Again when you are ready to serve it, remove it from the bag and quickly grill it to finish it. Obviously if sous vide works for both beef and pork, then it also must work for chicken breast. Yes, you can season and or marinate the meat before vacuum packing it. Mmmm!
In summary, sous vide gives the chef the best control over the cooking process.