We already brought you the 10 Commandments of Tailgating a while back. Rather than get all religious on you again, here are 10 rules to follow cooking on a grill while tailgating. It does not matter if you prefer charcoal or gas, these 10 rules should be followed closely to ensure a great tailgate.
Rule #1: Be Prepared – It’s not just the motto of the Boy Scouts, it should be your mantra of the grill. Make sure you have your act together well before leaving to go tailgate. Your food should be packaged and sealed in resealable bags. The meat should already be marinating and you should have your grilling tools ready to go. Make sure to have everything on hand and at the grill before you even fire it up. Scrambling around for your seasonings or basting brush is no way to tailgate.
Rule #2: Know Your Fuel Level – This may sound silly but making sure you have enough gas or charcoal to cook a complete meal is critical. I don’t know how many people have asked me to “borrow” my grill because they either forgot their gas canister or it ran out half way through the cooking process. You know your grill better than anyone else so make sure to get the big bag of charcoal and don’t skimp. When using gas, make sure the canister is at least halfway full so you can cook for a while without fear of running out.
Rule #3: Get the Temperature Right – Grilling is a high-heat cooking method. To make those attractive grill marks or to sear meat, you need to have your grill produce a lot of heat. 500 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature you should strive for. If you don’t have a heat gauge on your grill you can use other means. If you are using charcoal, make sure the coals have a thin layer of gray ash all over them. Hold your hand about six inches above the grill and if the heat forces you to move your hand away in under three seconds, you have the temperature perfect. When using gas, preheating for about 10 minutes on high will also get you to about 500 degrees.
Rule #4: Clean is King – No one wants to eat food that was cooked on a dirty grill. Dirty grills also make it more difficult to turn your meats because they tend to stick to the burnt bits of food left over from your last tailgate party. Make sure to clean the grill twice; once after you have preheated and again after you have taken your food off. Doing this will improve the flavor of your grilling and makes it healthier too.
Rule #5: Greased Lightning – The grill is clean but you still need to make it slick with some oil or butter. Since you are tailgating you may not have packed oil. A piece of bacon or the fat from beef or some chicken skin will lube up your grill just fine.
Rule #6: Turning Good, Stabbing Bad – The proper way to cook both sides of your meat is to use tongs or a spatula. Never use a carving fork to turn the meat. Stabbing grilled meat will let out all the flavorful juices and dry out your meat.
Rule #7: To Baste or Not To Baste – Different marinades and bastes require different application methods. Oil-and-vinegar and citrus based bastes can be applied throughout the entire grilling process. If basting using the same marinade you used to soak your raw meat or seafood, make sure to not apply it during the last three minutes of grilling. Sugar-based barbecue sauces should be left for the final stages of grilling. The sugar burns easily and prolonged heat exposure can rob these sauces of their flavor.
Rule #8: Put a Lid on It – If you choose to grill large cuts of meat like a whole Tri-Tip steak or a whole chicken, please resist the temptation to peek under the hood. By keeping the lid closed protects the heat from escaping and will let your cut of meat cook evenly. Just sit back and relax and keep an eye on the clock to know when it will be done. Each time you lift the lid, enough heat escapes to add at least another five minutes of cooking time.
Rule #9: Rest Up Sweetheart – We know you are hungry and ready for some awesome tailgating food but patience needs to be the rule here. Any sort of meat from the grill needs to stand for a short time before you slice into it and serve it to your guests. During the grilling process the meat juices have been sent to the center of the meat by the intense heat of the grill. Letting the meat rest for a short time will allow the juices to return to the surface, giving you a juicier and better tasting piece of meat. Don’t worry, letting your meat rest for a few minutes will not cool it off to the point where it will be cold when you eat it.
Rule #10: Never Leave Your Wing-man – View your tailgating grill as you would the really hot high school cheerleader. They are both pretty easy but both demand your full attention. Tailgating can be distracting and someone with A.D.D. should not be the one manning the grill. Going off and playing a tailgating game while the meat is cooking is just negligent and irresponsible. As the ‘Grill Sergeant’ it is your duty to make sure the meat is cooked to perfection. Make sure to enlist someone to be your gofer that will not forget to bring you beers while you attend to the grill.
Grilling while tailgating isn’t difficult and should not be intimidating to anyone. Once you get the hang of it and have the basic rules down, you will be a tailgating pro in no time.