Karen Fowler knows her meat. The 34-year-old Chop Shop butcher wields a boning knife (and sometimes a hacksaw) like no other and — no surprises here — has some mighty helpful grill tips (with extra input from Chop Shop owner Josh Wright and other employees).
Towel off: Make sure the product you're throwing on the grill is plenty dry — use paper towels or a clean, relatively lint-free kitchen towel for the task. "This is especially true when smoking, but also for grilling, too," says Fowler. "Smoke won't penetrate water. You're not going to get that nice char flavor as much if you have something that's coming straight out of a package that's really wet."
Get warmed up: "Make sure that your meat is room temperature before you start," Fowler advises. Pull meat out of the refrigerator and let it come up to temp for about 30 minutes. "That will help with making sure that you're cooking it evenly," she says. Especially if you plan to cook your meat to medium and under, says Fowler, this helps ensure that the center won't be cold. To gauge if the grill surface is ready for you to get cooking, hold your hand approximately three inches above the grate surface. If you cannot hold your hand there for more than three seconds (and you’re reasonably pain-tolerant), the grill is hot enough to sear and caramelize your meat properly. Not hot? No problem. Simply increase the heat or lower the grate.
Maintenance is key: "I've seen a grill catch on fire for lack of maintenance," says Fowler. Well, that sounds frightening. Make sure that food debris doesn’t collect near where the flame comes out — it’s a fire hazard and slows your hot-grill roll.
Smoke signals: At many a party, says Fowler, smoke gets in your eyes. Seating for guests should be available away from the heat and smell of the grill, if possible.
Gas it up: "There's nothing like getting halfway through cooking and realize you don't have enough juice," Fowler says. Have an extra tank of propane or bag of coals nearby, or you’re looking at a drunk and hungry group.
Tool time: Have the proper cooking implement for the task. "If you're going to be grilling fish, you need to think about having something to flip that fish,” she says. “Or, with burgers, make sure that you're not using some plastic utensil on the grill." Plastic, obviously, can melt — and you don’t want that on your burger.
Hands off: Food should only be turned once. Moving it constantly encourages it to steam, not grill.
Well-done: Steaks cooked to a uniform color all the way through — well-done, in other words — are best finished in the oven. Should you want to do all of your cooking outside, however, mark steaks on a hot grill and finish them on a bed of herbs (rosemary or thyme are perfect) set on a cooler part of the grate off to the side. The moisture in the herbs will moderate the intensity of the grill, cooking the steak through without burning the outside.
Take a break: Let your meat rest at for at least half of the amount of time it spent on the grill before cutting into it. This maximizes its juiciness and flavor.
Instead of a meat-based dish, Fowler and the Chop Shop Butchery have provided a recipe for a compound butter, something perfect for serving over meat, pork — heck, even grilled tempeh. The Chop Shop carries everything you need for a meat-filled Fourth, including sausages, fowl and beef galore. (Read on for the recipe, along with contact information for the Chop Shop.)