A Guide to Cooking Meat: Different Proteins on a Charcoal Grill
Cooking meat can be intimidating, especially if it is on a new grill or is just a new cut of meat you’ve not yet prepared. So long as you know the general times and temperatures that you need to get to though, grilling just about anything becomes a whole lot easier.
In this post, we’re going to check out a guide to cooking different kinds of meats and proteins. Part of grilling the right food means having the right accessories! Check out our awesome collection of grilling equipment to help you get the food done right. You can even shop by grill to get the perfect baskets and grates for your grill.
The Right, Safe Temperature
Meats need to be cooked to the proper temperature to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. If protein isn’t really your speed, you might want to check out alternatives like these 12 things you never thought to grill before you plan your next BBQ.
We’ve got a complete guide to chicken on the grill, but really, it’s a game of cooking the chicken all the way through without drying it out past the point of anyone wanting to eat it in the first place.
The long and short of it, though, is that chicken should be cooked to at least 165 degrees fahrenheit. While it is really important to make sure that beef is thoroughly cooked as well, chicken, especially, can hurt you if it is not cooked all the way through. When you’re measuring the internal temperature of the bird, make sure that you don’t stick the thermometer into the bone. This will give you a different temperature reading that won’t accurately reflect the temperature of the chicken, which has the potential to ruin more than your meal. Instead, stick the thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken without going all the way to the bone.
While cooking chicken, you’re going to want to grill for about 10 to 12 minutes for each chicken breast. While you should also measure the temperature as you go, it helps to have a general idea for the amount of time that the chicken should be cooked, especially if you’re confident you have your grill ready to go before placing your protein on it.
The recommended internal temperature that steaks need to hit is 145 degrees fahrenheit. For reference, this gets your steaks to about medium, or just a little pink on the inside. Now, the medium steak would be considered overcooked by many steak lovers, but there’s a risk in going for the medium-rare or rare steaks, which should be generally left to more experienced chefs. A small streak of pink in the middle is usually fine for your health, but ensuring you can reach that 145 range will help keep the food safe. The best way to do this is to keep the steaks over the highest part of the heat, which we’ll get into later. Gently encourage contact with the grill without pressing down and releasing the juices. Steaks that are about an inch thick should be seared for about 2 minutes, while steaks that are a couple inches thick can go up to 4-minutes.
Seafood is one of the tastiest, most delicate things that you can put on your grill. You can go from having an absolute treat to a chewy mess in almost no time if you aren’t careful however, so keep a close eye on the cook times. And unfortunately, there is no real standard for temperature metrics that you are going to be able to use as an excuse to check the consistency of your food.
Whole fish cooks depending on its thickness. If your fish is about an inch thick, it’s going to take about 10 minutes. If it’s up to 2 inches thick, then your fishy feast may take closer to 25 minutes. Pay attention to the whole fish on the grill and always be aware of what is going on with it. Fillets usually cook in the same amount of time relative to thickness, but they will ultimately take a shorter time to cook because they are generally thinner. When you have a half inch thick filet, you will want to cook it for about 6 or 7 minutes.
If you have cubes of fish for kabobs, or even for tacos, you will need to cook those thoroughly, which takes about 8 minutes.
Grilled lobsters cook in 20 minutes if you’re preparing the whole thing, and about 10 minutes for just the tail.
Scallops are delicious but cook very quickly. If you want to put scallops on the grill, start by dabbing them with a paper towel. Next, coat both sides of the scallop in salt and pepper, making sure to get this rub as thick as you possibly can. Toss them onto the grill gently, and don’t move them once they’re set. It’s key for scallop crusting and sear marks that you don’t adjust them as soon as they’ve hit the heat and the metal. Allowing the metal and heat to put marks on them, allow them to cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, then flip. Take them off after 6 minutes tops. Large shrimp cooks similar to scallops, in about 5 or 6 minutes.
Hot Dogs and Hamburgers
Hot dogs should be grilled for about 5 minutes, and hamburgers should get a searing after two minutes on each side. After adding an additional 3 or 4 minutes of cooking once you have a solid sear on each side, about the time it takes to make sure the cheese is perfectly gooey and delicious or your buns are nice and toasty, plate and serve.
The first rule of cooking with a meat thermometer is to be absolutely certain you don’t leave the thermometer in the meat while it is cooking! The thermometer can heat up and cook the meat a little unevenly, and it can also release steam, juices, pressure, and all the other good stuff that meat has inside of it. As mentioned, when using a meat thermometer, you want to avoid sticking it all the way to the bone. You also want to avoid touching it to the grill itself or sticking it into the fat. Your ultimate goal is to see exactly the temperature that the muscle and tissue has hit.
The thermometer generally doesn’t have to go all the way in when trying to figure out how far along your meat is cooked. If you overreach, you’ll risk putting the probe onto the other side of the meat. This can pick up temperatures from the bottom of the grill, which will not give you an accurate reading.
Meat thermometers will heat up over time, or may simply be used for multiple cuts of meat, which is another thing to watch out for. If you measure your chicken that has been cooking for a long time and then want to measure a steak you just put on, you’ll need to reset the thermometer. The best way to do this is with a small glass of ice water. Stick the thermometer into the ice water for a second and then clean it off. Do not touch the glass. This is also a good way to reset the thermometer if it gets off. Once you let the ice water sit for awhile, you should be able to read the temperature on your meat thermometer at 32 degrees fahrenheit. That’s when you’ll know you can safely reuse it for the different dishes your preparing on the grill.
Strategies to Cook Meat Evenly
Cooking meat evenly can be a challenge, especially if you’re throwing a big backyard BBQ. Check out these strategies for keeping everything on track.
High and Low Heat Zones
If you pile the coals on one side of your grill, you can generally create a specified zone of slightly higher heat. This will allow you to get a quick sear on things like steaks without cooking the outside to a crisp. Remember, you want sear marks, and you don’t want burnt edges. Making sure that your grill is evenly hot all the way over before tossing your meat onto it though should be enough to stave off any unwanted burnt spots. Also, beware of meat that is oddly shaped and may cook unevenly!
Looking for other cooking tips? Check out our 7 tips for grilling success.
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