Contribution by: David Jakubauskas, owner, Rank One
To me, grilling is almost like a religion. You have to understand that having grown up in Argentina, the land of Gauchos and best beef, I have a special relationship with beef and everything cow related. As a child in Buenos Aires, it truly was an affair that required a lot of planning by more than one person.
My mother would go Saturday morning to the butcher, “Don Bernabé” and secure the best looking cuts of beef. You see, butchers used to get the half carcases delivered and they would disect it with masterful skill into manageable cuts like “vacío” (flank, kinda), “asado” (short ribs), “colita de cuadril” (tri-tip), “entraña” (skirt) and so on. Then she would get some of the “other” stuff, like “chinchulin” (chitterlings), “molleja” (sweetbreads), “riñon” (kidney), sausages, and so on. And of course, chicken – for those with a lighter appetite.
When Sunday can around, the mornings were occupied by getting the meat ready: taking it out of the fridge to get to room temperature, preparing the chimichurri – a parsley based rub or sauce made for either marinating or applying after the meat was cooked (or both). Outside, my dad was breaking down the wooden crates we would get from the produce store (the ones they would get their produce shipped in) to start the fire for the charcoal. A special word about charcoal: whenever you can, use lump charcoal. Briquets are convenient and look all pretty and uniform, but they are a manufactured product that has been enhanced for better results… “enhanced” being the key word. And if you use lighter fluid, then please just stop reading right now, because you have no business grilling.
So as you see, this was a ritual that I grew up with, whether I wanted it or not, and now it is part of me. Now I live here and things are a bit different, but I find myself basing my weekends loosely on a similar ritual: wherever I live, as soon as I move into that town or city, I find a butcher and befriend him. Having a reliable butcher, one that knows you and you can talk to, is simply a necessity.
So the keys to good backyard grilling in the US are as follows:
Find a source for LUMP CHARCOAL. Only if you cannot find should you consider briquets. But regardless of what you use, DO NOT start it with lighter fluid. That stuff’s flavor will get into the meat and ruin its flavor while ruining your health.
Find a good butcher. I have yet to be satisfied with the ones from big supermarket chains. I don’t think they should be called butchers. All they do is open big packages of meat, trim some fat, and re-package it into smaller containers for sale. Once you find one, treat him well. Give him a Christmas present, too.
Experiment with different and bigger cuts of meat. Burgers and hot dogs is not grilling. Rib-eye steaks are good, but try cooking a whole, untrimmed tri-tip or a whole lightly trimmed Top Sirloin Cap (Brazilians call this ‘Picanha”). It’s a deliciously flavored cut, but the way you slice it after it’s cooked makes a huge difference in tenderness. Look into it.
Let the meat sit for a few hours out of the fridge before cooking it. The shock of putting a cold muscle onto a hot grill contracts the fibers and makes it tough.
As your letting it sit, add salt to it. A coating of kosher salt for a large piece should sit for a while on it so it starts penetrating and does not become only surface seasoning.
The cooking. Once you spread the lit coals evenly, hold your hand an inch or so from the grill. If it burns right away, your coals are too hot and you should wait before adding the meat. When you add the meat, place it with the bigger chunk of fat towards the top, so it starts rendering slowly. Flip the meat once the top part is no longer cold. Flip the meat once and ONLY once. you can flip burgers back and forth all you want, but a prim piece of beef should only be flipped once.
Remove from the grill and enjoy!