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It’s time for a perfect meal! Popular barbecue myths debunked

Does your barbecue never turn out as per expectations? Well, with the several barbecue myths floating around, it is difficult to figure out which rules to stick with.

more lifestyle Updated: Jul 13, 2016 10:57 IST
When you open the lid of your grill or smoker, hot air escapes, cooking slows, and each peek adds lots of time to the length of the cook.
When you open the lid of your grill or smoker, hot air escapes, cooking slows, and each peek adds lots of time to the length of the cook.(Shutterstock)

Does your barbecue never turn out as per expectations? Well, with the several barbecue myths floating around, it is difficult to figure out which rules to stick with.

So, we debunk popular barbeque myths with the help of Meathead Goldwyn, the mind behind Amazingribs.com, which is billed as the world’s most popular outdoor cooking website.

Read: Where food has a history and taste a lineage

Here’s what he has to say about a few of them:

Myth: Cook chicken until the juices run clear.

Busted: This is indisputably false. If you believe it, you could end up badly overcooking or undercooking your poultry.

Juices in chicken, turkey, and even pork are coloured pink by the protein myoglobin. When myoglobin is cooked, its structure changes and the denatured molecules absorb light differently so they no longer appear pink. It turns out there is no fixed temperature at which myoglobin changes colour because other factors come into play. One research scientist explained to me that the acidity (pH) of the meat is a major factor.

Almost all professional chefs carry a meat thermometer in their chef’s coat. You should do the same. (Shutterstock)

When the muscle is high in pH (low in acid), it takes a much higher temperature to denature the myoglobin. The meat may need to be 170 to 180°F before the myoglobin in breasts is sufficiently denatured to see clear juices. The drumstick and thigh have higher levels of myoglobin, and they require an even higher internal temperature to denature it. As long as the meat reaches 165°F, it is safe to eat.

Myth: Lookin’ ain’t cookin.’

Busted: It is widely accepted wisdom, appearing in practically every barbecue book ever written, that if you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin’.

The message is that when you open the lid of your grill or smoker, hot air escapes, cooking slows, and each peek adds lots of time to the length of the cook. The warning against looking is meant as a caution to cooks who are constantly basting their food or just admiring their handiwork.

Read: Meet Vineet Bhatia, the master of modern Indian cooking

Makes sense, right? [AmazingRibs.com science advisor] Prof. Greg Blonder tested the theory on a gas grill, a pellet grill, and a Weber kettle charcoal grill.

On a day when the ambient temperature was in the 70s, when he opened a Weber kettle charcoal grill for 1 minute, the temperature dropped almost instantly, and recovered most of the way in about 2 minutes because the metal remained hot and hot air remained trapped under the lid.

But it never recovered all the way because the coals had burned down a bit. When the lid was opened for 5 minutes, the temperature bounced back fairly quickly, but again, not all the way. But most importantly, the chicken barely noticed the dip in air temp because the heat stored in the thermal mass of the meat was enough to continue cooking, much like carryover. The chicken was cooking the chicken more than the air was.

Lookin’ doesn’t stop the cooking. (Shutterstock)

He did the same test on a gas grill. When the lid was closed after 1 minute the air temperature recovered completely in a minute or two because the fuel kept burning at the same rate. When the grill was opened for 5 minutes, the temperature took almost 20 minutes to recover because the metal had a chance to cool off.

When he left a MAK pellet smoker with a thermostat controller open for 5 minutes it recovered in only about 2 minutes, much faster than the other two. That’s because the thermostat sensed the cool air and pumped in more fuel to compensate.

The lesson? You can peek and you will pay a minimal penalty. Lookin’ doesn’t stop the cooking.

Read: A fresh taste of home

Myth: You can tell the doneness of meat by poking it and comparing the bounciness of the meat to the flesh between your thumb and forefinger.

Busted: As if everyone’s hand has the same firmness and bounciness! Does the flesh on the hand of a 120-pound, 26-year-old woman who works out have the same resilience as a 250-pound, 50-year-old man who works in an office or a 70-year old retired ditch digger? Of course not. Does a filet mignon have the same firmness and bounciness as a sirloin?

Of course not. Almost all professional chefs carry a meat thermometer in their chef’s coat. You should do the same.

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