“A lot of people marinate raw food in barbecue sauce, because they’re thinking, Oh, I want barbecued chicken,” says grilling expert Elizabeth Karmel. The problem is that sauce often contains sugar, which burns quickly, resulting in a lackluster version of the classic dish. Here, the Hill Country Barbecue chef reveals more ways home cooks ruin great ingredients, and how to avoid those mistakes.
COOKING WITHOUT HEATING THE GRILL
It’s really important: Just like you’d heat a sauté pan before you put food in it, it’s very important to preheat the grill to cook any foods properly. Preheating also sterilizes the grill by burning off any residue.
LEAVING THE LID OPEN
You would never bake a cake with the oven door open, right? Just like preheating is essential to proper cooking, so is temperature control.
IGNORING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DIRECT AND INDIRECT HEAT
I’ve got a couple of good rules of thumb: If something takes 20 minutes or less to cook, use direct heat. If it takes more than 20 minutes, use indirect. And if you don’t know how long something takes to cook: The bigger it is, the denser it is, the heavier it is, the longer it takes.
INCINERATING YOUR FOOD
The hotter the fire does not mean the better you’ll cook your food. Most food is delicate and needs a gentle heat after you sear it. You’re going to get a better result and coax the love out of the food by treating it gently and with respect.
SLATHERING FOOD EARLY AND OFTEN WITH SAUCE
A lot of people marinate raw food in barbecue sauce, because they’re thinking, “Oh, I want barbecued chicken.” Sugar burns quickly. You want to make sure that the inside of your food is done and juicy at the same time that the outside is browned. It takes 45 to 60 minutes to grill bone-in chicken pieces and only 5 to 10 minutes for sweet barbecue sauce to set and caramelize. So brush your food with sauce at the end of the cooking time.