It’s almost summer and you know what that means: grilling season is upon us. To help ensure that you have your best grilling season ever, today I talk to Matt Moore, AoM’s resident food writer and the author of Serial Griller: Grillmaster Secrets for Flame-Cooked Perfection. We begin our conversation discussing Matt’s trips around the country to glean the best stories and tips from our nation’s foremost grillmasters. We first unpack why the Maillard reaction is so important to creating delicious browned food, and how to ensure you get that effect when you grill. From there we dive into more of the secrets of better grilling, including the pros and cons of different types of fuels and grill types and the essential tools to have on hand when making flame-cooked grub. Matt then offers his surprising take on the best way to grill a burger and explains how to grill the perfect steak, cook chicken so it doesn’t dry out, and fire up fish without it falling apart. We end our discussion with Matt’s grilled, mouth-watering alternative to a traditional peach cobbler.
You’ll be ready to fire up the grill after listening to this show.
If reading this in an email, click the title of the post to listen to the show.
- The universal appeal of grilling
- The science of grilling — why does it taste so good?
- Should you bring meat up to room temp?
- The lowdown on heat sources — wood, charcoal, gas, and electric
- Tips for getting a woody, smoky flavor with a gas grill
- Different types of grills and who should use each
- The beauty of the two-zone fire
- Grilling tools everyone should have on hand
- The best way to grill a burger
- Perfectly grilling a steak
- Why is chicken hard to grill?
- Non-traditional foods for grilling
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- The Science, Techniques, and Recipes to Elevate Your Grilling
- AoM’s grilling archives
- The Best Way to Salt Meat
- Lodge Sportsman’s Grill
- Golden’s Cast Iron Grill
- Hasty-Bake Grill
- The 3-Zone Grilling Fire
- How to Light a Charcoal Grill
- Digital Meat Thermometer
- The Perfect Prime Rib Roast
- How to Make Ernest Hemingway’s Favorite Burger
- The Reverse Sear: The Best Cooking Method for Steak
- The Maillard Reaction
- How to Grill Vegetables
- Ernest Hemingway’s Burger Recipe
Connect With Matt
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. It’s almost summer and you know what that means: Grilling season is upon us. To help ensure that you have your best grilling season ever, today I talk to Matt Moore, AoM’s resident food writer and the author of Serial Griller: Grillmaster Secrets for Flame-Cooked Perfection. We begin our conversation discussing Matt’s trips around the country to glean the best stories and tips from our nation’s foremost grillmasters. We first unpack why the Maillard reaction is so important to creating delicious browned food, and how to ensure you get that effect when you grill. From there we dive into more of the secrets of better grilling, including the pros and cons of different types of fuels and grill types and the essential tools to have on hand when making flame-cooked grub. Matt then offers his surprising take on the best way to grill a burger and explains how to grill the perfect steak, cook chicken so it doesn’t dry out, and fire up fish without it falling apart. We end our discussion with Matt’s grilled, mouth-watering alternative to a traditional peach cobbler is. Sounds really, really good. You’ll be ready to fire up the grill after listening to this show after it’s over check at our show notes at aom.is/serialgriller. Matt joins you now via Clearcast.io.
Alright, Mr. Matt Moore, welcome back to the show.
Matt Moore: Thanks so much for having me, Brett.
Brett McKay: So you are AoM’s resident food writer. I’m sure people who’ve been following the site have seen your food content you’re putting out for us for a couple years now. Man! I think you’re coming on like 10 years now.
Matt Moore: It’s probably 10 years, yeah. [chuckle]
Brett McKay: 10 years. But you got a new book out, Serial Griller: Grill master Secrets for Flame-Cooked Perfection. We’re about to start the grilling season here, about to kick it off, so I wanna make this episode for the guy to the grilling season that has the best grilling season ever. But before we get to the tips and tricks of how to be a grill master, what I love about your cookbooks that you’ve done in the past is that you had these stories. You hop into your Cessna, you got your pilot’s license, you’re a cool guy, you’re filling every fantasy that most dudes have. And you fly around the country and you go and you visit people who cook for a living and are really good at what they do and they’re passionate about what they do, and get their story, but also tips from them. And so tell us, before we get to this sort of practical how-to stuff, tell us about some of the people that you’ve visited to write this book.
Matt Moore: Yeah, thank you, you make me sound cooler than I really am. I promise it’s not that exciting in real life, but it looks good in print. So we traveled 10,000 miles for Serial Griller, which was quite different than the book I had done prior, which was called The South’s Best Butts that we talked about, and it is a cookbook, not a calendar. There, we were just traveling the barbecue belt. But the cool thing about grilling is that it really expands the horizons. So it doesn’t matter where you come from, your race, your creed, your cuisine, your culture, everybody really enjoys the art of grilling. So just some of my favorites are folks like Meathead out of Chicago who’s known throughout the barbecue and grilling world. He’s just a character, he’s lived nine different lives. He was a wine critic at one point. He runs one of the more successful online sites. And he’s really just a scientist when it comes to food. And spending a day with him was really unique, some of the science that he has behind grilling and barbecue.
At the same time, we worked with some of the country’s best chefs. I think I’ve always had, as a food writer, really, the aptitude to make sure that all of my writing is speaking to folks that are maybe just starting out, and that’s why I’m excited to get into this in details of grilling with you today. But we had two of the last James Beard chefs, outstanding chefs in Michael Solomonov up in Philadelphia and Ashley Christensen in Raleigh. And for those that are outside the food world, that’s kind of like becoming the Michael Jordan, if you will, of cooking. Each year, they announce, essentially, the best chef in America. So both of those are focused in it as well. And there’s also just incredible experiences. There’s a gentleman by the name of Jerry Baird, who is one of the last chuck wagon cooks. And if you’re thinking in your mind about being out on the open Texas plains of Hill Country with a chuck wagon and cooking in Dutch ovens, that’s exactly what we did. And a guy like Jerry is just one of those special souls when you get to spend an afternoon with him, and glean his knowledge, and eat his food. And obviously, here, all of his stories, it’s just those types of memories that I hope people will thumb through, read the book, get some inspiration for recipes. And especially now, bring them a lot of joy by coming on that road trip with me.
Brett McKay: Yeah, The Chuck master guy, that was one of my favorite stories. I was like, “Man! There’s still chuck master.” He started the whole association for chuck wagon guys.
Matt Moore: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, it was a dying art until he became involved. And I think that’s one of the things we always talk about here on Art of Manliness is using your passions to create opportunities. And he’s certainly somebody who has taken a dying art and now spread it beyond just the United States, but Europe and Canada and everywhere in between, so super cool.
Brett McKay: And one of the things that your stories highlight is how universal grilling is. As you said earlier, pretty much every culture has some sort of grilling culture within their food culture. And I think you highlighted a lot of Greek guys. Greeks love grilled meat.
Matt Moore: Yeah, just down the street where I live in East Nashville is a place called Greco, which is an Athenian-style, Greek street food ambience. And I think a lot of Americans are introduced to Greek food from family-run restaurants where they’re still using that shaving off the cone era that’s usually processed. But they’re actually doing it in true kebab and souvlaki-style. So really unique recipes there. And then a similar cuisine that we also focus on is Michael Solomonov, the James Beard winner up in Philadelphia, he runs a place called Zahav, which is Israeli food, which shares a lot of commonalities. And that restaurant was literally named the best restaurant in America. So it’s a lot of fun to have some recipes that are still applicable and easy for the everyday person to pull off at home.
Brett McKay: Alright, so let’s get into how to make this the best grilling season ever. But before we do, let’s talk about the science of grilling. What’s going on with grilled meat that makes it taste so dang good?
Matt Moore: Yeah, after coming on the heels of writing a barbecue book, a pitmaster told me one time that in barbecue, nothing good happens above 300 degrees, similar to what a college professor told me one time that nothing good happens after 2:00 AM. But in barbecue and grilling specifically, the idea of everything happening good above 300 degrees is actually scientifically described by a reaction that a French chemist came up with known as the Maillard reaction where you have the natural amino acids and enzymes, it doesn’t just limit itself to proteins, but vegetables and fruits, even toasted bread or my favorite making beer, everything good is occurring at that moment. And so, throughout the book, we spend a lot of time talking about tips and tricks to always make sure that you’re allowing that reaction to occur. Now, if we’re already flying above people’s head just remember this, brown food is good food. It creates that savory umami flavor that we all love from grilling specifically, and so that’s what we’re always seeking to happen. And that typically is occurring anywhere that you’re cooking above that 300 degree marker.
Brett McKay: Alright, then the other thing too that make that, to get that you want high heat, but you also want low moisture to get that nice reaction as well, right?
Matt Moore: Yeah, when we talk about cooking as we have over the last decade, we do have recipes on the site that talk about poaching or steaming but in this instance, we really wanna get rid of the moisture because the moisture would prevent that reaction from occurring. And an instance where I might be cooking a nice piece of fish, I wanna make sure that I pat it dry even a steak, even a vegetable because if there’s too much moisture on whatever I’m putting on that grill essentially those first few minutes where we’re able to create that high heat sear, we’re eliminating that opportunity from happening because we’ve got too much moisture. Same thing that we’ve talked about earlier with the great kebab one big mistake that people make is over crowding that skewer or putting too many items on the grill at the start, and again you’re lowering that temperature down and you’re not allowing that Maillard reaction to occur.
Brett McKay: And that’s why you also don’t wanna cook frozen meat ’cause it’s just moisture there in that first couple, I don’t know, probably 10-20 minutes you’re just melting the ice and it’s just getting into the meat.
Matt Moore: Yeah, and you’re just not getting a consistent cook either, the outside versus the inside. And one of the things I’ve loved, a quick tidbit, is you see a lot of recipes that say, “Bring the meat up to room temperature.” And I was careful not to do that because you could take a steak that’s one inch thick and pull it out of your refrigerator and eight hours later, if you put a digital meat thermometer into the middle of it, it wouldn’t be a 68 to 70 degrees, it’s still probably 45-50 degrees, but the idea of pulling meat out of a cold zone whether that’s the fridge, or a cooler if you’re outdoors cooking, you just wanna take that initial chill off, like you said, so that you’re not immediately shocking the grill. So that’s one of the other big tips that we play out throughout the book.
Brett McKay: Alright, so high heat and low moisture. Let’s talk about heat sources for grilling ’cause there’s a whole bunch of different options out there. Walk us through them, and the pros and cons of each one. And which one do you recommend for a rank beginner?
Matt Moore: Yeah, for me the original was just hardwoods obviously things like Hickory and Mesquite. And that’s something that you would typically burn down away from your grill. Maybe it’s a fire pit. We saw it done in the book in a barrel, and you take those coals and you put them, obviously underneath your grate so that you can cook food, and that’s a two-step process. It can be timely, but I think the ambiance of it and just the romanticism of actually burning a fire and using those coals is really unique. Speaking of wood, one of the things that’s really come in play from a technological standpoint is the idea of pellet grilling. So using actual wood pellets to cook on a grill that’s using electricity and a fan to cook that at the right temperature. I love those. For folks that are wanting to have really precise temperature control kind of a set it and forget it and get that good wood flavor, it’s a no-brainer. They are a little bit expensive, they do rely on electricity. And then the problem that I find most often is that they just don’t get above really 400 degrees. So if I’m really trying to get that beautiful sear on a steak, the pellet grill can fall short.
I think most of us are probably most familiar with charcoal, comes really in two forms. Most folks prefer a lump charcoal which is just more of a natural wood piece that comes in multiple sizes. There’s different qualities, it produces less ash and it’s one of those things that you can continue to reuse and you see those in a lot of the egg style cookers that are out there. But even some experts that we interviewed in the book prefer briquettes. Meathead out of Chicago, who’s one of the most widely known experts in barbecue really prefers the briquette even though it produces a little bit more ash. What he likes about it is if I were to write a recipe and I told you to create 12 briquettes, we can actually really consistently measure the heat because those are uniform in size and we’re gonna get really good results when it comes to having consistency with a recipe whereas lump charcoal comes in, you might have a piece that’s 2 inches, you might have one that’s 6 inches. So you’re gonna get different burn temperatures from using lump.
Of course, we do have to address the fact that about 75% of Americans own a gas grill. So, I think convenience is king when it comes to using that source when it comes to grilling and one of the cool things we do in the book is we actually give instructions for every single recipe about, whether you’re using a gas grill or you’re using a charcoal, or wood style set up.
And to me, my goal is just to get more people grilling. Obviously, if you’re using gas, you’re sacrificing from some of the flavor that you get from wood and charcoal, but at the same time, you’re picking up a whole lot of convenience. And then finally during my bachelor years lived in some apartment complexes that wouldn’t allow me to have access to charcoal gas or wood. So, electric grills. You can utilize a cast iron pan on the stove top. We’ve talked a lot about that at The Art of Manliness over the years. Electric style grills that allow you to do that. And even one of the cool things that’s come on the market is an infrared grill which is using electricity and infrared technology that’s smokeless that allows you to still get that ambiance and flavor as well. So a whole lot of options out there. I’m not one to discriminate. Like I said, I just wanna get you grilling.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I’ve got a gas grill, and I just like ’cause I can just walk out whenever and just get it going in seconds, literally. But you also highlight tricks and little hacks you can do to get that sort of smoky flavor that you would with a charcoal or wood with the gas grill. It’s not gonna be exactly the same, but it gives a bit of flavor.
Matt Moore: Yeah, and any grocery store today where you’re picking up your charcoal you’re gonna find wood chips right next to it, so the concept is to make a foil packet with those, make a few holes in it, put some chips in there and put that on the grill right when you’re allowing that steak or whatever you’re wanting that piece of chicken to have some of that smoke flavor and just allow it to build up that smoke. I typically like to pull it off after maybe five to 10 minutes, so you don’t get a burn flavor from those chips, but it’s one of the ways to impart some smoke flavor and also enjoy the convenience of gas grilling.
Brett McKay: Alright, so we’ve talked about the different heat sources, wood, charcoal and gas and electricity. The other thing, there’s a lot of choices now these days are the type of grill you use. Back in the day when we were kids, it was like weber grill, that was it. Now you go to the hardware store and there’s just hold there’s eggs, green eggs, the gas, the infrared, there’s the different types of charcoal. So, walk us through the different types of grills and which one. What do they do the pros and cons, et cetera.
Matt Moore: Yeah, the most common grill that you’re gonna find whether it’s a Weber style kettle grill or even a gas grill, is what I would refer to as a closed set up and the idea is that you actually have a lid, so you’re able to grill with the lid off for an open style grill and then you can put that little on top, and the concept there is that you’re trapping heat so that you can vet the heat. And it’s the same concept if I were to have a cast iron grill pan on my stove top that would be an open set up, but if I’m putting it into the oven, it’s sort of like me closing my grill to trap that heat. There are just open style grills. One of my favorites is a large cast iron sportsman grill, it’s made completely of cast iron and it’s just an open set up, so we can’t trap the heat by closing the lid. So oftentimes, you see that in cuisines, like Middle Eastern cuisines or Asian cuisines where you are cooking skewers that you don’t have to trap the heat. They’re smaller size, so that they can cook up rather quickly. So that’s what we would consider more of an open style set up.
And then as you mentioned earlier kind of the egg style set up, the kamado style as is referred to. We were just hit here by the tornado in Nashville in March and I have a Golden’s Cast Iron kamado grill that weighs I think Brett 800 pounds, they dropped it off on a flat bed so…
Brett McKay: Wow.
Matt Moore: That was one of the things in my backyard that was not destroyed.
And that’s where we’re using either cast iron or ceramic to create a really well-insulated grill so that you can cook either at high heat temperatures or low and slow if you’re looking to do more of a barbecue style cooking. And then we have what we consider hybrid setups. You could go out right now and buy a gas grill that can also function as a charcoal grill. So for you Brett, during a busy week day, if you just wanna fire up the gas grill super convenient, but on the weekend if you might wanna have a little more that charcoal flavor, those are really solid options to give folks as much access as possible to meet their grilling needs.
Brett McKay: Yeah, no, I remember like when the egg grill started becoming really popular a couple of years ago, people really started nerding out on those, they got really geeky with them.
Matt Moore: Oh yeah, they call them egg heads obviously, and there’s several different brands that are out there and I think they just provide a lot of versatility. I think pellet grills would probably come on the market because they’re even easier. Obviously, with the egg style grill you’re having to still light the charcoal, you’re having to open the vents and control temperature even though it’s very well insulated whereas the pellet grill you just turn a knob, [chuckle] like a said, and the fan is gonna fuel this pellets into making sure that that temperature is always right. So it’s just depending on what your style is and what you’re looking to do. They all offer different levels of convenience but they also give different variances when you’re really looking for what you wanna do. I love to have access and control the temperature. If I were to just set it and forget it, my wife would make me be off doing other things ’cause she would know, it’s that easy I’ve convinced her that what I’m doing is extremely difficult and it takes a lot of work.
Brett McKay: Well, you mentioned the vents on the Weber grill, those are things that have always befuddled me. I’m like, what am I supposed to do with these? When do I leave them open, partially open? When do I close them? So, because there’s some on the top and then there’s some on the bottom, it’s like when… But why ’cause when do you keep those open or closed?
Matt Moore: Yeah, and so, vents and dampeners kind of are mutually exclusive in that scenario if you’re reading instructions. The idea is if I were to take a traditional Weber Kettle grill, I wanna open that bottom vent completely as I’m lighting my charcoal if were lighting it in the grill using maybe a charcoal chimney or one of those nifty tools that you can actually just kind of turbo white charcoal, you just stick it in there, and it’s got a high heater and a fan to get it started quickly. So we wanna open those vents because what allows fire to live is oxygen, so the more air that we’re giving it especially when we’re lighting a grill, we wanna have as much air as possible so those vents on the bottom are completely open. As you start to close the grill. One of the things, if you’re cooking a steak and you really wanna trap as much heat as possible, but keep the oxygen flowing, you would open both the bottom completely open and the top.
And I like to tell people that the bottom temperature control, that’s where you’re making decisions about, do I want this fire to be 300 degrees or 400 degrees? So you’re making larger adjustments because that’s where the airflow is first entering in, and then it’s coming up through the food source and then exiting through the top and the top vent is where we’re making decisions between 15, 25, 50 degrees. So if I were to cook a stake, I wanna cook it as hot as possible in some instances, so I’ve got the vents completely open on the top and the bottom. If I’m cooking something more like a piece of fish which I might want a lower fire right around that 300 degree marker that I’ll be closing off those vents so that I’m just being able to control the airflow which is also gonna control the heat that’s coming in a charcoal and a wood set up.
Brett McKay: Alright, that makes sense. Alright, now I know. So let’s talk about lighting up a grill. You mentioned a few ways, you can do the chimney, there’s you’ve got turbo charger things. What do you think is the best way to light a grill going?
Matt Moore: You know, I really like that kind of technology. I’m probably calling it the wrong thing, a turbo charger. It sounds like something out of the ’80s, but I love it because I just dump charcoal in and then I stick that in and within a few minutes, I’ve got a fire. But the problem is, if you’re trying to get something done very quickly, the issue is you’ve gotta continue to stoke that fire around several different points and before you know it, you’ve spent 10 minutes sitting out there lighting different points in the fire. I think for a chimney it’s super convenient and I would argue, Brett, we need to get you a charcoal grill, because you could actually just stuff some newspaper into a chimney, fill it with lump charcoal or briquettes, light it, and within about 10 to 15 minutes, they’re gonna be rip-roaring hot, you pour them right into the grill and you’ll be pre-heated, and about the same time that you would have with your gas grill as well. So, I’m a big fan of this chimney. I’m not a fan of the match light style, briquettes, or using any types of alternative fuel sources. I grew up watching my dad put a lot of that lighter fluid on charcoal, and truth be told, his burgers always tasted like lighter fluid.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Matt Moore: If you are stuck in a pinch, which I sometimes am with maybe a good tailgate and people pick up the wrong things, my advice is, to always make sure that if you’re using a match light charcoal, or a lighter fluid to get that fire started, that is okay. You just wanna make sure that those coals are completely grayed out before you start cooking. I see a lot of people that start to cook too preemptively and it still has some of that lighter fluid flavor and that’s not something you want to be imparted in your food.
Brett McKay: I’ve done that. I remember we had some people over for grilling. It was like, when we first got married, and it was my first time grilling. I grilled some burgers and I got the… I just poured lighter fluid all… ‘Cause I did what my dad did.
Matt Moore: Sure.
Brett McKay: And my wife is like… After it was over, I knew it tasted like lighter fluid. My wife was like, “That tasted just like lighter fluid.” [chuckle] I’m sure they thought it tasted like… And so, I haven’t done that since. See, that’s a good point. When do you start? Like say, even if you use charcoal or briquettes, whatever, when do you throw the meat on the grill? I probably have had… I’ve probably been throwing meat on too early.
Matt Moore: Yeah, I mean, the clear indicator like I said is, the beauty of both briquettes and the lump charcoal is, they will gray over into that orange and gray ember and that’s a great time. And I wouldn’t be too stressed either about worrying that the fire is gonna go out. I mean, whether you’re using lump charcoal or briquettes, even if you’ve just got maybe half a chimney’s worth, that’s still gonna cook for you for at least 30 to 45 minutes after they’ve gone gray. So, give it a little bit of time, allow it to do its thing. That’s gonna pick up the best flavor. You won’t have to worry about anything off-putting and you’re also gonna have the best control. If you put it on too early, that fire is still kind of working its way and lighting coals and you’re just not getting the maximum result out of that charcoal.
Brett McKay: What’s your take on creating heat zones in your grill?
Matt Moore: I am a huge fan of always whenever possible, if necessary, setting up what I call a two-zone fire. We can do that really easily on a gas grill, right? Most gas grills have a few different burners, so if you’re working on a two-burner, a three-burner, a four-burner, the idea is that one side of my grill, I’m gonna dial that knob up to medium high and the other side of the grill, I’ll dial to a medium low. Of course, when you’re cooking with gas, if you feel like it’s too hot, you can just turn down the knobs and immediately reduce that temperature, but you don’t really have that luxury with charcoal, because there’s no knob to turn it on or off. Obviously, we talked about changing some of the oxygen and airflow, but that takes more time. So by setting up a two-zone fire if I’m cooking a burger, a steak or a piece of chicken, I might wanna put that chicken breast on the grill over the direct zone to get that skin nice and crispy.
But I know that if I leave it there, it’s going to burn that actual skin and I’m not gonna get the result I want. So then I move it to the indirect zone and I can play between the two, which gives me control over the fire. And I think that’s a big mistake that a lot of folks make, especially when they’re starting out. You mentioned your mistake about everything tasting like charcoal. And I think it’s so funny how as you become older, you realize some of the things your dad did wrong. My dad did that one. The first time we went fishing as an adult I remember him not really being able to tie a hook. And I thought to myself, he taught me how to do this. [chuckle] So, it’s always weird when you’re teaching those lessons. But setting up that two zone and not just having it all in one place will give a lot of folks comfort and control over the cooking process.
Brett McKay: And so with charcoal, to create that two zone, one side would have all the charcoal, you leave the other side in deep maybe.
Matt Moore: In that instance, we would refer to that as horizontally offset or indirect. So you’ve piled the coals to one side. There are some other grills that allow you flexibility from a vertical standpoint as well. You could actually move the grates up and down. So, some of my favorite ones that have that type of setup, you can alter the vertical separation between the grate and the coal. So, if I put it down close to the coals, I’m getting a direct zone and obviously if I move the grate more vertically away from that, then that creates an indirect zone as well.
Brett McKay: I think the Hasty Bake Grill based here in Tulsa, Oklahoma, they have that feature.
Matt Moore: They do, and actually what’s unique about the Hasty Bake is it does not have a top vent. It’s got a bottom vent and then it has the exit vent, which is actually below the food grate. And their concept there was to really make the heat convect around the heat source rather than coming up from the bottom and just exiting at the top. It makes it kinda spin around the grill. And that’s one of the unique tools about that grill. And it’s one of my favorites quite frankly.
Brett McKay: It’s really nice. I went to a demonstration down at the headquarters and I was like, “I want one of these.” They’re pretty pricey, but I think if you’re really into cooking, it might be worth it.
Matt Moore: Yeah, there’s a gentleman, a burn company that we featured, Adam, who actually was a Hasty Bake grill sales person, and [chuckle] he said they’ve been selling them the same way with the old show and tell method to customers ever since they came out. So, it’s a fantastic product.
Brett McKay: So you mentioned convection. That’s something we can probably get into, ’cause when you’re grilling meat, you’re cooking the meat in different ways, right? I’m talking about the convection, conduction… I don’t know all of them, [chuckle] but you know what I’m talking about.
Matt Moore: Yeah, I mean, when we talk about direct heat, is a term that’s really common throughout all recipes. So that’s kind of radiant heat. And you could just think of that as heat from the sun, right, it’s just radiant it’s just beaming down on you. Convection would be what I would refer to is kind of indirect grilling. I give a scenario in the book, like if I’m standing in the sun, I’m picking up all that radiant heat, if I go under the shade, it’s a little more gentle, but it’s sort of like convection heat, it’s still hot. And then we also have to take in mind conduction, that’s the actual heat that we get from conducting heat, for example, on a metal grate. So, standing out in the sun, it’s a radiant heat, it’s direct heat I get under a shade tree. It’s still indirect heat, it’s convective. But if I sit on a metal bench, it’s also conduction. So you’ve got a lot of different features that are taking place that you have to think about when you’re grilling.
Brett McKay: Alright, so let’s talk about tools that you think people should have on hand for grilling, besides tongs and maybe a spatula. Anything else besides that?
Matt Moore: You know, we live in a day and age where technology can be our friend. And one of the things I always recommend, especially if you’ve not had any experience and it’s not just grilling, alone, it’s just a digital meat thermometer. Why worry about it when you have a piece of equipment that you can buy a decent one for $10 to $15 bucks, it’s gonna give you the internal temperature and also temperatures within your grill. I mean, one of the first things that go wrong on a grill is the actual thermometer that comes with it. So, I recommend that folks may be buy a thermometer for actually really gauging the heat level within the grill. But also a digital meat thermometer to make sure that their temperatures are cooked up to speed. So, if you wanna make sure that steak is always gonna be medium rare, you’re gonna be able to find out very quickly. If you’re too worried about the chicken not being completely done, it’s something that you can learn. And I say that because as you cook with time, your reliance on that meat thermometer, becomes less and less. If you cooked a steak a hundred times in your life, you know just by sensation and feel and timing and experience, you’ll be able to pull that off. But one of those great tools.
You mentioned tongs, but I use them all the time when it comes to grilling. That’s my most used tool. I also think that it’s super important for you to have like a grill pan or a basket. We do talk a lot beyond just cooking meats and proteins, about vegetables and salads and oftentimes we don’t want those things to get lost in the charcoal, so having a grill pan or a basket allows us to roast cut corn very quickly, so you get kinda that caramel style corn instead of doing it on the cob. So, some of those tools are really useful, you don’t have to invest a lot of money. And the last one would be just keeping your grill clean, so a simple scraper. If you don’t have that on hand, one of my favorite things to use is just foil, we use foil a lot when we’re grilling. I go to a local camp site with my family and if there’s an old school grill out there, I didn’t bring my grill brush, but I can just crumple up some foil, scrape that up against the grates and it cleans off that grill to my satisfaction.
Brett McKay: Now the meat thermometer is a game changer. Because in the past before I got one if I wanted to check if the meat was done, you have to take it off and just cut it open, which just ruins it for the presentation.
Matt Moore: Yeah. Not good.
Brett McKay: Yeah. [chuckle] So, yeah, I highly recommend it. It’s also just good to have if you do, smoking or you’re roasting. I use it all the time when we roast our annual prime rib, gotta have the meat thermometer. It’s a great…
Matt Moore: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Great birthday gift, great Father’s Day gift. Or just pick one up for yourself, you can treat yourself.
Matt Moore: And they’re complic… You know, I have a real cheap one. It goes back to that style of, there’s bluetooth ones that speak to your phone. But I kinda like the idea of having an excuse to go outside, because if I’m just sitting inside on the bluetooth, and my wife knows, like I said, she’s gonna come up with other things for me to be doing.
Brett McKay: Alright, so we got the grill going, got our tools, time to grill. Let’s start with the basics, ’cause Memorial Day is coming up. People around the country are gonna be grilling burgers, what’s the best way to grill a burger, so it’s not just some sort of charred, thick hockey puck?
Matt Moore: Great question. One of my favorite articles that we’ve done for Art Of Manliness is The Hemingway Burger, which you recommended…
Brett McKay: Oh, yeah.
Matt Moore: Being cooked on a flat top. So, actually in the book, we visit alma mater, the University of Georgia and we go to a place that’s called “The Grill,” and uniquely there, they’re actually using a flat top griddle fueled by electricity. So, I know some grilling purists will take aim, but I truly believe a burger is best cooked on a flat top, especially in cast iron, because it just creates an even sear, it allows the burger to cook in its own juices. I think that Hemingway burger recipe is fantastic. We have a triple cheese burger recipe in the book, we’ve got mushroom Swiss burgers. But if you wanna actually do it out on your grill, and pick up some of that nice charcoal flavor, if that’s what you’re using, you can just put a cast iron pan directly on those grill grates, allow it to preheat, like you would on the stove top and then cook your burger accordingly. So, that’s one of my all-time favorite tricks and it’s absolutely the best way to cook a burger.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I’d have to agree with that. I always… Every… We do the grilling on the grill with the burger, and as you’re grilling the burgers, you just hear all that fat dripping and hissing . . . it’s like, that’s all the flavor, it’s going away.
Matt Moore: Yeah.
Brett McKay: But then when you get the… When you put it on the flat top, it just tastes a lot better.
Matt Moore: A 100%, and it’s kind of more fool proof, it’s easier to turn them. So, you can pick up a cheap cast iron pan and have one always outside for your grilling needs. It’s one of my favorite ways to go. And truth be told, one of my favorite meals, it’s just a super classic that we find in multi-layers throughout the book.
Brett McKay: Any prep on that? Just simple salt and pepper, what’s your take?
Matt Moore: I mean, always with a burger simple salt and pepper. The Hemingway Burger involved…
Brett McKay: That’s pretty… It’s almost like a meatloaf.
Matt Moore: Some egg, and red wine and capers…
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Matt Moore: But I’ll tell you man, it is seriously [chuckle] delicious. I’m not just saying it because Hemingway came up with it. It’s honestly one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.
Brett McKay: It was a good burger. Alright, so burgers, cast iron skillet or at least buy something cast iron-y you put on the grill. Other classic grilling is steak. What’s the best way to grill a steak to get the perfect just juicy steak?
Matt Moore: Yeah, we actually explore a couple of different methods and we’ve explored this in some articles as well. But I think if you’re using a thinner cut of steak, whether it’s like a strip steak or something along those lines or a skirt steak, we wanna cook it really as hot and fast as possible, because it’s thin. And so, we wanna get that Maillard reaction to occur, but we don’t wanna cook it too long, because otherwise we’re gonna cook it past my preferred preference of a medium rare to rare. So in those instances, you really wanna use that kind of hot and fast method to develop the sear, to allow that steak to get that nice char on both sides, but pull it off the heat and allow it to rest so that you’re not bringing that internal temperature above 130 degrees. Now, when it comes to larger cuts, like a tomahawk steak, which is really popular right now, or thick cut ribeyes or even a fillet, one of the techniques that’s become very, very popular that we showcase in the book is the reverse sear.
Meathead, the gentleman that I mentioned earlier, he calls it the redneck sous vide. And for those again, that it may have flown past you, sous vide is a French-style cooking where you immerse things in a water-controlled bath at a low temperature. You can actually do the same thing on a grill by cooking it at indirect heat, maybe at around 185 degrees a grill temperature, so very, very low heat. And what happens is, over time that entire cut if it’s a thick ribeye, for example, from edge to edge, the ideas that will bring that entire piece of meat very, very gently and slowly up to our desired temperature, call it maybe 120 degrees. We’ll pull it off of that and then get our fire nice and hot and then sear the steak to create that Maillard reaction. Remember, brown food is good food. And what ends up happening is you’ll have a steak that’s perfectly cooked, edge-to-edge at that 130 to 135 degrees.
Whereas if I were to take a big thick tomahawk, and do it in the traditional manner of cooking it over direct heat to get a sear and then moving it off, we’re really only gonna have a thinner zone of that perfect temperature. So, the reverse sear is something that I really encourage. It’s also great for entertaining, because you can actually pre-cook those steaks maybe an hour or so in advance, and then when your guests arrive, you can cook them up to temperature based on each guest’s preference.
Brett McKay: How long does that slow part of the reverse sear take? Like, is it 40 minutes, an hour? Or is it… What is it? What are you looking at?
Matt Moore: Yeah, I think the steak, whatever cut you’re using, it needs to be at least an inch and a quarter thick, preferably thicker in my opinion. So at 185 degrees, if you can get your gas grill, you might just be putting one burner on the lowest setting, and then cooking it horizontally offset as far as possible, just to kinda keep it away and make it a gentle heat, because we wanna bring the entire piece up at the same time. So you’re looking at 45-50 minutes for something like that. And again, that’s another area where a great digital thermometer is gonna benefit you. And I’ll tell folks if they’re gonna do this, don’t worry that when you get through that 45-50 minute period that it looks sort of like this gray mass, you’re going to sear it off and get that delicious, beautiful look from the charred meat. But the cool thing is, when you slice into it, you actually really don’t even have to let it rest, because you’ve cooked it so gently the entire steak should be that perfect medium rare, that dark pink center that you’re looking for.
Brett McKay: And you wrote an article on the reverse sear a couple years ago for AoM, and so…
Matt Moore: We did.
Brett McKay: Yeah, we’ll make sure to link to that. And I know when people did it, we got letters saying that was the best steak I’ve ever had in my entire life. So, it works, it works.
Matt Moore: I love that.
Brett McKay: And in prep on steak, again, simple salt, pepper that’s pretty much it.
Matt Moore: Yeah, pat them dry. I think one thing I really like that I’ve been doing just right now and we make mention of it in the book is, is a dry brine. Every thanksgiving there’s always these stories about brining and how complex it is, and it’s 24 hours. I always think that’s a little bit of nonsense. I think a dry brine is essentially just adding a decent amount of kosher salt to proteins, to vegetables, maybe an hour or so before you cook. So if I have a big old thick tomahawk or ribeye, I’m actually just gonna season it pretty liberally on both sides with salt and that will actually absorb and allow the steak to retain moisture on the grill, and then patting it dry before you put it on, you grill it and it actually is still gonna need some more salt after you cook it, I like to maybe slice it and then season it with some nice sea salt or again kosher salt right before I serve it as well.
Brett McKay: Yeah, my mouth’s watering right now. [laughter] Alright, let’s talk about chicken. And I’ve found in my years of grilling, I’ve found chicken to be surprisingly tricky to grill. Like, it’s trickier than beef, ’cause what will happen is, I’ll get it nice, I’ll get that nice brown on the outside, then you cut open to it and it’s just raw. So, what’s going on, what am I doing wrong with chicken?
Matt Moore: Yeah, chicken can be one of those finicky proteins to really perfect, and it’s really obviously, just as similar to a turkey, because it’s the same style. I think, first and foremost, what do we love about chicken? Well, we love that crispy skin and we love it when it’s really nice and tender and juicy. And so, what we have to do is is to be able to create the ability for us to control getting that nice crispy skin, but also having the temperature to a place that we’re not burning it to where it dries out. And I think that’s really where a two-zone fire really shines. So in that instance, I will typically take a whole chicken, which I love and I’ll do a method, which we call a spatchcock, essentially, we just take kitchen shears or a nice knife and cut out the back bone, it’s very simple, and then we are able to turn it back over kind of like an open book, and then just press down on the breast, which will just pop the breast and that will allow us to create an even surface.
So, the dark meat and the white meat really come together at the same time. So that’s one of those methods if you’re cooking a whole bird. Even if you’re just cooking a chicken breast or a chicken thigh or a chicken wing, the idea is to cook it over direct heat to get that nice, crispy char on the outside of the skin, and then you can move it to the indirect heat, that convection style heat to where we know we’re not gonna burn the skin anymore and we’re gonna just allow that chicken to come to the right temperature. I typically will cook it to about a temperature of about 160 degrees. Again, another great example of why you might want a good meat thermometer, and you wanna make sure that you’re actually getting that thermometer, not just maybe a quarter inch into the breast or the thigh. You wanna make sure that you’re taking it at the center, and even at the bone to make sure that you’re pulling it off at a safe time, and then you let it rest. It’s still gonna cook up another 5 to 8 degrees when you pull it off that grill and that will be perfectly cooked. Great piece of chicken.
Brett McKay: One of the problems with chicken that makes it tricky is that it… Particularly chicken breast, it’s uneven, right? So it’s like, it’ll be thin and then as it gets to the big part of the breast it gets bigger, and then it’ll get smaller again. So, the edges might be cooked, but the middle is just still pink.
Matt Moore: Yeah, and you can fix that problem by just taking a mallet and just kind of pounding it out or even just kinda pressing on it with the heel of your hand, just kind of creating that even source. I think probably one of my favorite techniques that we do in the book with chicken specifically is, boneless chicken thighs. These have really come back into favor lately. They’re super affordable, and truth be told, because it’s the dark meat of the chicken, it loves high heat, they get a nice sear on it. You really can’t mess it up, as long as you cook it, even if you overcook it, it’s still gonna be really tender and juicy. And then we actually serve it with a kind of a board salsa, so we’re actually kinda doing a reverse marinade to add even more moisture to it. That’s one of my favorite recipes in the book, it’s a grilled chicken thigh with herb salsa. It’s a full-proof chicken recipe that is great for entertaining, and the leftovers are delicious too.
Brett McKay: Alright, seafood. Seafood is tricky, ’cause it can dry out fast if you’re not grilling it right. So what’s the secret there?
Matt Moore: Yeah, I think larger cuts of fish are more akin to cooking a steak. A grilled salmon is a great example. You’re actually cooking salmon pretty similarly to what you would do on a steak side, because you want that internal temperature to be more of a medium style and even for some of your other cuts like halibut and cod and other items like that. So you are cooking that over direct heat to develop that sear. I often recommend if people have not really had a lot of experience grilling before, fish is one of those things that just always sticks to the grates. So one of the ways we prevent that is making sure that our grates are clean. Making sure that we’ve pat the fish dry, ’cause we wanna eliminate that moisture so we develop the sear, because when you’re searing it, what happens is the proteins in the fish or any cut is actually kind of lifting itself off of the grate to stop from sticking.
If it’s too much moisture there then it’s actually just gonna sit there and stick on the grill and when you go to flip it, you’re gonna be frustrated by it. So, one of the ways we could avoid that all together is a grill basket, a fish basket, so where you’re able to just lock it in and put it directly on the grate and just turn it within that basket, and then open it up and serve it. So, I think for those that are may be just starting out on a piece of fish, it’s cooking it hot and fast, and then pulling it off the fire. You don’t have to move it a lot between zones, but a basket is one of those things that until you become very comfortable with it, you’ll still be able to impress your guests with that beautiful presentation.
Brett McKay: Grilled salmon is my favorite. I just… It’s so tasty. What I do with the grilled salmon, I grill and then I just put a pad of butter…
Matt Moore: Sure.
Brett McKay: Like to finish it off and just let the butter melt. That’s how I like it. It tastes delicious.
Matt Moore: Yeah, I mean butter makes everything better. We do in the book a grilled salmon with kind of a creamy cucumber relish, which… It’s just kind of that balance between hot and cold and a little bit of tanginess to it. But yes, grilled salmon is one of my favorites. And it’s really, really easy. It’s a little more steaky-like in terms of texture, so it actually holds up a little bit better. Like salmon and halibut, compared to a more delicate fish like a trout or a flounder. Now, those are a little bit more difficult because the meat is so delicate, it’s one that even the pros can have break apart on them on the grill. So, set yourself up for success and look for those cuts as you’re just getting started.
Brett McKay: And you mentioned this earlier, you can… Besides just grilling meat, you can also grill produce, vegetables, fruit. What are your favorite things, sort of like no-brainer things you can grill that is produce?
Matt Moore: Yeah, I think all of us think of summertime and grilled corn. So, there’s a recipe that we have of grilled corn. Instead of just a traditional butter, we’re adding some feta cheese and dill just to kinda take it to the next level. Really, any vegetable. My kids, if I were to roast brussel sprouts, they probably wouldn’t eat them, but if I put a piece of asparagus or a brussel sprout on the grill, there’s just something about that flavor, that they absolutely love. So, I really think the idea of becoming a serial griller is that it doesn’t matter the course or the meal, we can all make it better over fire. That includes salads too. Lettuces, believe it or not, over direct heat will pick up quite a bit of that smoky flavor and char, which just takes that Caesar salad, or Cobb salad or whatever you’re looking to do to the next level. Fruits are one of my favorites.
You know, I’m a Southern guy I’ve never apologized for that. One of my favorite deserts is a peach cobbler, but as I’ve gotten older, as we all do, I realize that I have to work out a lot harder if I wanna eat that peach cobbler. So, I love just a simple grilled peach on the grill. It’s super straight-forward. Maybe finish it with some honey, serve it with maybe a vanilla Greek yogurt if I’m being really good, vanilla ice cream if I’m not being so great. But I’ve really cut down a lot of the calories from the traditional peach cobbler by cutting out the carbs and all the extra butter. We have grilled watermelon. We’ve got grilled strawberries, figs. So, you’re just taking the natural sugars and allowing that Maillard reaction to occur, and it just transforms your everyday vegetable or fruit into something that’s just even more delicious.
Brett McKay: That grilled peach sounds really good. But I would probably put a little brown sugar on it to top it off.
Matt Moore: Yeah, you can do that and butter. But again, I was trying to…
Brett McKay: That does make it more cobbler like.
Matt Moore: I mean, you’ve been doing a lot of heavy-lifting, so.
Brett McKay: Yeah, yeah. That sounds like… I’m gonna go try that. Well, Matt, we’ve talked about high level tips on how you can cook this different stuff, but the books got lots of recipes where you go into detail. Where can people go to learn more about the book and the rest of your work?
Matt Moore: Yeah, thanks so much Brett. It’s been a pleasure and it’s crazy. This is the fourth book, we’ve always had a chance to talk this through, so thanks to that and thanks for everybody for supporting. Obviously, I want folks to go out and support their local book stores. So, this book is available nationwide, wherever books are sold and also online until we’re completely opened up, and being able to enjoy getting out once again and cooking with others.
Brett McKay: Alright, well Matt Moore, thanks for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
Matt Moore: Thanks so much, Brett.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Matt Moore. He is the author of the book, Serial Grillers, available on Amazon.com and book stores everywhere. Pick yourself up a copy. It’s really, really good. Also, check out our show notes at aom.is/serialgriller. Final links to resources, ring delve deeper in this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the AoM podcast, check it at our website at artofmanliness.com where you can find our podcast archives, as well as thousands of articles we’ve written over the years about pretty much anything, including Matt’s cooking articles. Check that out. And if you’d like to enjoy ad-free of the AoM podcast, you can do so on Stitcher Premium. Head over to stitcherpremium.com. Sign up, use code manliness at checkout for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android, iOS and you start enjoying ad-free episodes of AoM podcasts. If you have not done so I would appreciate it if you take one minute to give us review on Apple podcast, or Stitcher, helps out a lot and if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you would think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay, reminding you all listening to AoM podcast, put what you’ve heard into action.