There is more to great barbecue than just throwing a piece of meat on the grill. What a lot of people don’t know is how the meat is prepared in advance has a huge impact on how the end result turns out.
Have you ever been at a backyard dinner party and thought, this is the most delicious meal I’ve ever had? Chances are, the meat has been either rubbed, brined, marinated, injected or sauced even before it hits the grill.
What is a barbecue rub? A rub is a mix of seasoning and flavoring ingredients that are combined and applied to the outside of meat or poultry before cooking. Rubs can be wet or dry. Like brines, barbecue rubs consist of two primary flavors: salty and sweet. A rub should have time to work its magic. If applying a rub to chicken with skin on, place it under the skin. Lightly scoring meat, poultry, and fish will help the rub flavors penetrate further. A rub should rest on the food before cooking spans from 15 minutes to two hours and up to several hours (overnight is golden!).
There are a ton of amazing barbecue rubs on the market. If you feel like getting creative you can make your own using a variation of your favorite flavors.
What is brining? You may be familiar with brining a turkey but the truth is that brining is an amazing technique that can be used on all kinds of food. Brining is the process of submerging a cut of meat in a brine solution, which is simply salt dissolved in water. This technique is particularly great for lean cuts of meat that tend to dry out during cooking. You can brine fish, chicken, turkey, pork chops and many other types of food.
But why do we brine meat? The meats that you’re soaking absorb the brine, making them more moist and juicy. All meat loses liquid during cooking, but since brined meats start out with more, they end up with more, too. Brining dissolves some of the meat’s muscle fibers. The technical term for this is denaturing. The important thing is it literally turns some of the solids into liquid, enhancing your experience of moisture.
To brine correctly to need a container large enough to hold your meat (and preferably with a lid to avoid sloshing); filling it with water and dissolving the salt in the water. Finally, add your meat of choice into the solution. If there’s not quite enough liquid to cover the meat, add a solution of 1 cup of water and 1 tablespoon of salt until the meat is completely submerged. Cover the container and refrigerate. A brining bag can also be used but often part of the meat is left out of the submersion.
How long does the meat need to brine? A turkey usually needs to be brined overnight seeing as it’s so large, ideally for about 12 hours. Smaller cuts like pork chops or chicken breast for weeknight dinners take far less time and are typically ready to be cooked in 1/2 hour to an hour.
There are many types of brine recipes but the most basic brine solution is 4 tablespoons of salt per 1 quart (4 cups) of water. There are many variations for brines so feel free to experiment with taste and throw in some of your favorite herbs and spices. Store bought pre-mixed brines are also a great option if you’re short on time.
A marinade is defined as a "sauce," typically made of oil, vinegar, spices, and herbs in which meat, fish, or other food is soaked before cooking in order to flavor and soften it. This works particularly well on cheaper cuts of meat to make it tender. Different meats require shorter and longer marinade times. Fish, in particular, marinates very quickly.
This is a very effective method to flavor & add moisture to meat and the result is JUICY! Injection is usually used on larger cuts of meat such as turkey, chicken, ham, pork shoulder, and brisket. Seeing as marinades can only penetrate a few millimeters of the meat, the injector is a great compliment. It basically marinates the meat from the inside out.
You will require an injector which looks a lot like a large hypodermic needle. You can use almost any liquid you choose such as olive oil, melted butter or stock, cognac, hot sauce or Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce or soy sauce. You could even try juice if you wanted to add sweetness.
Barbecue sauce can be used for marinating, basting or an as a condiment. When you allow your protein to marinate in barbecue sauce before cooking, your result is exponentially more flavorful than brushing the sauce on during or after cooking.
Add extra flavor by basting with barbecue sauce just before serving. Keep in mind, barbecue sauce generally has a lot of sugar, so if you grilling at a high heat only put it on at the end as it will burn.
All of these techniques can be used individually or together. Try experimenting with different flavors of your choosing. The end result is always lead to a more flavorful, tender cut of meat.