Everyone who knows anything about food and cooking jumps up to tell you that marinades don’t work, or at least they do little to improve meats before you cook them. This is based on the myth that marinades can sink deep into meat, tenderizing and flavoring as they go. Of course the only way a marinade will can tenderize to the center of any cut of meat is by literally dissolving it. The reason to marinate isn’t to fundamentally change a piece of meat. Acidic and oily marinades protect meats from the intense heat of the grill. For this alone, marinating is worth every minute. But there are other reasons as well. While marinades won’t turn the toughest cut of beef into Filet Mignon, it reduce how much it will dry out while cooking, and thus make it more tender. Marinades also add flavor and allow you to stick seasonings to the surface.
Searing Locks in Juices:
It seems reasonable. Get that grill as hot as it will go and throw on a steak to sear in the juices. With the surface of the steak cooked hot and fast the juices will stay inside. Right? Wrong. The moisture in meat is inside the individual cells, not floating around like in some kind of balloon. Heat causes these cells to contract draining juices from the meat and causing it to get dry. The more you cook the dryer the meat will get. Searing won’t affect the moisture of the meat. What it does do is brown the surface of the meat in processes known as caramelization and the Millard reaction. These processes affect amino acids and sugars on the meat giving it that rich, sweet flavor. So sear for the flavor, not the juices.
Using aluminum foil during the cooking process is a very controversial topic among BBQ experts. Using foil on fibrous pieces of meat will have the following benefits:
- Decreased Cooking Time – Using foil on fibrous cuts such as pork shoulder, or beef brisket will aid in collagen breakdown resulting in less cooking time.
- Limit Smoke Absorption – Smoke should be viewed as a spice. You want to achieve the right amount of smoke flavor. Wrapping your meat half way or 3/4 of the way through cooking will limit the amount of time the meat is exposed to smoke.
Some view this as a crutch, and others (including myself) view it as a very necessary part of the cooking process.
The Water Pan Myth:
The use of a water pan in upright water smokers, and in some offsets has been thought to add moisture to the air surrounding the meat. In the old smoke house days when meats were smoked for days at low temperatures, this was definitely a possibility. The reality is that at temperatures of 220+ degrees, the air will not hold the moisture. The water will actually end up on your meat, and can result in ash and soot sticking to the surface of the meat. Water used in smokers is to aid in temperature control of the cooking chamber.
Many have started using sand in place of water, which will actually help in the fuel efficiency of your smoker. Keep in mind that it is very easy to burn up a piece of meat using sand in place of water, and you should know your smoker before you try this.
Brisket – Fat Side Up/Fat Side Down?
Fat Side Down : Heat rising over the brisket is the primary source of drying. By using the fat cap of the brisket (the thick layer of fat on one side of the brisket) as a shield between the intense heat of the fire and the delicate meat will give a more tender brisket with a lot less surface drying.
Fat Side Up : Meat is not a sponge. Yes it will absorb moisture (think brining) in small amounts as long as the circumstances are right (like a low temperature, salt content and the right PH). The fat from the melting cap is going to pour around the meat and drip off the bottom. This action will wash off much your spice rub.
- Rules to a moist brisket:
Start with a well marbled brisket with a thin layer of fat (cap)
- Keep fat on the brisket
- Keep the fat between the meat and the fire as much as you can
- Keep the heat in the smoker low (under 250 degrees F.)
- Practice, experiment and learn
Additional Questions? Stop by our Lisle location at 1702 Ogden Ave, Lisle, IL to speak with one of our BBQ pros in person!