Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Grilling Tips


This week's grilling tips come from British chef, acclaimed food writer, television star, and humanitarian, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Beginning his career in the food industry working as a sous chef at the River Cafe in London, he quickly realized that his free spirit and lack of discipline made him ill-suited for the restaurant industry. Whittingstall then moved on to become a successful food writer, publishing pieces in the Sunday Times and The Observer. Whittingstall took his career and eccentricity to the next level with the popular television shows, Cook on the Wild Side and four other series based on the farm where he lived, River Cottage, in Dorset, England.

Whittingstall became known for his relentless campaigning of holistic values and a back-to-basics philosophy in regards to meat production, cookery, and self-sustainable farming. This passion for food ethics and animals inspired three best-selling cookbooks, The River Cottage Cookbook, The River Cottage Year and The River Cottage Meat Book. The latter is an excellent reference on not only delicious and virtuous preparation of meat but also a book written for the consumer, promoting social awareness and change in meat production, sales and preparation, specifically, grilling.

Grilling Tips from the The River Cottage Meat Book's 'Meat Manifesto'

Three Golden Rules
1. "This applies to cooking over wood as well as over charcoal— don't cook over flames, cook over embers. Resist the impulse to start cooking while your fire is still producing flames."

2. "Remove the fat and you remove the problem. You don't have to cut every last scrap of fat from your meat, and in the context of the fierce heat of the barbecue, the subtle veins of marbling fat become more precious than ever. When it reaches a certain temperature it will start to "render" and drip in generous trickles on to the fire, which will flare up and spoil the meat. So I usually trim it back to a modest 1/8 inch or so."

3. "Be generous with the fuel medium (i.e., wood as well as charcoal). The no-flames rule means that you should not start refueling beneath food that is already cooking. So if you want to avoid a lengthy, foodless refueling delay mid barbecue, begin by burning a generous amount of charcoal or wood that will settle to a thick pile of glowing embers and sustain the cooking temperature for a good hour or so."

What Can Go Wrong
"There are two things bad barbecuing does to spoil good meat. The first is the direct action of flame on the surface of the meat. Instead of browning and caramelizing the sugars on the surface, as we would like, flames deposit the soot of combustion on it—a black carbon coating with quite an unpleasant taste. The second problem is that of rising smoke from burning fat. Unlike wood smoke's mellow taste, fat smoke has a nasty, acrid note that spoils rather than complements the flavor of the meat. The second problem compounds the first, of course, because any fat dripping into the fire will cause flames to flare up and leave their sooty deposit on the meat."

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