Grilling season is here again, and for most Canadians that means one thing: meat — and lots of it! Nothing warms Canadian hearts quite like a backyard cookout or lazy long weekend grill-up, which is why truLOCAL is celebrating the arrival of summer with some of our favourite tips and tricks for getting the most out of your summer barbecue.
Use the Right Ingredients
A good meal starts with the right ingredients, and this is especially true when it comes to barbecuing. Unlike other forms of cookery that slather meat in rich gravies and sauces, barbecuing is all about the meat itself. A good marinade, dry rub, or sauce can help bring out the flavour in the meat, but if the meat itself is second-rate, the best seasonings in the world will only serve to disguise its mediocrity.
This is why it is important to make sure that the meat you buy is worthy of your next big barbecue. At truLOCAL, we are passionate about good meat, which is why we’ve built a delivery service specifically designed to help provide our customers with the best local cuts from farms and producers that are committed to raising the finest meat in the country.
One of the reasons we have made local meat such a foundational part of our business is because we understand that the industrial meat system as it currently exists isn’t just bad for the environment — it’s bad for the meat, and bad for you. Buying free run chicken and pasture-raised beef is an ethical decision, but it’s also a culinary one.
Many of the preservatives that are used in the meat industry are there because cattle are raised in close quarters and, once processed, the meat has to travel long distances before it reaches your plate. Once you try genuinely nitrate free bacon that was raised in-province, you’re sure to agree that the difference is immediately noticeable, and you’ll probably wonder why you accepted second-rate meat for so long.
Understand the Chemistry
While good meat is essential if you want your barbecue to come off well, it is also important to put time, energy, and thought into how you are going to prepare the meat itself. Even basic cuts like steaks can be improved immeasurably by a little bit of advance preparation, and if you’ve ever wondered why restaurant steaks tend to taste better than the ones you cook at home, the answer usually lies in the preparation involved.
There is no end of resources online that will provide you with advice as to how you can get the most out of your steaks, ribs, or roasts through careful preparation, the best way to bring the nuanced flavours and rich textures out of your grilling meat is by understanding what happens when you grill meat.
When you grasp the basic chemistry behind cooking meat, questions about cooking — like why you should use a meat thermometer — will become a lot clearer. Here is a short guide to grilling chemistry to help get you oriented:
- We cook meat for two reasons: to make it safer to eat, and to improve the flavour. Most of what you do when you’re grilling is achieving one of these purposes.
- Meat is animal muscle, and is mostly made up of bundles of protein and water. As meat heats up, the proteins begin to denature and sugars, salts, nucleic acids, and water are pushed toward the surface, becoming the “meat juice” that most grillers are familiar with. The greater the temperature increase, the more the meat will contract, losing mass as it loses juice.
- When most cuts of meat reach an internal temperature of 145°F, they become safe for human consumption (pork may require a slightly higher temperature, according to the USDA).
- When the surface temperature of the meat hits 300°F, something called the Maillard reaction occurs (it’s actually a series of many chemical reactions), giving the external surface of the meat a delicious brown crust.
Cooking meat is therefore all about striking a balance between hitting the necessary internal temperature to make the meat safe and getting a high enough surface temperature for the Maillard reaction to occur while keeping in as much of the juice as possible. To make matters even more complicated, all of this happens very quickly, so a few degrees to high or a few minutes too long on the grill can ruin a piece of meat completely.
This is why prep is so important — meat prep is designed to give a cut the best possible chances of hitting that magic balance point, and if you aren’t preparing your meat well, there’s simply no way you are going to get the most out of it when it comes time to fire up the grill.
Here are a few steps you can take to improve your prep gain and guarantee that you’ll always get that perfect balance between safety, flavour, and juiciness.
- Defrost your meat in the refrigerator. Never use a microwave to thaw frozen meat, and if you are cooking steak, give it time to reach room temperature before putting it on the grill.
- Make sure the meat is dry before cooking or seasoning. The more moisture there is on the surface of the meat, the longer it will take to reach the Maillard reaction, so especially when cooking steaks, ribs, or chops, pat the surface of the meat dry before placing on the grill (this is less of a concern if you are using a dry rub or marinade).
- Time your cooking, and use a meat thermometer. If you aren’t an experienced griller, be scientific about your barbecue: use a timer and a meat thermometer so you know how long you need to keep the meat on the grill before flipping and removing from heat.
- Understand the particularities of your meat. This is probably the most important point: cooking a steak is very different from cooking a burger or a chicken breast, so make sure you understand what your particular cuts require — why does bone in meat taste better for example, or why do marbled steaks cook more evenly.
You don’t need to get a degree in food science to cook your dinner, but understanding the scientific process that is occurring when you grill will help demystify it, and will give you the tools you need to improve as a chef.
Make it Healthy
As it happens, grilling season corresponds with beach season in Canada, and for many meat fans, this can present a bit of a problem. Do you load up on your favourite grilled foods and risk not being able to fit into your swimsuit the next day? Or do you forego the pleasures of the plate to work on your beach body?
Fortunately, this is increasingly something of a false choice. Barbecue doesn’t need to be an unhealthy choice, and with the right mix of meats and a recipe designed to maximize flavour while minimizing unhealthy fats it can even be healthier than some of the alternatives.
If you want to learn about the best foods to eat to get lean you first need to understand the difference between healthy fats and unhealthy fats. After all, meat is already free of the worst culprit when it comes to weight gain — carbs — and the biggest argument for why steak or a rib roast is bad for you is that these foods are rich in animal fats.
Not all animal fats are the same, however, and there are ways to cut down on unhealthy trans fats and less healthy saturated fats without cutting down on meat altogether. For example, switching to grass fed beef is a great way to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, and because grass fed beef is significantly lower in calories than grain finished beef, you’ll be able to reduce your overall calorie count without significantly changing portion sizes.
Another thing you can do is explore different ways of preparing your meat. Oftentimes barbecue is considered unhealthy not because of the meat or how it has been cooked, but because of the sugar-rich sauces we put on it. There are plenty of recipes of low-carb barbecue sauces available online, and with a little bit of ingenuity, it isn’t that difficult to find replacement sweeteners that will help you get that distinctive barbecue sauce flavour without loading up on sugar.
Alternatively, you can consider trying out the ketogenic diet, a low-carb way of eating that switches the body over to burning fat as its primary fuel source. Keto eaters thrive of grilled meats and barbecue, because they tend to be rich in exactly the kinds of fats that keto eaters need as part of their diet.
Have Your Meat Delivered
Eating well can take up a lot of time and energy, and while eating healthy is becoming increasingly important for Canadians from all walks of life, the reality is that the hectic pace of life can make it difficult for people to live up to their own ideals. Fast food is everywhere, and food delivery apps make it easy for anyone to get cheap burgers delivered to their door. Even if you want to eat well, it can be hard to maintain your commitment to good local food when you get off work at 7:00 p.m. and you haven’t eaten since noon.
Most food experts agree that one of the best ways to shift toward a healthier diet is simply to cook more at home. In your own kitchen, you’ll be much more like to opt for wholesome, convenient options like grilled barbecue chicken breasts with veggie kebabs.
One of the benefits of having fresh meat delivered to your door is that you can buy the high-quality grilling meats you love without having to go far out of your way to pick up farm-fresh goods at a specialty butcher or farmers market. And if you order from truLOCAL, we make it easy for you to make sure that you always have a fridge and freezer full of your favourite cuts.
Unlike other grocery delivery services, we give you control over your order. If you want your meat box delivered to your apartment every two weeks, we’ll make sure it's waiting with your concierge when you get home; if you want to pause an order you can do so without affecting your regular delivery schedule.
You can also change your order whenever you want to, so if barbecue season has you dreaming of top sirloin steak you can add as much as you want to your next order, or you can make a special one-time order of a steak box. You can even have your order delivered to your cottage!
Most of us find that summer tends to slip through our fingers pretty quickly. In June, the long hot months seem to stretch on forever, but before you know it, Labour Day Weekend has come around again, and you find yourself wondering why you didn’t enjoy more quiet evenings on the patio, or trying that ambitious new barbecue recipe you told yourself you just had to check out this year.
Don’t let the summer pass you by ordering a truLOCAL meat box subscription, and make sure you have lots of great cuts on hand that will ensure you are out there grilling every night. Not only will this be a great way to make sure you get the most out of the summer, but it may also help you eat a healthier, more local diet. Get in touch with us today, and get started your very first meat box order of the season!