Penn State expert offers tips to make summer barbecue sizzle

August 10, 2006

University Park, Pa. -- The heart of the summer barbecue season has passed, but some backyard chefs are still trying to figure out which meats and cuts to use. However, a meat expert from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences offers words of wisdom to those with the gusto to grill.

The first question on any griller's mind is which meats and cuts to use. William Henning, professor of dairy and animal science, knows just which cuts cut it on the grill.

"Some cuts that are labeled as steaks aren't ideal for the grill," Henning said. "Cuts such as round or chuck are tougher and drier and don't grill well because they have a higher amount of connective tissue. Typically, you get what you pay for. The less expensive the cut, the less tender it will be. I recommend steaks that come from the rib or the loin, such as Delmonicos, T-bones, top loin or sirloin because they grill much better."

This isn't to say, however, that there aren't any delicious and affordable cuts. Henning's two favorite cuts are both tasty and tender without the large price tag.

"Generally, I enjoy sirloin and the shoulder tender, also called the petite tender," he said. "Although it is a bit hard to find at the supermarket, you will commonly find it in restaurants. Research has shown that the shoulder tender is actually the second most tender muscle in the carcass, ranking just a bit lower than the tenderloin or filet mignon.

"The sirloin, on the other hand, is good because of its taste and how well it grills. Both cuts are also cheaper than many other high-grade cuts of meat, making them economical and highly desirable for anyone's grill."

Since the petite tender can be difficult to locate at your local supermarket, Henning also recommends the flat-iron steak, which is more common and shares similar properties with the petite tender.

For those interested in the classic hamburger, Henning recommends using certified Angus beef. Just like a high-grade cut of steak, certified Angus beef delivers the most tender and delicious burger for your buck. For those interested in lamb, Henning suggests skipping the expensive chops for the much less expensive boneless butterflied lamb legs because of their large size and how well they grill without overcooking.

Of course, anytime there is raw meat about, a griller's main concern should be safety.

"Food safety is paramount while grilling beef, pork and chicken," Henning said. "When grilling beef, make sure that you cook it to at least 160 degrees. As for chicken, make sure that it reaches about 165 degrees. I recommend using a meat thermometer to check the temperature of your meats when grilling."

Along with grilling meats at the proper temperature, Henning also advises grillers to be wary of cross-contamination when moving raw meat to the grill and cooked meat to the dinner table.

"People will accidentally pick up the cooked meat with the same utensils they used to handle the raw meat or place the cooked meat on the same plate that had the raw meat on it," he said. "This can lead to the cooked meat becoming contaminated."

Another common grilling mistake is thawing meats improperly. "Never grill a frozen piece of meat -- always thaw it first," he said. "Frozen meat gets overcooked on the outside while still partially frozen or raw on the inside, leaving you with either a burnt burger or an undercooked patty."

Avoid leaving frozen meats on the counter to thaw for a few hours before grilling, Henning suggests. The counter can become contaminated by the thawing meat, and the meat still may not fully thaw in time. To overcome these thawing dilemmas, Henning recommends setting the meat in the refrigerator 24 hours before grilling to make certain it is properly thawed.

Safety precautions aside, grilling is not only a fun and tasty way to prepare meat outdoors, but it also has health benefits. Grilling tends to get rid of a lot more fat compared to pan-frying, Henning said, because the meat does not cook in its own fat. While grilling eliminates about 16 to 18 percent of the meat's fat, this loss also will shrink the meat when cooking patties. To counteract this loss, just add a bit more meat when making the patty.

Keeping these tips in mind, a grill novice can become a master in no time at all. "Grilling is all about being creative," Henning said. "Try grilling something new this summer like a brisket or kabob. You can even purchase planks of cedar wood to grill your meat on and seal in that cedar flavor."

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009