The news: The Fourth of July may have come and gone this year, but the summer grilling season is just getting into high gear. If you're planning on having another barbecue over the Independence Day weekend, you might be looking for some tips to get that perfectly glazed, tender piece of meat.
Luckily, food scientist Guy Crosby, a science editor at America's Test Kitchen, has shared some of his best tips over at the Institute of Food Technologies. While a tried-and-true barbecue lover might be familiar with some of these, Crosby also offers scientific insight into what makes the perfect BBQ:
1) Salt-based marinades are good if you want to go tender, but not always.
"It really depends on the type of meat and the muscle structure. The protein that forms when the salt breaks the muscle down helps to retain moisture, and makes the tissue a little looser," Crosby says. "Acid-based marinades such as lime, lemon juice or vinegar don't have a huge effect. They will help break down some connective tissue and flavor the meat, but it's really only on the surface."
2) The idea that searing keeps the moisture inside is "an old kitchen myth."
It seems to date back to a German chemistry book from 1847. But the fact is that the crust on top of meat is not waterproof, and moisture can continue to escape; in fact, experiments show that seared meat might actually be drier.
3) "Low and slow" is the rule.
"The lower you cook the temperature, the less the fibers will shrink, the less tough the meat will be because it won't lose as much moisture. Typically tough cuts of meat are cooked this way to keep the meat moist," Crosby says. "Cooking the meat slowly breaks down tough connective tissue to form gelatin, which binds moisture. The amount of fat also helps because it breaks up the protein, lubricates the meat and makes it tenderer."
4) Consider wood flavor as a factor.
"The oxygen breaks down the lignin in wood and releases a smoky aroma that sticks to the moist surface of the meat, flavoring it," Crosby says.
5) It's easy to thicken a BBQ sauce.
"The most common one would be cornstarch. The best way is to add cornstarch to room temperature water first, mix well, and then add the combination to the sauce and heat. Flour is another option," Crosby says.
6) Lastly, let the meat rest before you cut it.
"When you cook meat, the muscle fibers and the proteins begin to shrink and squeeze out moisture. If you immediately slice a piece of meat, the moisture that has been squeezed out of the muscle fibers will run out," Crosby says. "But if you let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size and thickness of the meat, the fibers start to soak back up some of that moisture."