A backyard barbecue is supposed to be easy and fun, but it's not as simple as cranking up the heat and throwing on the meat. During this weekend's Independence Day cook-outs, guests might get more fireworks than they bargained for, with burned food and flaring tempers.
To offer tips for success, LongHorn Steakhouse is hosting its third annual LongHorn Grill Us Hotline during Fourth of July weekend, from July 2-4, from noon to 5 p.m., Eastern Standard Time.
Chefs from LongHorn Steakhouses around the country will be taking questions and offering advice by phone (1-855-544-7455) or text LHGRILL to 40679.
Josh Norris, owner/operator of the LongHorn Steakhouse in Riverdale, will be manning the hotline on July 2.
This is Norris's first time on the hotline, but he expects that callers will likely ask how to make the professional-looking diamond-shaped grill marks on steaks, how to correctly season the meat, and how to master interior steak temperature such as "rare" and "medium-well."
Here are some tips from Norris for becoming a grill sergeant:
1. Before you heat the grill, wipe the grate down with canola oil , "So it's nice and slippery so the meat won't stick," Norris advised.
2. Give the grill time to get really hot — around 500 degrees, said Norris. This temperature will quickly sear the outside of the steak, locking in the juices.
3. Season the meat well. Norris said one common mistake is not adding enough seasoning to the meat. At LongHorn, "We use equal amounts of the big four — salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder — and apply it very liberally," said Norris.
4. Let the seasoning sit on the meat for 15-20 minutes while the grill is heating. The meat will cook more evenly if it's not straight from the refrigerator. "But you don't want it to sit out in the sun — just on your kitchen counter for a few minutes, so it's not a food safety issue."
5. Should you mind your marinades? If the meat is has fat throughout (known as marbling), you don't need it. But if the meat is pretty lean, a marinade can add flavor and some tenderness. "A rib-eye steak is going to hold dry seasoning really well because of all the marbling. But if it's a tougher cut of meat, like a sirloin, it would be a good idea to marinate."
6. To cook the meat to a medium temperature (130-140 degrees internally) place the steak on the preheated grill (around 500 degrees, as stated above). Leave it there for three minutes to develop a nice sear on the outside, then rotate it 90 degrees and cook another three minutes. This will develop those diamond-shaped grill marks. Then flip the steak over on the other side and repeat the same 3-minute processes. "If you're grill is higher or lower temperature than 500 degrees, you'll need to adjust that time accordingly in order to get it to medium," Norris said.
7. Use a meat thermometer to be sure of the temperature. "It will make your job easier when you have five or six people who all want a different temperature of their meat," said Norris.
8. For those who want a well-done steak that's still juicy and tender, Norris recommends using a rib-eye steak or filet. "The marbling in the rib-eye will keep it tender. The filet is just tender no matter what you do."
9. Don't do any basting during the cooking process, as most sauces contain oil and/or sugar. "You'll end up with flames jumping up, because oil and fire don't mix," said Norris. "At our steakhouse, we finish our steaks with a lemon butter sauce just as the steak goes on the plate," said Norris. "It adds just a hint of lemon and butter flavor."
10. Besides its traditional method, LongHorn also does another type of cooking, called "Pittsburgh" named for the Pittsburgh steelworkers who used their blowtorches to cook their steaks, said Norris.
11. If you want to do chicken breasts, pound them down to and even thickness so they will cook evenly, said Norris. "Marinate them in Italian dressing for a couple of hours to keep them moist and juicy. That's what I do when I cook chicken at home," said Norris.
Norris comes from Georgia, and he's noticed that there are more Utahns who order medium-rare to medium doneness.
"We had a lot more well-done people in Georgia," he said.
Also, more Utahns tend to order bone-in steaks, such as T-bone, Porterhouse and the Outlaw, which is a rib-eye.
In case you miss out on calling the grill hotline, here are some standard temperatures to determine doneness. Note that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's USDA's recommended "safe" cooking temperature for beef, veal and lamb cuts is 145 degrees. That's hotter than rare, medium-rare, and medium. But most chefs prefer cooking steak to medium-rare or medium, because it is more tender at those temperatures.
Be sure to put the thermometer in the middle of the meat. It should not be on the edge, touching a bone or sticking it all the way through to the metal grate.
All Poultry: 165 degrees
Beef and Lamb:
The USDA's website recommends "safe" cooking temperature for beef, veal and lamb cuts at 145 degrees, which would put it in the "medium well" category. But for those who prefer having their meat on the rare side, here's what temperatures will yield the results you want:
Rare, 125 degrees plus 3-minute rest for temperature to continue rising
Medium rare: 130-135 degrees
Medium: 135-140 degrees
Medium well: 140-150 degrees
Well-done: 155 degrees
Ground beef burgers: 160 degrees
The USDA recommends cooking all pork to at least medium-rare, or 145 degrees.
Medium-rare: 145 degrees plus 3-minute rest for temperature to continue rising
Medium: 150 degrees
Well-done: 160 degrees
Ground pork: 160 degrees
Valerie Phillips is an award-winning food writer. You can contact her at Chewandchat.com.