Clint Cantwell is the captain of Smoke In Da Eye, the award-winning competitive grilling team from in Garden, City, N. Y., and has competed in cooking contests throughout the Northeast. He also serves as the guest editor for the recently launched outdoor cooking site Grilling.com.
As one of the fiercest grill masters in the country, Cantwell offers his 10 tips for taking your outdoor cookout to a whole new level.
1) Light My Fire: When starting the fire, consider using a charcoal chimney instead of starting the coals directly in the grill. The airflow created by the chimney makes for a much faster start. Simply fill it to the top with charcoal; light either by igniting a crumpled sheet of newspaper, cooking oil soaked paper towel or a fire starter cube underneath, and within 15 minutes the coals will be ready for grilling.
2) Tool Time: One of the most effective and multipurpose tools one can have when grilling is a set of long-handled tongs. In addition to allowing you to flip those steaks and burgers while staying safely away from the flames, they're also useful as a grate cleaner (grasp a ball of tinfoil in the tongs and scrub the grates clean) or to oil the grill (grasp a ball of paper towels dipped in vegetable oil and wipe away).
3) Be One With the Grill: The more you use it, the more comfortable you'll be grilling items other than hamburgers and hot dogs. By knowing the grill's hot spots, how temperatures change when you open and close the lid, and other nuances, you'll be cooking up grilled pizzas and rack of lamb in no time.
4) It's the Bomb: When cooking on a gas grill, bring depth of flavor by wrapping a handful of wood chips (available at most hardware stores and major grocery chains) in a double layer of foil, poking a few holes in the foil, and placing them under the grate. The chips will smolder, releasing flavorful smoke from this inexpensive "smoke bomb." It's also easy to clean up.
5) Flipping Out: While most people insist on poking, twisting and flipping grilled items every 15 seconds, resist the urge and limit turns to no more than two per side. Meat, fish or poultry that normally stick to the grates will release naturally, while the food will be able to absorb all the great color and flavor the grill can give them.
6) On the Rise: Just because your beautiful steak or pork chops are done grilling, that doesn't mean they're finished cooking. Temperatures inside the meat actually increase about 10 more degrees after it's removed from the flame, meaning a medium-rare steak should be pulled at 125-130 degrees rather than the desired 135-140 degrees.
7) Going Against the Grain: Finding ways to take tougher cuts of meat over the top is central to the art of grilling and barbecue. But despite having the perfect recipe and the perfect execution, your brisket, flank steak or flat iron steak is still going to taste like a dry, chewy shoe if you don't slice it across the fibrous grains that run through the meat.
8) The Juice Is Loose: The cooking is complete and now it's time to eat. Or is it? By letting the meat rest 10 minutes, the internal juices have time to be reabsorbed instead of flowing all over your cutting board. The result will be a more tender and juicy meal.
9) The Doctor Is In: Create your own "signature" barbecue sauce by adding layers of sweet (fruit juice, fruit preserves, honey, and/or molasses), heat (ground peppers such as chipotle or ancho), and tartness (apple cider vinegar) to your favorite store-bought brand.
10) Make PETA Proud: Grilling doesn't have to be an all-protein affair. Impress your friends and family by poking several holes in a disposable aluminum pan and throwing in cauliflower florets, sweet potato slices, halved figs or other fruits and vegetables along with some olive oil and seasoning. Heat the pan over medium-high heat, tossing the contents periodically until caramelized and tender.