Cooking on a grill seems like the easiest thing in the world: Fire it up, toss your meat or veggies on, cook until done.
And you've no doubt learned some tips and tricks along the way, like marinating meat overnight and letting it come to room temperature before cooking.
Guess what? Conventional wisdom isn't always wise, especially when it comes to how you grill. Those two examples above, for example? Don't believe either one. So says Meathead Goldwyn (yep, that's his nom-de-plume), author of the bestselling Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling.
Let's take a look at some other widely accepted grill practices Goldwyn says are total bunk.
Myth no. 1: Chicken juices should run clear
It's no secret that undercooked chicken can be dangerous, but according to Goldwyn, juice color isn't indicative of when a bird is done. Instead, he says, the only thing that matters is temperature: 160 to 165 degrees is the point at which it's safe to eat. Use a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken to check.
Why can chicken juices still appear pinkish even when the chicken is fully cooked? For starters, it's not blood: It's a protein called myoglobin. And because numerous factors come into play when cooking chicken (especially acidity), "the color of the juices can remain pink long after the meat is pasteurized and safe," Goldwyn says.
Myth no. 2: Oil the grill to prevent meat from sticking
Nope, says Goldwyn: Oil the meat instead. That's according to his associate, physicist and food scientist Professor Greg Blonder of Boston University. Actually, it's OK to oil the grates if they're below the smoke point, Blonder says, but if you wait until after that, the oil "cracks, smokes, and caramelizes almost instantly," which can negatively affect the taste of the meat and even make sticking worse.
To be safe, oil the meat, which is cold and will therefore keep it from burning and cracking.
More on Chowhound: Why you should use your wok on the grill
Myth no. 3: Marinating makes meat better
This one surprised me. Goldwyn states that most marinades don't really penetrate more than a fraction beyond the surface of the meat, and therefore aren't good for thicker cuts. In fact, by keeping that outer surface wet, meat doesn't brown as well and therefore may not develop as robust a flavor.
So instead of marinating, he says, use spice rubs and lots of salt all over the outside of the meat. The latter will help keep meat moist, which is key to great taste.
Myth no. 4: Lifting the lid adds to cook time
Goldwyn cites the old chestnut, "Lookin' ain't cookin'." The reasoning goes that opening the grill too often lets all the heat out, thereby greatly extending the time it takes to finish longer-cooked meats like ribs and brisket.
But here's the thing: It's the heat on the surface of the meat that cooks the inside of the meat, so while opening the lid may let the warm air out, "the meat barely notices," Goldwyn says. "So a minute here or there to baste the meat, rotate positions for uniformity, or to insert a thermometer, is time well-spent."
Myth no. 5: Sear first, then cook through
Whoa, whoa, whoa -- this is a myth? If I had a nickel for the number of times I've heard this advice, I'd be sitting on a mountain of nickels.
Here's the smarter way, according to Goldwyn: Create two heating zones on your grill, one direct and one indirect. (On a gas grill that means putting one burner on high and leaving the other off.) Heat the meat on the indirect side until it gets within 10-15 degrees of the target temperature, then move it to the direct side (over the lit burner). Flip it every minute or two until it's seared on both sides.
This is called a reverse sear, and Goldwyn insists it's the better method for cooking thicker cuts of meat.
What do you think of Meathead's advice, and what grilling myths have you busted yourself?
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: Consider this your guide to cooking like a pro at your next BBQ.