With due respect to the solstice, the true first day of summer is the day you drag your grill out of the garage and hunt up your tongs and long-handled spatula. With the first three-day holiday coming up, it’s time for a (BB)Q & A with UW-Madison Extension meat specialist Jeff Sindelar.
How can I get my grill ready for the season?
The first thing is to make sure that it’s cleaned up and in good working order. Grab a bucket of soapy water and a sponge and clean the grates and the non-cooking surfaces.
What foods work well on the grill?
Meat is a favorite, of course, but vegetables, fruit, breads and a variety of other foods are also very good candidates for grilling. As far as meat and poultry—we can grill fresh cuts, sausages, we can even grill a roast. It really just depends on what you feeling like grilling on that particular occasion.
What’s your number-one tip for great grilling?
Make sure that you select the right temperature. If you are cooking a sausage, like a bratwurst, you want the grill to be fairly hot, but not too hot, because you don’t want the casing to burst open and lose all of those flavorful juices. If you’re grilling steaks, increase the grilling temperatures a bit more to around 375 to 400 degrees to get a little bit of a sear on the outside. If you’re doing more of a slow-cooking procedure with your grill, you might want to turn that grill down to maybe 250 or 275 degrees to avoid drying out the food.
So I should use a thermometer.
That’s absolutely critical. For about 20 dollars, you can invest in a thermometer that will last you many years and will help make sure that you are cooking the meat products to the right temperature. This is important for two reasons. One is for food safety. We want to make sure that we kill any and all bacteria on the outside and inside the meat. We should always fully cook ground products such as hamburgers or fresh sausages to at least 160 °F as bacteria could be on inside of the product (bacteria on the outside can be transferred to the inside when grinding). In addition, all poultry (whole muscle or ground) should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165F.
We also want to cook to the right temperature for quality. If we’re cooking beef steaks or pork chops, or even poultry, we don’t want to overcook those cuts so that they don’t become dry and tough. So generally, we could cook whole muscle meat cuts such as steaks or chops to an internal temperature of 135 to 140 °F if we want them to have a rare to medium rare degree of doneness. If we want something closer to a medium degree of doneness, we might cook them to around 145 to 150 °F. If we want well done, cook those meat cuts all the way up to about 160 to 165 °F.
Why is grilling big in Wisconsin?
Grilling is a very popular activity in all parts of the country but it’s particularly important here. One reason is that we have such a great variety of products to grill. You can very easily run to a grocery store, local meat processor or farmers market and pick up many different types of meat and poultry products that you can grill, from pork chops or steaks to poultry items to sausages and stuffed items. Grilling is also important from an economic perspective. We have a very large, robust, and historic meat industry. There are nearly 500 meat-processing plants in the state, from very large to very small plants. The meat industry contributes nearly a $12 billion to the state’s economy. By grilling, you support that industry, the employees who work in the meat industry and their families.
What’s your favorite thing to grill?
That’s a tough one. I like a lot of different things. But going out and finding a really good, traditional Wisconsin bratwurst—all-pork, natural casing, grilled to perfection—is just awfully tough to beat.