Glossaries of meat names
There is a lot of confusion over the different cuts of meat and their proper names, made worse that they are not the same from one animal to the next. For example the butt on a hog and the clod on a steer are pretty much the same, cut. For that matter, why is the shoulder of a hog called the butt? Why is the rump called the leg on a lamb, the ham on a hog, and the round on beef? What is the diff between baby backs, spareribs, and country ribs? For descriptions of these and many more:
A Glossary Of Barbecue And Cooking Lingo
Jargon is the specialized language that people of like mind use to communicate. Computer geeks have their jargon, poker players have their jargon, and ribmeisters have theirs. Jargon also serves another important, but aggravating function. Separating "us" from "them." That's right, people often talk jargon so they can leave you out of the conversation in order to feel superior. Let's fix that problem.
For more definitions, click here for descriptions of the different methods of cooking and the thermodynamics of cooking.
Acidic. See sour.
Ahrs. The increments of time used to measure how long a cook takes. Spare ribs take up to 6 ahrs, pulled pork can take up to 14 ahrs, etc.
Al dente. Italian means roughly "to the tooth" but what it really means is that the food in question is not cooked until soft. Usually used to refer to pasta that has still a little resistance, but it can also be applied to greens like broccoli or string beans, or even baked potatoes. Many people prefer al dente foods, many do not. Count me among the former.
Amazing Ribs. Just what are Amazing Ribs? Here's the complete answer.
American chili powder. Created as a seasoning for chili con carne, the classic cowboy stew, American chili powder is a blend of ground chili peppers, spices and herbs usually ancho chiles, hot chiles, oregano, garlic, black pepper, and American paprika. In many other countries chili powder is a blend of hot chiles. Click here for my recipe for Signature American Chili Powder.
Au jus. Gravy made from the natural drippings of the meat.
Baking. Cooking with dry heat in an enclosed vessel such as an oven or in a large lidded pot. See also, roasting.
Barbecue (also: Barbeque, BBQ, Bar-B-Q, Bar-B-Que, Bar-B-Cue, 'Cue, 'Que, Barbie). There are at least nine spellings and a dozen or so definitions. I had to devote a whole page to the Definition of Barbecue.
Barbecue sauce. American barbecue sauces range from bright yellow with mustard, to bright red from ketchup. Some are very tart and vinegary, some are sweet, some are very hot and spicy, and some are aromatic and savory with green herbs. Most are tomato or ketchup based. The best sauces compliment the meat flavor and don't bury it. My favorites have it all, a symphony of flavors. A little sweet, a little tart, a little hot, and a little savory. This website contains recipes for some examples of the best of all styles. Click here for a discussion of the major styles and click here for recommendations for some of the best to buy.
Bark. A brown crunchy jerky like crust that forms on some foods caused by seasonings from the rub, the Maillard reaction, and dehydration of the meat's surface. Some people, like me, really like bark.
Bitter. One of the five basic taste sensations, the others being sweet, sour, salty, and umami. A pungent sensation that is often confused with sour/acidic because they are both sharp and in excess, unpleasant. Commonly found in leafy green vegetables, the hops in beer, and citrus peel.
Blanching. Foods are submerged in boiling water for a very short time, usually less than five minutes, and then they are usually moved to cold water. The process is used to partially cook a food, to loosen skins on nuts to make them easy to remove, to make green vegetables, especially string beans, bright green.
Boiling. Cooking by submerging in water that has large bubbles. Those bubbles are steam rising to the surface. Water boils at 212°F (100°C) at sea level and once it hits that temp it does not rise any higher, even if you turn up the heat, until all the water boils off. Alcohol boils at 172°F. Boiling temperatures decrease as you go up in altitude because the column of air on top of the liquid is shorter and exerting less pressure so it is easier for water vapor, in the form of steam, to escape. The boiling temp of water is about 203°F in Denver. If you are cooking with wine, a mixture of about 12 to 20% alcohol, the alcohol will boil first and the temp will hold somewhere just higher than 172°F until the alcohol is mostly gone, and then it will rise to 212°F and hold there until the water is mostly gone. You cannot make liquids boil much faster by increasing the heat. Boiling is a very severe method of cooking and can easily damage food by breaking down its structure, sucking out vitamins and flavor, and squeezing out its moisture. That's right, boiled food can be dry. And tough.
Braising. A wet method of cooking similar to stewing, poaching, or simmering, but the food is usually not submerged as they are in those methods. It is only partially covered in hot, but not boiling liquid for a long time, perhaps 6 to 12 hours. Braising is usually done in large pots like Dutch ovens or slow cookers and the lid is usually not on tight. When food is wrapped in foil with a little liquid, as in the Texas Crutch, it is a form of braising. This keeps the food in the air cooler than the 212°F of the liquid, and allows it to tenderize without drying out as easily. The result is a moist meal where everything in the pot gives up its goodness in the name of the whole, and like an orchestral symphony, no single instrument stands out.
Brazier. See grill.
Brine. A liquid that is very high in salt. Soaking ribs in a brine for an hour can, by chemical magic, add moisture. Like a marinade, but with much more salt and much less acid. For more info, read my article on The Zen of Brines.
Boogers. The sophisticated colloquialism used by pitmasters to describe the milky to tan goop than comes out of burgers and salmon when cooked. It is mostly myoglobin.
Brine. A wet brine is salt mixed with water, and a dry brine is salt applied to the surface of a food. The salt dissolves and diffuses into the meat (despite what you have heard, osmosis is not involved). It helps protein hold onto moisture diuring cooking ans amplifies flavors. Many conventional recipes use juice, herbs and spices and more in wet brines. They are pretty much wasted since their large molecules cannot penetrate the meat during the short brining time, even overnight. For more info, read my article on wet brines, and my article on dry brines.
Broiling. Direct heat cooking with flame. Similar to grilling. In recent years the meaning has been confused, and many people refer to broiling as when the flame is directly above the food, but technically it can be either above or below.
Bullet. Bullets are drum shaped cookers that often have a dome lid, hence the name. Usually made from lightweight metal and inexpensive, they are top loading and typically have 15" wide racks. They usually have an enamelized pan to hold water to separate the meat from the heat. These water pans also add moisture to the oven space and help keep the meat from drying out. The better designs have a door or flap on the side so you can add fuel, wood, or water. One model, the Weber Smokey Mountain (pictured), is very well built and has a cult following. The biggest problems are that (1) it is a pain to get at food on the lower shelf, and (2) the 15" wide racks are too narrow for many slabs. Because they are so narrow, when food is crowded on, some goes right up to the edge where it is exposed to direct heat, and as a result overcooks and even burns. To see a great trick for overcoming this problem, click here.
Butterflying. See spatchcock.
Cabinets. These rectangular units have a front door and usually look a bit like a refrigerator. This design makes it easier than the bullet design to get meat, fuel, wood, and water in or out. Most cabinets are better insulated than bullets, have more shelves, and the shelf positions are more adjustable. There are cabinet designs that are fueled by wood, charcoal, gas, and electricity. The biggest problem is that if you open the door to add wood or water, almost all the heat spills out and it can take 15-30 minutes to get back to temp and stabilize. The top can often be used as a work surface.
Cadillac cut a.k.a. competition cut. In barbecue competitions the entrants must cut up their slabs into individual bones so each judge can have a bone. Some wily judges don't just cut the bones apart by slicing through the meat midway between the bones, they make extra meaty servings by running their knife along the adjacent bones leaving every other bone meatless and to be sucked on by the kitchen crew.
Call. When you get a call, you've won one of the top prizes in a barbecue competition. You find out when they call your name from the podium during the award ceremony.
Caramelization. When discussing a sweet food it is the browning of sugar by oxidation under heat gives it a rich, complex, caramel or butterscotch flavor. Caramelization begins at about 230°F for fruit sugars, like peach or agave, and 320°F for table sugar. Boiling sweet sauces or exposing them to flame can create a caramel undertone, and browning sweet vegetables like onion or corn, can add depth to their flavor. But take it too far, and it burns and can ruin food. Barbecue sauces usually develop interesting new flavors when caramelized. In discussing savory foods such as vegetables it is the extraction of the natural sugars by hot cooking. Similar to, but different from the Maillard reaction. See also my article on the Maillard reaction and caramelization.
Carousel. See rotisserie.
Carryover. When one cooks food it continues to cook when it is removed from the heat because the exterior of the food is hot and that heat continues to move towards the center of the meat. This phenomenon is called carryover cooking. A thick piece of meat such as a turkey breast or prime rib of beef might rise as much as 5 to 10°F in about 15 minutes after removing it from the grill. A thinner piece of meat such as a chicken breast will only rise a few degrees. This is important to know this because 5-10°F can make the difference between a moist turkey and cardboard. To compensate, use a good digital thermometer and remove the meat about 5°F below your target temp.
Charcuterie. The art of making cured, preserved, and prepared meats such as bacon, ham, sausage, salami, and paté. The techniques were created in the days before refrigeration when it was discovered that salt and smoke could extend the shelf life of meats.
Chef's Bonus. Trimmings that get tossed on the grill or smoker by the chef to taste just "to see how it's going."
Chili Powder. See American Chili Powder.
Chimney. The best way to start a charcoal fire (there's a photo of a cheap one at right). It uses old newspaper and not petroleum products that soak into your charcoal and can add a funny flavor to your meat. Don't ever be caught at a competition using charcoal starter fluid. My favorite chimney is made by Weber.
Chipped. In Western Kentucky a few pitmasters serve a wonderful treat made from chips of richly flavorful bark from mutton and pork with a splash of vinegary black sauce.
Collagen. The connective tissue from which muscle sheathing is made. When cooked this protein can melt and form gelatin which gives meat a silky mouthfeel. More about the subject in my article on meat science.
Conduction. A heat transfer method. See my article on The Thermodynamics of Cooking.
Convection. A heat transfer method. See my article on The Thermodynamics of Cooking.
Cooker. The generic name used for any cooking device from an electric frying pan to a pit dug in the ground and lined with charcoal.
Cooking chamber. This is the enclosed area where the food is cooked. On some smokers the cooking chamber is separated from the firebox where the fuel is burned.
COS. Cheapo Offset Smoker. Among them are the popular Char-Broil Silver Smoker, Brinkmann Smoke N' Pit Professional (known as the SNPP on the net), and the dearly departed and beloved New Braunfels Black Diamond (NBBD). They can make great barbecue if you know what you're doing. Here's an article on how to use a COS.
Cowboy barbecue. Cooking over an open bed of coals. The cooking team at right won a small rib cooking contest with this simple cowboy barbecue rig.
Cracklings a.k.a. cracklins. The skin of a pig made crispy and crunchy and scrumptious by frying or roasting. Tradition dictates they be either slow roasted on the barbecue or deep fried in lard. Sprinkled liberally with salt, these pigskin delights are the best accompaniment for a Clemson vs. South Carolina game of pigskin on TV. The name probably came from Charles Lamb's 1822 "A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig." Click here for a recipe for cracklins.
Creosote. Creosote is a group of organic components that condenses on cool surfaces of meat and your smoker when wood is burned improperly. It is black and sticky, tastes bitter, and is carcinogenic. Creosote is a major problem if you use logs for fuel. It can still be a problem if you use charcoal, chunks, chips, or pellets. The goal is thin, almost invisible bluish smoke.
Cryovac stink. Meat often comes packed in form-fitting plastic wrap. When you open the pouch you may notice a funny smell. It usually dissipates quickly, especially after washing. If it remains, return it.
Crust. The crisp, crunchy surface of meat. Sometimes it is thick from spices caked with rendered fat, sometimes, it is leathery dried bark, and sometimes it is just the dark brown surface on a burger or steak caused by caramelization and the Maillard reaction.
Cures and Curing. Although heat is not necessary to cure meats, and in fact curing is usually done at cool temps, it is like cooking in that it changes meat chemistry. Curing involves the preservation of meat by the heavy application of some or all of the following: Salts, sugars, sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate, sodium erythorbate, sodium phosphate, potassium chloride, liquid smoke, smoke, and other herbs and spices. Each works differently by altering meats chemistry, inhibiting some microbial growth and promoting others, altering enzymatic digestion, changing the color, and of course, flavoring the meat. Click here for more on nitirites and nitrates.
Deep frying. Convection cooking at high temperature, usually 350 to 360°F, by submerging in oil or fat. This method creates more heat than boiling. The high heat creates steam within the food which cooks it and creates pressure at the interface between the food and oil preventing the oil from penetrating if the temperature is properly set. Deep fried foods are usually crisp on the exterior and moist in the interior. Because deep fried foods are often dipped in starch or batter, they can be extra crispy. This batter can absorb significant oil, however.
Dip. Barbecue dips are usually thin and vinegar based sauces. They are often used as mops. A term commonly used in North Carolina, elsewhere, not so much.
Direct heat cooking. See grilling.
Done. Meat is done when the temperature of the meat at its thickest point reaches the desired target. It is safe to eat when it is done. That doesn't mean it's ready, though. See ready.
Dry-Cured Ham (a.k.a. Country Ham) is cured (preserved) by burying it a big mound of salt or by rubbing the skin with salt, often mixed with sugar, black pepper, garlic, and other spices. In some places sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are also added. It is then usually hung and air-dried for 6 to 18 months at cool temperatures, and it dehydrates significantly, concentrating its flavor. Often it is smoked at low temperatures. They are usually pink to brown and can be purchased as a whole ham, half a ham, and is usually served uncooked and sliced thin. Because their production takes a lot of time, dry-cured hams can be expensive. Prosciutto di Parma, the famous dry cured ham of Italy, and Virginia ham are classic examples. Click here for more on hams.
Drying. The process of dehydrating food by warming it slightly in a low humidity, high airflow environment. An excellent method of food preservation since most microbes need water to thrive. It also concentrates and deepens flavors. Jerky is a good example of dried food.
ECB. El Cheapo Brinkmann. A bottom of the line smoker by Brinkmann, a company that makes a wide range of smokers from $100 to many thousands.
ECCB. El Cheapo Char-Broil. A bottom of the line smoker by Char-Broil.
Enhanced. Some meat packers are pumping pork and poultry with water, flavorings, preservatives, and salt to help improve the shelf life and keep the meat moister if overcooked, increase the weight, and therefore the profits. Try to avoid meat whose packaging says something like "enhanced", "basted", "pre-basted", "injected", or "marinated". You do not need these additives if you prep and cook the meat properly. Read the fine print. If you cannot find a butcher who sells unenhanced meat, ask if he or she can special order it for you.
Expert. "Ex" is the Latin word for something that is apart from the main body and "spurt" is a drip under pressure. An expert is a drip under pressure and out of the mainstream. Here's a picture of such a drip.
Excitation. A heat transfer method. See my article on The Thermodynamics of Cooking.
Fall off the bone. When ribs are overcooked, usually by boiling or steaming, they get very soft and mushy and lose flavor, although they are very tender. Connoisseurs of ribs prefer the meat to be similar in texture to a tender steak, with a little chew, and if it is properly cooked it will pull off the bone, not fall off the bone.
Fat. The most controversial food we eat. Saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, trans fat, vegetable oils, fish oils, nut oils, olive oils, omega 3, 6, 9, the categories are dizzying. The health benefits or detriments are above my pay grade. From a culinary standpoint, lets look at them this way: Animal fats come in three types. Subcutaneous fats are the thick hard layers beneath the skin. Intermuscular fats are layers between muscle groups. Intramuscular fats woven amongst the muscle fibers add moisture, texture, and flavor to cooked meat. These threads of fat are called marbling because they have a striated look similar to marble. Plant or vegetable oils include cooking oils such as corn oil, olive oil, sesame oil, grapeseed, flax, coconut, etc. Some are classified as saturated, unsaturated, and poly unsaturated, and all are the subject of intense research on their healthfulness. Many contradictory studies indicate that scientists know very little about the subject, although diet "experts" know everything about the subject.
Fat Cap. This is the thick layer of fat on top of a slab of meat that lies between the meat and the skin. Contrary to popular myth, it does not melt and penetrate the meat. Some of it melts and runs off the meat, but it cannot penetrate muscle. It also blocks smoke. Click here to read more.
Faux Cambro. A Cambro is a commercial insulated box that can keep hot food warm for hours. A faux Cambro is a plastic beer cooler. Here's how to set one up.
Firebox. The chamber of a cooker that holds the fuel and fire. On some smokers, such as offset smokers, the firebox is separated from the cooking chamber, where the food goes.
Fond. The French word for the browned bits on the bottom of the pan after you sauté or shallow fry things. It is full of flavor and should not be wasted. It can be saved by adding a few ounces of a liquid such as water, wine, or brandy, and, with the heat on high, scrape the fond loose and dissolve it. This then can be used as the basis for a pan sauce.
Foodporn. (1) Bad pictures of fabulous food, usually in a restaurant, usually taken by a cheap point-and-shoot digital camera with head-on flash, usually annoying everyone in the dining room. (2) Professional food photographs like the ones in cookbooks and magazines that the photographer swears were not altered and we believe him. We look, and we drool on our keyboards like voyeurs watching our beautiful neighbors... um, oh sorry, I got carried away...
Footprint. How much space a cooker takes up on your deck. Important factor to consider when buying a cooker and trying to preserve a marriage.
Freeze drying is done by freezing the food in a low pressure environment, and then a small amount of heat is applied to sublimate the moisture. Sublimation means the ice turns directly into moist air, without first melting into water. This helps preserve the structure of freeze-dried foods and helps kill bacteria. The Incans often freeze dried food by leaving it outside on cold nights on the high Andes.
Fresh Ham is a raw uncured uncooked rear leg from a hog, usually with the skin still on. The meat is the typical pale pink to beige color of raw pork. It can be roasted, skin on or off, and it is especially good with the skin removed and smoke roasted. Click here for more on hams.
Gasser. A propane fahyrd smoker.
Glaze. A shiny coating. Glazes get their sheen from sugar. Some sauces are also glazes. Simply brushing on honey (as in my Chinese Nine Dragon Ribs) makes a gorgeous glaze. My recipe for Vermont Maple Glazed Pig Candy gets its shine from maple syrup.
Grate or gridiron. A frame with parallel rods or bars that hold food in a cooking environment. A football gridiron gets its name after the cooking gridiron. And they play the game with pigskin! There are many grate designs, some better than others. Click here for an article on the subject of grates and grate cleaning.
Gravy. Sauce and gravy are often used to mean the same thing, but I use the word gravy to mean a thin and flavorful liquid made from drippings and perhaps simmering bones and trimmings with onions, carrots, and herbs, like a jus. It is thin enough to penetrate meat. Thinner than a sauce. Italian Americans tend to use the word to mean a tomato sauce.
Griddle or plancha. A griddle is a flat piece of steel, usually cast iron or stainless steel, that is heated from beneath by electricity or gas. They are common in restaurants, especially diners and lunch counters. Lots of restaurants call these flat steel cookers grills, but they are not. They are griddles. If you put a slice of cheese between two slices of bread and cook it on a griddle, technically, you get a griddled cheese sandwich, not a grilled cheese sandwich, but that's what they call it anyway. Real grilled cheese sandwiches are made on a grill or a brazier over an open flame. A lot of burgers cooked on a griddle are incorrectly called grilled. McDonald's burgers are griddled. I have two of griddles for use on my grill. They are great for Diner Burgers. Click here to see the model I recommend.
Grill. A grill, also known as a brazier, is a cooker where the food sits on a grate above flame, directly exposed to the heat. Hibachis and Weber Kettles are good examples of grills/braziers. Some grills can reach more than 600°F.
Grilling. A form of barbecue where the food is cooked with direct heat directly over flame or another radiant heat source. Grilling is usually hot and fast. Some people call the flat metal griddle in a diner a grill. That is just plain wrong. Yes, I know many of you consider grilling very different from barbecue but that is just plain wrong. My take on the subject can be found in my article on the definition of barbecue. Just try to refute my arguments.
Hardwood, nutwood, and fruitwood. Wood from dense low sap woods such as oak, hickory, apple, cherry, and many others. These are best for smoking foods. Soft woods, sucha as pine, cedar, and other conifers, ignite too easily and impart an unpleasant flavor. Click here for my article on wood and the smoke it creates.
Herbs. Dried or fresh green leaves that are added to foods to contribute flavor. The active ingredients are usually oils in the leaves. See how they differ from spices, below.
Hot 'n' fast. Cooking over direct radiant high heat, usually an open flame, at temperatures usually over 350°F. Hot 'n' fast is great for browning the meat with the Maillard reaction. Cooking at these temps requires you to turn the meat often lest it burn.See also grilling. The opposite of low 'n' slow.
Hot smoking. Roasting in a smoky chamber at temperatures 130F or higher, in the kill zone of microbes.
Indirect heat cooking. A method of cooking where the food is not directly over the heat source so it can roast more slowly. Many smokers use indirect heating. The opposite of grilling. Click here to see my article on indirect cooking.
Induction. A heat transfer method. See my article on The Thermodynamics of Cooking.
Inverse Square Law. This is a law of physics that says that energy dissipates geometrically as it moves away from the source because it is diffused over a large area. Photographers are familiar with it because their lights are much less effective as they pull back. Some cooks think it applies to grilling, especially photographers who cook, but it does not because the food is so close to the heat, because the heat source is so large, and because the heat it reflects from the sides and top of the grill. Moving the heat closer to the food does increase the heat, but not geometrically. If you were cooking with only a handful of coals, say four or fewer, inverse square might apply, but not with the quantity in use in a grill.
Juice. See myoglobin.
Jus. A sauce or, as I prefer, a gravy made from the juices of a meat, either as drippings or made like a stock by simmering muscle and or bones. Bone marrow gives jus an especilly rich mouthfeel.
Juneteenth. A celebration on June 19 of the emancipation of slaves in Texas in 1865. Ain't no fun without a barbecue.
Knife and fork. Objects not allowed near ribs.
Leftovers. When a reader asked me for ideas for leftover brisket, I had to confess that I did not know the meaning of the word, so I did some internet research with the help of the search engine Yoogle.com I found two definitions:
1) From the ancient Aramaic, from the Passover feast when Jews celebrate liberation from Egypt with a feast commemorating when the Angel of Death "Passed Over" the houses who had swabbed lambs blood on their door posts. Jewish families all swabbed lambs blood on their door posts. Those Egyptians who cleaned their plates as their mothers urged them had no lambs blood and so the Angel of Death took the first born sons. The hot babes who survived were "left over" for the Jewish boys, who, though they may have been nerds, once again triumphed over the jocks. This was seen as a parable against gluttony by goys.
2) An archaic word "left over" from the Bolshevik Revolution whose partisans believed that all people should share equally. The oligarchy would often cook more than it could eat and after an hour or two of feasting they would pass out in their mashed potatoes. The servants would throw open the castle gates and let in the peasants who would help themselves to the food and drink "left over". These peasants were called leftists and because they were invited over to help with cleanup they food was called "leftist overs".
Low 'n' slow. By keeping the heat low, under 275°F and usually closer to 225°F, and taking your time, the fats and collagens melt, making the meat juicy and flavorful. Heat it up too much and the proteins get bunched up in a knot and the meat is tough. Cooking low 'n slow means you usually do not have to turn the meat over because it is not exposed to direct heat. Clcik here to read more about when to cook low & slow or hot 'n' fast.
Maillard reaction or Maillard effect. A chemical reaction between amino acids and foods that browns the surface. I begins at low temps but really picks up speed as the heat surpasses 300°F. Scores of new compounds form in the process and it develops a richness and depth of flavor, not to mention crunchy texture. The Maillard Reaction is one of the great miracles of cooking. Similar to, but not the same as caramelization. See also my article on the Maillard reaction and caramelization.
Marbling. The thin lace work of fat within a muscle as opposed to the thick layers of fat on top of a muscle. The more marbling, the more tender, juicy, and flavorful the meat. USDA meat grades for beef are largely dependent on marbling.
Marinade. A liquid to soak the meat in. Similar to a brine, but with much less salt and more acid and oil. Here's an article with more on marinades.
Meatatarian. People who eat only meat.
Meat glue. Ahhh, the wonders of food science. Meat glue, known in scientific circles as transglutaminase (TG), is an enzyme that can bond proteins like glue. It can be used to take bits of chicken and turn them into chicken chunks that look like whole muscle meat, take chunks of meat and glue them into a loaf of turkey breast, make boneless ham loaf, faux crab meat made from pollack fish called surimi, bind sausages, and even turn two skinny steaks into a thick steak. TG plays a role in blood clotting and can be extracted from animal blood. There has been some horribly uninformed yellow journalism surrounding TG. It is a natural product and really nothing to freak about.
Membrane. Also known as the skin, it is actually the pleura, the lining of the cavity in which the lungs live. If left on ribs it can get hard or leathery. It should be removed. See this article on how to skin 'n' trim.
Microwave Cooking. This is a clever and fast method of cooking by exciting the molecules deep inside the food until they vibrate and heat without heating the air around it. The effect is similar to steaming. Since a microwave heats from the inside out, and the inside never gets much above boiling, there is generally no browning in a microwave.
Mise en place. This French phrase means "everything in place" and it is the best thing from France since the Pinot Noir grape. Click here to learn more about this very important concept.
Mop or Mop sauce. A thin sauce brushed on the meat while it is cooking, especially on an old fashioned direct heat pit. It keeps the surface cool and adds flavor. The classic mop is vinegar based with black pepper, red pepper flakes, and hot sauce. The mixture is poured into a large wooden bucket, stirred, and mopped on the pig every 15 minutes or so, especially if you are cooking in a pit dug in the ground. Use a broom handle with a rag tied on the end. Modern variations on the theme use beer, apple juice, and even soft drinks like Dr. Pepper.
Mr. Brown. See bark.
Mrs. White. The meaty inside of the barbecued meat. Opposite of Mr. Brown.
Mutton. Meat from sheep older than one year.
Myoglobin. The protein laden water that fills muscles and the spaces between muscle cells. It can be seen on your plate as a thin pink liquid when you cut into meat. That's right, that pink stuff is not blood. Blood is dark red, practically black, thick, and coagulates quickly. Myoglobin is also the milky exudation from burgers and salmon commonly called by cooks "boogers". Let's just call it "juice" shall we?
Nappe. Pronounced nap, it means that a liquid is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and if you pull your finger across the spoon, it will leave a bare metal trail for several seconds. In other words, the sauce is about as thick as latex paint.
NBBD. New Braunfels Black Diamond, a Cheapo Offset Smoker with a side firebox. No longer being made.
Nekkid (a.k.a. Naked). Bare meat with no seasoning or sauce.
Non-reactive. It is important to make sauces, brines, and marinades in non-reactive containers, especially if they have acids and salts in them. Aluminum, cast iron, brass, and copper pots can undergo a chemical reaction with chemicals in food, especially acids and salts, and create off flavors. Non-reactive containers are made of stainless steel, glass, and porcelain. Plastic is also non-reactive, but it can also absorb flavors and be stained by sauces.
Not-hot-spot. On a grill, to cook with indirect heat one creates a two-zone cooking surface by banking the coals to one side or by turning off all the burners except one or two. The space on the grates above the flame is the hot spot and the place you put the meat is the not-hot-spot.
Offset, side firebox, barrel cooker. A very popular smoker design has two sealed boxes or tubes connected on one side. One is for a charcoal or wood fire, and the heat and smoke drain into the other, the oven, which is offset by being a little higher. The smoke moves through the oven in order to get to the chimney which is on the side opposite the firebox. Some offset fireboxes can be used as a grill, either by placing a grate in the firebox, or by putting coals in the oven. I really hate the cheap ones sold in hardware stores and beg you not to buy one even though they look cool. Click here to read my article on offset smokers.
Oven. An enclosed cooker. The big hot thing in your kitchen is an oven and a Weber Kettle with the lid on is also an oven. With the lid off it is not. It is a brazier.
Pachange. In Southern Texas a pachange is a shindig featuring barbecue and live music.
Pan Roasting. A two step process, the chef starts a piece of meat, often a thick piece of fish, by browning and crisping the exterior in a thin layer of hot oil in a frying pan. But the meat is still uncooked in the center, so she puts the pan in the oven to finish cooking. The result is fried on the top and bottom, and baked in the center. We can achieve the same thing in one step on a grill by preheating a heavy pan or griddle on a hot grill, and cooking in it with the lid own.
Pan sauce. After you sear food in a bit of oil in a pan, there is often a brown residue on the bottom of the pan, called fond. It is removed by deglazing the pan over high heat with a few ounces of liquid such as water, stock, wine, or brandy. After this flavorful deposit dissolves, you can add herbs, cream, and a little mustard to hold it all together, season it, and you have a wonderful, quick sauce.
Paprika. In the US this means ground sweet red peppers, similar to Hungarian paprika or Spanish paprika. In many other countries paprika is made from ground hot chiles and it can pack quite a punch. When my recipes call for paprika, I am not calling for hot chile powders. If you substitute you will be sorry. Click here to read more about chiles and paprikas.
Parboiling. Boiling or lightly boiling food first before you cook it with another method. Par boiling string beans tenderizes them, and then you can stir fry them in butter of bacon drippings, for example. Many people parboil ribs. Parboiling meat is generally a bad idea. It dissolves flavor compounds, extracts them into the solvent (water is a solvent), and then you have a flavorful soup and flavorless meat. Parboiling does tenderize meat, but tends to make it mushy and less tasty. If you parboil ribs, the terrorists win.
Pasteurization. The process of killing all or most of the microbes in food, usually by heat. Pasteurization may not kill all microbes, but it reduces the population to a level deemed safe. It cannot kill spores, which are dormant fortress-like forms that some microbes assume to withstand adversity. Pasteurization can be done quickly at high heat, or slowly at lower heat, above 130°F. At that temp it can take more than 2 hours to pasteurize chicken. At 165°F, it takes only 2 seconds. Differs from sterilization which kills all microbes and spores.
Peeking. The experts warn you to leave the lid on, the door down, the hatch latched. They say "No peeking. If you're lookin' you ain't cookin'". Click here to see the peeking myth debunked.
Pig on a stick. Ribs.
Pig Pickin'. A meal where a whole hog is served and people can just pluck the meat off whatever part of the carcass they wish. Click here for more on how to prepare a pig pickin'.
Pits. Originally a pit was a hole in the ground lined with logs burned down to charcoal. In recent years, the word "pit" has become more generic and now means just about any device for cooking barbecue.
Pitmaster. An experienced barbecue cook, a skilled craftsman, who watches over the pit and can tell by sight, sound, smell, and touch, if it is running too hot or too cold, when it needs fuel, when to add wood, when to add sauce, and when the meat is ready.
Planking. This is a combination method of indirect cooking especially popular with salmon. A wood plank, usually untreated western red cedar, which is porous and aromatic, is soaked in water. The food is placed on top of the plank and the plank is placed over direct heat in a closed oven. The plank heats the food by conduction, the water creates steam, the underside of the plank burns creating smoke, and the food roasts in the closed environment. That's conduction, steaming, smoking and roasting. Alder is also a popular wood for planking. Cooking planks are usually labeled as such. It is important that you do not use construction woods for planking because they can be treated with poisonous preservatives.
Poaching. Similar to stewing, but poaching is usually done in water, or water with just a little salt and/or vinegar added. Stewing is usually done in a flavorful liquid.
Polypitist. A term created by my friend and barbecue fanatic Merrill Powers to describe the lucky SOBs who have multiple pits in their yard. Usually one large pit is large for parties, one is small for cooking for two, one is dedicated only to fish cooking because the oils coating the innards make it unsuitable for pork or beef, and the rest are to establish pit envy among the neighbors. Not surprisingly, polypitists are usually male, admired by fellow males, and scorned by their wives. Women would be wise to consider the practice. As one once told me, "I decided to skip the plastic surgery, save about $5,000, and just buy a smoker. It is far better at attracting men than implants."
PPP or The Three Ps. Patience, perseverance, practice. What it takes to become a pitmaster.
Pressure Cooking. (1) Pressure cookers are heavy sealed pots with a locking lid and a high pressure release valve. A small amount of moisture is placed with the food in the cooker. As the pot heats up, moisture and pressure build. The boiling point of water rises as pressure builds, so the food cooks at a higher temp and thus faster than when steaming under normal pressure. The product resembles braised or simmered food. (2) At a barbecue competition, the last 30 minutes before turn in.
Purge. This is the liquid, myoglobin, found in the packaging when you bring meat home from the grocery. The longer the meat stands around, the more liquid in the package. Frozen and thawed meat tends to purge a lot of liquid. You want the liquid to be in the meat, not in the packaging.
Radiation. A heat transfer method. See my article on The Thermodynamics of Cooking.
Ready. OK, let's get picky here. As described above, meat is done when it reaches the desired temperature in the thickest part of the meat. It is safe to eat when it is done. But that doesn't mean it is ready. Ribs may be done at 165°F internal temp, but they may still be tough. If you take them up to 180°F and hold them at this temp for 30 minutes, the collagens and fats melt some more and make the meat more tender. Then it's ready! Click here for more on how to tell when your ribs are ready.
Redneck soo veed. Sous vide is a method of cooking food in a special water bath immersion cooker. The idea is that if you want, let's say, a steak at perfect medium rare at about 130°F, then you put it in a vacuum sealed plastic bag and immerse it in a 130°F water bath. In a few hours the meat is done, and it cannot ever be overcooked because it holds steady at 130°F. The backyard method of reverse sear (below) uses some of the same principles. The term was coined by John "Patio Daddio" Dawson.
Reverse sear, a.k.a. sear in the rear, a.k.a. cooking inside then outside, a.k.a. redneck soo veed. Reverse sear is an important cooking technique that starts by cooking meat at a low but safe temperature in order to gently and evenly raise the temp of the inside of the meat. When the interior is about 10°F below the desired temp, the meat is then seared over high heat to darken the outside and develop Maillard reaction flavors just before removing it from the cooker. The method, when properly applied, produces meats whose interior is more uniformly cooked than if the high heat is applied at the beginning, with less shrinkage, more juice, and more tenderness.
Render. The process of melting fat usually at low temperatures so that it separates from muscle and connective tissue. In barbecue, this fat often drips off but sometimes it remains trapped in the meat making it taste and feel richer.
Rib hooks or rib hangars. These are metal hooks that pierce a slab on one end and hang the meat vertically in a narrow smoker.
Roasting. Originally this was a method of cooking in the open in front of an open flame, usually with a rotisserie. Today it often refers to cooking in an enclosed oven with medium to high heat, pretty much the same as baking. Originally the food was exposed to heat only on one side at a time, now the food is usually surrounded by dry heat and it browns with the Maillard effect and caramelizes. Food can be roasted on a grate, in a pan, on a spit, or other carrier.
Rub. A spice and/or herb mix that is used to flavor the meat. Typical southern barbecue spice mixes have paprika, salt, sugar, garlic, black pepper, and chili pepper in varying amounts. Some rubs are applied thick, some thin, some overnight, some just before cooking. Even if left on overnight, they do not penetrate far into the meat. Here are recipes for my Meathead's Memphis Dust and my version of Memphis' famous Rendezvous Rub.
Rotisserie. (1) A form or roasting where the food rotates in front of or above a flame so that the meat gets hot on one side and then cools and gets hot again, etc. Some heat is absorbed into the food gradually in pulses when it faces the fire, and some dissipates in the cool air when it faces away from the heat, called the heat shadow. The heating and cooling process reduces the scorching effect of the heat, slows the cooking, and cooks the meat evenly, distributes the temp more evenly on the interior, with less moisture loss and less burning. This alternating of heating and cooling is simulated in flipping meat when you grill or pan sear it. (2) A device with a spear or a basket to turn meats like chicken on their own axis. (3) On smokers, some units have a ferris wheel arrangement inside with shelves revolving through the oven space (shown at right). This is good because there are often significant differences in heat from top to bottom in the oven. In addition, the fat drips on the slab below and bastes it. A lot of the large commercial smokers used by restaurants have these "rotisseries" which really should be called ferris wheels because the food is not rotating on its own axis.
Salty. One of the five basic taste sensations, the others being sweet, bitter, sour, and umami. Sa;lty tastes are caused by several compounds called salts by chemists, the most prominent beinf Sodium Chloride (NaCl) as found in table salt and other related white powders. Salt is crucial to human life, and our bodies do not produce it so we must eat it. Click here to read more about the different salts and the role salt plays in health.
Sautéing. This is a method of cooking food in a small amount of fat over a high heat on a hot metal surface, usually in a frying pan or skillet, with the goal of rapid cooking and browning. This method helps the food retain moisture and helps prevent it from absorbing oil. To be successful it is important the food is not too cold, the surface of the food must be dry, and the pan cannot be crowded. Sautéing onions and garlic reduces their bite and pungence, and converts some of the compounds to sugar giving them a sweetness.
Sauce. Sauce and gravy are terms that are often used interchangeably, although I use the words for different purposes. Usually thicker than a gravy a sauce tends to sit on top of meat more than seep in, although there are thin sauces. See also barbecue sauce.
Searing. A method of cooking meat over a high heat for a short time to create a brown surface and alter the flavor by the Maillard effect. Contrary to popular belief, searing does not seal in the juices.
Seasoning a smoker. The interior and cooking surfaces of a new smoker often have machine oil or other by-products of the manufacturing process on them. If the owner's manual doesn't have specific instructions on how to break it in, follow the instructions in this article: Seasoning a new smoker or grill.
Sell By date. This tells the store when to remove products from the shelf. Best If Used By or Use By dates tell you when you should eat or freeze the product. These dates are not related to safety, just quality.
Shigging. At a barbecue competition, when a friendly competitor wanders over with a beer for you and starts up a casual conversation coincidentally just at the moment you are mixing up your secret sauce.
Silverskin. Silverskin is just what it sounds like, a silvery, thin, sheath between the fat and the meat that will shrink and get tough when cooked. It should be removed before cooking.
Simmering. A cooking method similar to stewing where the liquid is held just below boiling and making tiny bubbles but it is not allowed to boil with large bubbles.
Skin 'n' trim. Preparing a slab of ribs. There is a membrane on the underside, the concave bone side, of ribs. It is thicker on baby backs than on spareribs. The older the pork, the thicker the membrane. It can become tough when grilled, and spices and seasonings cannot penetrate it. It should be removed. Some butchers will remove it before you buy the meat, but many do not. Although it is not really the skin of the pig, that's what it's called by Cooter, Jeeter, and Hawk, so you should call it skin too. After the skin is removed you need to trim excess fat and some loose flaps of meat. Click here for a guide to skinnin' 'n' trimmin'.
Smoker. A cooker that generates smoke and allows the meat to cook with indirect heat. Consumer smokers usually work at temperatures in the 200°F to 300°F range. Some commercial cold smokers work at lower temperatures.
Smoking. Smoking is a way to cook, flavor, or preserve food by exposing it to smoke, usually from wood, although other combustibles, usually cellulose, such as corncobs, tea, and herbs are used. At one time, before refrigeration, smoking was a widely used method of preservation. But it is not good for all foods since smoke does not penetrate most foods very far.
- Cold smoking, as defined by FDA, is usually done at temperatures under 140°F. The food, often cheese, fish, or sausage, is heavily infused with smoke flavor, but it is not cooked by heat. This method is dangerous because the temperature is ideal for growth of pathogenic microbes, and, although smoke has preservative properties, unless done properly cold smoking can produce food that is dangerous. For this reason cold smoked meats are usually cured with precise amounts of salt and /or other preservatives. Cold smoking of meats should be left to professionals and not attempted at home. People can die if you do it wrong. Most commercial smoked fishes and cheeses are cold smoked.
- Hot smoking is usually done at temperatures higher than 130°F. At this temp, microbes are being killed, but it can take two hours or more to pasteurize foods at 130°F, much less time at higher temps.
- Smoke roasting or Southern barbecue is usually done in the vicinity of 200°F to 250°F, at most under 300°F. The food is cooked by the heat, and when it is finished it is free of harmful living microbes. At these temperatures not much shrinkage occurs. Smoke roasting is relatively easy to do on backyard smokers and barbecue equipment. Most of the best barbecue ribs, pulled pork, and briskets are cooked in this temperature range.
Smoke ring. A bright pink ribbon of meat just below the surface that is usually about 1/8 to 1/4" thick. It turns pink when myoglobin in the meat contacts nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxides formed during combustion when nitrogen, oxygen, and moisture combine. Propane cookers with wood logs/chips/chunks/pellets and a water pan are especially good at producing a smoke ring.
Smoke line. See smoke ring.
SNPP. Brinkmann Smoke N' Pit Professional, a popular Cheapo Offset Smoker.
Sop. See mop.
Sour. One of the five basic taste sensations, the others being sweet, bitter, salty, and umami. Sour is the sensation caused by acids like citrus juice, vinegar, and dry white wines. Often confused with bitterness, which is similar in that it is sharp, but caused by different compounds and, to the discriminating palate, distinctly different.
Sous vide. Sous vide is French for "under vacuum" and it means putting the meat in a vacuum sealed plastic bag and immersing it in water at the temperature at which you plan to serve it for hours, even days! It is similar to poaching but more flexible. The process also prevents liquids from escaping, and some chefs add butter or sauce to the bag to build more flavor. Meats come out uniform in color and texture throughout, so they are sometimes seared after cooking to create a Maillard effect crust. The results can be spectacular. Sous-vide must be done correctly because if you do it wrong, you die of botulism. In October 2009 SousVide Supreme was introduced for home use at $399.
Spatchcock. The process of cutting out the backbone of a chicken, Cornish game hen, or turkey, and butterflying it or spreading it out flat for grilling. Some chefs remove the keel bone from between the breasts to make it lie flatter, some run a skewer through the thighs to keep the drumsticks from flopping around and fold the wings under for the same reason. Spatchcocked game hens with simple seasonings can cook in as little as 20 minutes and taste knee buckling when pressed between to cast iron griddles or frying pans on a hot grill.
Spices. Usually brown powders made from dried seeds, barks, berries, pods, or roots. The active ingredients are usually oils in the powders. See also herbs, above.
Stall. When cooking a large cut of meat low and slow, evaporation cools the meat. When the meat hits about 150°F or so, it can often stall and not budge for hours until the surface dries up and form a crust. Actual stall temp may vary depending on your cooker or the humidity in the cooker. Pitmasters often break the stall by cooking at higher temps or by wrapping the meat in foil so the evaporation is slowed and the meat can continue cooking. This wrapping is called the Texas Crutch. See my article on the Stall.
Sterilization. A method that kills or removes all microbes and their spores by using one or more of the following: Heat, irradiation, chemicals, pressure, or filtration. Differs from pasteurization which uses heat to reduce the population to safe levels.
Stewing. Food is cooked under a water based liquid at temperatures that create only a few small bubbles usually between 160°F to 211°F. Stewing usually is a slow cooking process. Stewed meats are usually browned by sautéing or broiling first to add flavor. These methods can be done in a pot over a heat source or in a slow cooker. The liquids are usually flavored with stock, wine, vegetables, herbs, etc.
Stir frying. Similar to sautéing, but the food is cooked in a curved pan called a wok. The bottom of the wok is intensely hot, and the sides of the wok, cooler. A skilled chef can manipulate the wok to sear and steam, creating the iconic "wok hei" flavor of Chinese food that is hard to reproduce at home in a skillet.
Sucre et salé. This is a French term that means "sweet and salt", and is a cooking concept well known to the Francophones in Cajun country. It points out that opposites sugar and salt can work together exceedingly well. It is why salty rubs work well with sweet sauces. Or why Roquefort mates perfectly with Sauternes and late harvest rieslings. Try Porto and Stilton. Another wonderful variation: chocolate dipped potato chips!
Surface frying. This is frying in a thin layer of oil on a hot metal surface, much like sautéing, but usually on a griddle. Only one surface at a time fries as opposed to deep frying. Diner burgers are a great example.
Sugar cookie. You know when there are sweet crunchy bits of surface fat that are embedded with spices and you know your doctor would yell at you if she saw you snitch it? Yeah, that's a sugar cookie.
Sweating. (1) Like sautéing, but at much lower temperatures. Food is placed in a pot or pan with enough fat or oil to coat it but cooked at low temperatures until it softens or wilts and sweats moisture. (2) What a backyard cook does standing over his hot grill making sure the food doesn't burn. (3) What a competition cook does when they call out the names of the winners.
Texas Crutch. A technique for wrapping the ribs in foil with some liquid to lightly steam the meat, tenderize it, and speed its cooking. For details, click here.
Thermostat. A device that measures the temperature in a cooker and regulates the heat by turning on or off burners, or controlling the flow of oxygen or charcoal.
Tuning a pit. This is the process of modifying a cooker for optimum and even heat and smoke distribution.
Turn in. The time at which a competition cook must place his entry on the table outside the judging area. One minute late, and you're outta luck.
Umami. One of the five basic taste sensations, the others being sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Umami is caused by amino acids called glutamates and is best described as a deep and rich, warm, complex, and meaty. Foods that are rich in umami are browned meats, soy sauce, sautéd mushrooms, cured meats, ripe tomatoes, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Use By or Best If Used By dates. These tell you when you should eat or freeze the product. The Sell By date tells the store when to remove products from the shelf. These dates are not related to safety, just quality.
Warp 10. This is when you crank your grill to "Give 'er all she's got, Scottie". In the Star Trek series this was about as fast as any starship could go. You won't find the expression used in a culinary context anywhere but this website, so don't ask a chef for steaks cooked at Warp 10. She won't know what you want. Then again, she might...
Water smokers. Water smokers have a water pan close to the heat source. The water absorbs heat and helps keep temps down and steady while moisture evaporates and puts some humidity in the cooking area which can help meat from drying out. Most bullet smokers are also water smokers so the water pan also acts as a drip pan. The Weber Smokey Mountain is the most popular and best of the breed.
Wet-Cured Ham (a.k.a. City Ham). This is the most popular ham in the US. It is meat that is skinned and cured by soaking in a cure or injecting it with a cure. Some wet-cured hams are cooked and labeled as "ready to eat". Some are sold uncooked as "cook before eating". Click here for more on hams
Whitebone. This is what happens when ribs are boiled or overcooked. If you pull on two adjacent bones, and one whitebones, the meat pulls or falls off the bone leaving a white bone, then it is overcooked.
Wood chunks, chips, pellets, bisquettes, logs, and sawdust. Originally all barbecue was done with logs as the fuel source. Wood smoke from the logs seasoned the meat and imparted a distinctive scent that is the essence of barbecue. Today, most barbecues use charcoal, gas, or electricity, and get their smoke flavor by the addition of measured amounts of chips, chunks, bisquettes, logs, and sawdust. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. For more on the subject, click here.
WSM. Weber Smokey Mountain. A very popular, very efficient bullet water smoker. To read more about Weber Smokey Mountains, click here.
Yard bird. Chicken.
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