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A New Way to Grill: Barbecue-Braising

Season, sear, braise, and glaze your way to slow-cooked flavor from the grill.

Fine Cooking Issue 99
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Why braise on the barbecue?

Come summer, not many cooks are thinking pot roast or short ribs. Who wants to heat up the kitchen? I don’t. But I don’t want to take a three-month pass on slow-cooked dishes, either. So I solved the problem by taking it outside. I call this new cooking method barbecue-braising.

For the most part, you probably use your grill to quickly cook steaks, burgers, and chicken breasts over high heat. But the grill is great for braising, too. Traditionally, meat is braised by browning it in a Dutch oven, adding a flavorful liquid and aromatics, and cooking it slowly for several hours on the stovetop or in the oven until it’s meltingly tender. (I actually prefer the oven method, since the heat source is more even.)

When barbecue-braising, the grill performs like an oven: You just put your pot on the grill, cover, and let the meat simmer for several hours. But with this method, you have two advantages over the indoor technique. First, before braising, you can brown the meat directly on the grill, which adds extra flavor. And after braising, you can brush the cooked meat with a tasty glaze (a part of each of these recipes) and finish it directly over the fire. The result: delicious, saucy, fall-off-the-bone meat.

Barbecue-braising in four steps:

1. Season
Apply a dry rub before cooking for an initial layer of flavor.
2. Sear
Grill over the hottest part of the fire to create a flavorful browned crust.
3. Braise
Move the meat to a covered pot on the cooler section of the grill so it cooks slowly and becomes infused with flavors from the braising liquid.
4. Glaze
Quickly brown the tender meat over the hottest part of the grill to caramelize the glaze for a final layer of flavor.

Grill skills

A gas grill is best for barbecue-braising, because it’s easy to control the grill’s heat level for the two grilling techniques this method requires—direct and indirect. If you consider yourself a fire master, though, you can make all these recipes on a charcoal grill (click below for instructions on setting up the charcoal grill). It takes a bit more attention and effort to maintain the fire, but cooking over charcoal delivers a nice, smoky flavor.

How to Barbecue Braise on a Charcoal Grill

Barbecue braising requires two heat zones, one for direct grilling and one for indirect grilling. Maintaining the proper temperatures requires a bit more maintenance on a charcoal grill than on a gas grill. Here are some guidelines on how to set up the grill; you’ll also see specific directions in each of the recipes.

For direct grilling: Ignite about 5 quarts of charcoal (80 to 100 briquettes), using either a chimney starter or an electric starter. When the charcoal is burning well, spread it out over the surface of the charcoal grate and put the cooking grate in place. Let the charcoal burn down until it’s coated with gray ash. To test the temperature, hold your hand about two inches above the cooking grate. For direct medium heat, you should be able to hold your hand there for 3 to 4 seconds; for direct medium-high heat, 2 to 3 seconds.

For indirect grilling: If the coals from the direct grilling step have burned down too much, ignite about 5 quarts of fresh charcoal. When the charcoal is burning well, divide the coals evenly, banking them against two sides of the grill—use long-handled tongs to move the coals. Put the cooking grate in place; if your cooking grate has hinged sections, position them over the charcoal. Place an oven thermometer on the grate over the cooler area, close the lid, and let the coals burn until the thermometer reads about 350ºF. When ready, place the pot over the cool zone. Check the thermometer every 20 minutes, replenishing the charcoal as necessary to keep the temperature between 325ºF and 375ºF. If the coals are still burning well, you can simply add a handful of unlit coals on top. Otherwise, you’ll need to add lit coals.

Here’s how to set up your gas grill to use direct heat for the initial sear and final glaze and indirect heat for the long braise. Direct grilling means cooking food directly over the heat source. Turn on all the burners, setting them at the level indicated in the recipe, and let the grill heat for 10 to 15 minutes.

Indirect grilling means the heat source is around, but not directly under, the food. Turn all but one of the burners on medium heat. For a three-burner grill, leave the center burner off. Set an oven or grill thermometer on the grate above the unlit burner and close the lid. Let it heat for about 10 minutes. Adjust the temperature of the burners as necessary until the thermometer reads 350°F. When ready, set the pot over the unlit burner.


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