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Digital Thermometers:
Stop Guessing!

thermopop bbq thermometer

Gold BBQ AwardA good digital thermometer keeps me from serving dry overcooked food or dangerously undercooked food. You can get a professional grade, fast and precise splashproof thermometer like the Thermopop (above) for about $24. The Thermapen (below), the Ferrari of instant reads, is about $96. It's the one you see all the TV chefs and all the top competition pitmasters using. Click here to read more about types of thermometer and our ratings and reviews.

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GrillGrates Take You To
The Infrared Zone

BBQ_grill_grates

Gold BBQ AwardGrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, produce great grill marks, keep small foods from committing suicide, kill hotspots, are easier to clean, flip over to make a fine griddle, smolder wood right below the meat, and can be easily removed and moved from one grill to another. You can even throw wood chips or pellets or sawdust between the rails and deliver a quick burst of smoke to whatever is above. Every gas grill and pellet smoker needs them.

Click here to read more about what makes these grates so special and how they compare to other cooking surfaces.

The Smokenator:
A Necessity For All Weber Kettles

smokenator bbq system

Gold BBQ Award If you have a Weber Kettle, you need the amazing Smokenator and Hovergrill. The Smokenator turns your grill into a first class smoker, and the Hovergrill can add capacity or be used to create steakhouse steaks.

Click here to read more.

The Pit Barrel Cooker

pit barrel c ooker bbqAbsolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world.

This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers in the hardware stores because temperature control is so much easier (and that's because smoke and heat go up, not sideways).

Gold BBQ AwardBest of all, it is only $289 delivered to your door!

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them.

scissor tongs

Best. Tongs. Ever.

Gold BBQ AwardMade of rugged 1/8" thick aluminum, 20" long, with four serious rivets, mine show zero signs of weakness after years of abuse. I use them on meats, hot charcoal, burning logs, and with the mechanical advantage that the scissor design creates, I can easily pick up a whole packer brisket. Click here to read more.

Amp Up The Smoke

mo's smoking pouch

Gold BBQ AwardMo's Smoking Pouch is essential for gas grills. It is an envelope of mesh 304 stainless steel that holds wood chips or pellets. The airspaces in the mesh are small enough that they limit the amount of oxygen that gets in so the wood smokes and never bursts into flame. Put it on top of the cooking grate, on the burners, on the coals, or stand it on edge at the back of your grill. It holds enough wood for about 15 minutes for short cooks, so you need to refill it or buy a second pouch for long cooks like pork shoulder and brisket. Mine has survived more than 50 cooks. Click for more info.

steak knives for bbq

The Best Steakhouse Knives

Gold BBQ AwardThe same knives used at Peter Luger, Smith & Wollensky, and Morton's. Machine washable, high-carbon stainless steel, hardwood handle. And now they have the AmazingRibs.com imprimatur. Click for more info.


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chicken sticking to grill grates

How To Keep Food From Sticking To Your Grates

"Keep it hot, keep it clean, keep it lubricated." Steven Raichlen

By Meathead Goldwyn

Food seems to have a magnetic attraction for grill grates and it is a shame that some of the wonderfully browned surfaces get left behind, stuck to the surface, when you go to turn it. Unfortunately, while scientists have invented many non-stick coatings, none of them can survive much above 450°F. Not much help to outdoor cooks.

The greatest barbecue and grilling author of all time is Steven Raichlen, with at least nine books and two PBS television series to his credit. He is usually right on the money, but occasionally I disagree. His famous catchphrase and signoff "Keep it hot, keep it clean, keep it lubricated" needs some rethinking.

Keep it hot

Some foods clearly need to be cooked hot, but as we know, there are plenty of times when we want to cook low and slow. Especially for tough cuts of meat that will only get tougher under high heat. I discuss this in depth in my article on cooking temperatures and in my article on meat science. And as we shall see below, if you grill hot, you might even make sticking worse.

Keep it clean

This part is beyond dispute. Aged black grease on the cooking grates adds nothing positive to the flavor and food will certainly stick to the cooking surface if it has not been cleaned properly. Always pre-heat the grill before adding food, and then always clean the grates thoroughly so no grease or carbon remain.

Keep it lubricated

Some "experts" say you should lube the cooking grates with spray oil. This is a really bad idea. The tiny droplets of aerosolized oil are highly volatile, explosive even. If they come in contact with flame, they could create a fireball and you won't need to tweeze your eyebrows for months.

Raichlen and all the books say to roll up a paper towel, grab it with tongs, dunk it in vegetable oil, and swab the cooking grates. Cook's Illustrated magazine says to repeat the process of oiling the grates 5 to 10 times. Might work, might not. It depends on the temp of the grates.

I asked the AmazingRibs.com science advisor Dr. Greg Blonder about the pros and cons of lubricating the grill grates: "Metal grill grates, even shiny clean ones, are not really smooth. Under a microscope there are numerous scratches, pits, valleys, and ridges. The compounds in food are much colder than the grates and when the two meet a bond forms between them. If you oil the grates, below the smoke point of the oil, let's say 400°F, the oil actually does coat the grating and helps release protein and fat. But if you 'keep it hot', above the smoke point, the oil cracks, smokes, and carbonizes almost instantly. The carbon and smoke don't taste good, and the dry uneven carbon layer simply makes sticking worse. Even at high temps if you brush on oil and then immediately add food, the oil and food cool the grate and if it cools enough, the oil may not burn off. But no way it creates a stable non-stick surface."

The best way to prevent this bond is to pat your meat dry and then put some oil on the meat rather than the metal. As you lay the oiled meat down, the oil fills the microscopic nooks and crannies in both the food and the grates and makes a relatively smooth, slippery surface. The cool food lowers the temp of the grates and will keep that burnt oil residue off the food. But you want to use an oil that has a high smoke point. Most refined cooking oils will do the job. I use an inexpensive refined olive oil which has a higher smoke point (over 450°F) than extra virgin olive oil (about 375°F). Corn oil is good (about 450°F).

As the food cooks, heat causes water vapor to exit the meat where the metal is touching it because the metal transmits much more heat than the hot air around it. That's the sizzle you hear, and it continues until the surface of the food in contact with the metal dries out a bit forming grill marks. Because oil and water don't mix, this steam lifts the meat above the oil, and eventually the food lets go. If the food is sticking when you go to turn it, just leave it alone. Vapor from where the meat meets metal eventually steams the two apart.

Another method is to pre-cook foods. Have you noticed that the second side of the pork chop often doesn't stick? One reason is that the top surface of the meat is going up in temp while the relatively cool underside has lowered the temp of the metal grates.

Sometimes this even works on meat with sauces. Blonder says "First, I grill one side of a chicken, then lower the heat. Then, I brush the glaze on, but only on the top surface. Close the lid and let it set-up and thicken. Then flip, and glaze the other side. This dramatically reduces sticking, because the glaze molecules have pretty much bonded to themselves, and have little interest in bonding to the cooler grate. I use a similar trick on chicken burgers or crab cakes, both very sticky patties. I place a layer of foil or a flat metal plate on the grill and oil it well. Temperature around 400°F. Then I lightly cook both sides, creating a much less sticky surface. When I transfer them to a hot grill for searing, adhesion is greatly reduced."

The fish problem

Fish is notoriously sticky, and sometimes no amount of oil will prevent it from sticking. I have several strategies for fish.

Dial back the temp. If the fish is really thick, lowering the temperature sometimes helps.

fish in bbq basket

weber fish basketFish basket. One method is a fish basket. Most look like two skinny tennis rackets hinged at the top. You oil the fish, lock it in between the two sides and put the meat on the grill. When it's time to flip, it's easy to turn. Yes, sometimes the fish sticks to the basket, but usually, if you oil it well, it releases before you remove it.The problem is that the handles of the rackets are too long and they keep you from closing the lid of the grill. But count on Weber to come to the rescue. The Large Weber Steel Fish Basket has no handles. Yes, sometimes the fish sticks to the basket, but usually, if you oil it well, it releases before you remove it.

griddled salmonGriddle. Lightly coated with oil, I put the fish flesh side down on a screaming hot cast iron or stainless steel griddle. It browns rapidly and lets go within minutes. Then I flip. Skin on or skin off, the surfaces brown nicely and the interior roasts beautifully. I throw dried herbs onto the fire to create a lot of smoke in a short amount of time because fish cooks quickly. The Lodge griddle is designed without a groove around the perimeter so the oil stays on the flat surface. I also use a large double Lamson fish tongs for flipping. They're great at lifting the whole thing without breaking it. If the fish is really thick, you might need to dial the temp back. Here's a recipe for salmon done that way, and more about the technique.

fish tongsLamsonSharp Fish Tongs. A jumbo hybrid of tongs and spatulas, this is the best tool for flipping fish, burgers, and other crumbly foods. Slide one 8" spatula under and gently clamp down with the other. The rosewood handle protects you against the heat, and there is a leather loop for hanging. They come with a lifetime warranty. I find them to be indispensable.

Another strategy is to use GrillGrates (TM). My other strategy is to use GrillGrates (TM) described above. They come with a special spatula with fingers that go into the valleys between the rails and get under the fish and lift it evenly and gently. They also sell a hybrid tongs and spatulas like the LamsonSharp, but with the fingers matching the groves in the grates.

frogmatsThe best strategy is Frogmats. These are sheets of non-stick mesh that allow an all over sear and prevent sticking. The non-stick material can't be heated above 400F, but you don't have to cook fish that hot anyway. Click the link to read more about Frogmats.

No matter what you do, sometimes the food just wants to stick. Blonder says "Learn how to slide a thin spatula at an angle to the grates to shear off stuck food, retaining most of the browned surface. This is a skill worth mastering." I have a spatula that I have taken down to the grinder in my basement workshop and ground the front edge to a nice taper just for this purpose.

This page was revised 8/2/2013


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About this website. AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, spareribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, barbecue sauces, spice rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best buying guide to barbecue smokers, grills, accessories, and thermometers, edited by Meathead.

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