On Thursday August 21st, the Wilson County Exhibition Center was filled with excited and anxious teenagers; the hot-humid summer air was filled with smoke; and Chris, James, and Maddie’s bellies were filled with a variety of grilled meats. It was one hell of a day that we spent at the 4-H Festival Meat Cookery Contest at the Wilson County Fairgrounds.
The 4-H Youth Development Organization, commonly known as the 4-H Club, is an organization that works to build confidence and leadership skills in our youth, leading to success in their future careers. Through the support of adult volunteers and mentors, 4H-ers are inspired to work collaboratively with one another, spearhead and complete large projects, and moreover learn how to achieve their goals with confidence. Which was exactly what we saw at their Meat Cookery on Thursday.
As soon as we began to see kids pulling up and unloading their cars, we were both surprised and impressed: we saw miniature Webber grills, we saw Lysol wipes, we saw protective gloves, and we even saw a handful of toques, and one impressive Lodge cast-iron grill. We began to feel a little small about the setup we ourselves had thrown together. These kids were on top of it.
Once everyone donned their aprons and the smoke started rolling, we decided to make the rounds to get to know these budding chefs. Chris and James asked a number of questions regarding the kids’ preparation methods and recipes and were overall impressed by their confidence, maturity, and insistence on ending everything they said with “sir” or “ma’am.” Before we knew it we were seated at our respective judging tables: James was Junior-High Chicken, Chris got Senior-High Beef, and Maddie landed Senior-High Lamb.
Each team of four had the task of preparing four different meats on the grill (beef, chicken, lamb, and pig) each of which was judged on the creativity of the recipe, the appearance of the meat, the tenderness, juiciness, and of course how the dish performed overall. Maddie sampled eleven lamb chops; James chowed down on 13 grilled chickens; and Chris took home the gold medal with 15 varieties of grilled beef, totaling nearly 32 oz. of steak. Shoo. The three of us were met with intense marinades, lots of creativity, and a lot of apparent care and consideration for what they were doing, but what we realized noticed was a vast misunderstanding of grilling and the delicious benefits that a hot grill can have. So once we had cast our votes and taken a short siesta to allow the meat to digest, Chris and James gave a grilling demonstration to shed a little light on how simple and delicious grilling should be.
Grilling Tips from Porter Road Butcher:
1) Charcoal or Die
You know that delicious, smoky flavor that envelops the outside of a well-prepared steak? That’s from charcoal—not briquettes or lighter fluid—charcoal. You’ve never heard anyone rave about that “delicious aroma of lighter fluid” that enhanced their steak so beautifully, have you? Use charcoal. Real charcoal. And taste the difference.
2) Turn down for what?
The whole point of using a grill is getting that direct heat contact with the meat—so turn up the heat and use your grill nice and hot. This adds a crust to the outside of your meat, which provides nice texture, but still leaves the inside tender and juicy. On the other hand, going “slow and low” doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when it comes to grilling; there’s no need to put the lid on your grill and essentially bake the meat. Instead, use the open-air to help build the flames and get that nice char on the outside. It’s instant flavor.
Salt and Pepper. The two of them’s all you need for real, good flavor. When grilling a steak, don’t you want to taste it? Yes. So why use all sorts of elaborate and complicated marinades to mask that delicious flavor? Keep it simple: liberal amounts of kosher salt and coarse ground pepper will add texture and crust to your meat, and they’ll beautifully enhance the flavor that you’re supposed to be enjoying: the meat.
4) Ruling? Overturned.
Don’t. Overturn. Your meat. Just let it relish in the heat, do it’s own thang, and get all amazing and delicious. There’s no need to go and give it a work out so it gets all buff and tough before you eat it. Chris recommends turning your meat no more than 4 times—which gives you the allowance to check each side once before making a final commitment. Like your mom used to say about your boo-boos, “Just quit pickin at it!”
5) Give it a rest
Sure, the tendency is to want to dive right in once your steak is hot off the grill and lookin oh so fine…but you’ve gotta give it a rest. When the meat makes contact with the heat of the fire the juices run away from the heat, making their way to the center and increasing the moisture that sits in the middle of the meat. By allowing it to rest for a 5-10 minutes after taking it off the grill, the moisture has a chance to work its way back to the edges, redistributing evenly. This means that when you begin to slice your steak, the juices wont run all over your cutting board, but will rather stay distributed evenly throughout the meat and eventually make their way into your mouth instead of down your chin. Aw yeah.