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12 BBQ Tricks and Tips from Pitmasters

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Summer’s in the air, and that means the smell of barbeque should be too. Break out your tongs and hone your skills with these BBQ tips from the experts.

1. DON’T USE A GAS GRILL.

There are a lot of different ways to cook barbecue—direct heat, indirect heat, with charcoal, with wood chips, with split logs—but one thing that most experts agree on is that a gas grill isn’t the way to go. “The smoke is an ingredient in itself,” writes chef and TV personality Valentine Warner. Without it, you get the heat, but you’re missing out on the nuanced flavor.

2. USE WOOD FROM FRUIT TREES FOR EXTRA FLAVOR.

Speaking of nuance—to change up the usual flavor, try adding fruit tree wood chips to your charcoal. Fruit woods are “mild in flavor and high in sap, and generally have fewer impurities in them,” writes Myron Mixon in his book Everyday Barbecue: At Home with America’s Favorite Pitmaster. “You can choose from whatever is easiest to find near you: apple, cherry, grape, and my personal favorite, peach.”

3. SOAK WOOD CHIPS IN WATER BEFORE COOKING.

Another tip from Mixon: soak wood chips in water for “at least an hour or, even better, overnight” before draining them. Then wrap them in an aluminum foil “burrito” and put them in your grill. The water content makes the chips produce more smoke, which increases your flavor.

4. “IF YOU’RE LOOKING, IT AIN’T COOKING.”

The proper technique for cooking barbecue can be summed up with three words: “low and slow.” Be patient. “Try not to check the temperature more than every half an hour at most since it cools things off when you do,” writes John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed in Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue. “There’s really no reason to open the cooker for the first couple of hours unless you think things are going too fast. As the saying goes, if you’re looking, it ain’t cooking. After that, every hour or so you can mop the meat with your sauce and check the temperature while you’re at it.”

5. LET THE MEAT SIT BEFORE EATING.

After removing your meat from the grill, let it sit for a few minutes. “This seals the juices and keeps the meat from drying out,” writes Mixon. “Do not cut until you are ready to immediately serve and eat.” Another juice-saving tip, from the Academia Barilla Barbecue: 50 Easy Recipes: don’t poke holes in your meat while it’s cooking. Instead, “to turn meat, do not use forks, but barbecue tongs or spatulas.”

6. AVOID LIGHTER FLUID-FLAVORED MEAT.

If you’re using lighter fluid to get your charcoal fire started, says fiery foods expert Scott Roberts, make sure that the fire is completely out before you introduce meat into the mix. If the fire’s not out, then there’s still some lighter fluid that hasn’t been burned away, and you do not want that taste on your food. You’ll know it’s time to start cooking when “the charcoal [is] mostly an ash-gray color with a little bit of glowing red underneath.” It should take about a half an hour.

7. LAY DOWN ALUMINUM FOIL FOR EASY CLEAN-UP.

You may like cooking, and you may like eating, but nobody likes cleaning up afterward. To expedite the process, Roberts suggests to “line the inside bottom of your cooker with a couple of sheets of aluminum foil before you put your briquettes in. This will give you a quicker and easier clean-up of the gray coals and ash once you’re done barbecuing.”

8. KEEP YOUR EQUIPMENT CLEAN.

This one’s for barbecue newbies, or those who have just invested in a new smoker. Before you use it for the first time, explains award-winning Texas barbecue master in Aaron Franklin in Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto, build the biggest fire you can and let it rage for 45 minutes to an hour. Doing so “seal[s] up the pores of the metal and incinerate[s] any remains and by-products—oil, grease, metal shavings, and any other gunk—of the manufacturing process… This is also a good thing to do if you haven’t used your cooker in a long time and don’t clean it regularly and the inside is covered with rancid grease or mold.” 

9. SOAK WOODEN SKEWERS IN WATER TO AVOID BURNING.

If kebabs are on your summer menu, make sure to soak them in cold water for at least 30 minutes before use to keep them from burning. That tip comes from Brazilian Barbecue & Beyond, by the minds behind Brazilian barbecue joint Cabana, who add: “If using metal skewers, wipe them with a piece of paper towel dipped in vegetable oil to stop food from sticking to them.” Jamie Purviance, author of Weber’s Way to Grill: The Step-by-Step Guide to Expert Grilling, notes that if you’ll be doing a lot of cooking, you can soak a bunch of skewers for an hour, drain then, freeze them, and pull them out a few at a time as needed.

10. PROPER AIR CIRCULATION IS KEY.

Meat shouldn’t touch anything—other than the surface it’s sitting on, of course—while it’s cooking. Other meat and the sides of the cooker are both a no-no. “Before you buy your smoker, take a look at how big a full 12-pound brisket measures and then think about how many you can get on the cooker you’re looking at,” suggests Franklin. “And you don’t want the meat smushed up against the edges either. It needs to have space around it for airflow.”

11. STAY AWAY FROM GROCERY STORE LOGS.

Prefer smoking meat over wood fires to charcoal? It may be convenient to use the firewood sold in your local grocery store, but, Franklin cautions, it doesn’t produce the best results: “A lot of it is kiln dried, meaning that even the most pyro-challenged among us will have no trouble starting a fire with it, but the pieces will burn so fast and with so little smoke that you won’t get anywhere when you cook with them.” To tell if a piece of wood has been kiln dried, pick it up and feel how heavy it is; “if the log feels unnaturally light in your hand, it’s going to burn like gasoline.” Craigslist and the classifieds, Franklin argues, are better options for those serious about finding logs for their ‘cue.

12. USE ALUMINUM FOIL AS A GRILL BRUSH.

If you’re not quite so serious about the craft of barbecue, to the point where you don’t have all the tools on-hand, don’t worry. In place of a grill brush, writes Taming the Flame author Elizabeth Karmel, you can just “crumple a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil until it’s the size of a navel orange and pick it up between locking chef tongs. The tongs will act as the handle. Holding onto the ball of foil, brush away.”

All images via iStock.

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George Orwell's 11 Tips for Proper Tea Making
Public Domain // Mendhak // CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic (Wikimedia Commons)
Public Domain // Mendhak // CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic (Wikimedia Commons)

More than 70 years ago, in the January 12, 1946, edition of the Evening Standard, George Orwell wrote up 11 tips for making and consuming tea. Published under the title "A Nice Cup of Tea," Orwell noted that "at least four [points] are acutely controversial." That's a bold claim!

So what does it take to make an Orwellian cup of tea? Read on.

A NICE CUP OF TEA BY GEORGE ORWELL

If you look up 'tea' in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.
This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:

FIRSTLY

First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays—it is economical, and one can drink it without milk—but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase 'a nice cup of tea' invariably means Indian tea.

SECONDLY

Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities—that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.

THIRDLY

Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.

(Ed. note: a hob is a stove burner in this context. Depends a bit on what sort of pot you're using whether it's safe to put in on the burner!)

FOURTHLY

Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes—a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.

FIFTHLY

Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.

SIXTHLY

Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.

SEVENTHLY

Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.

EIGHTHLY

Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup—that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one's tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.

NINTHLY

Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.

TENTHLY

Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.

LASTLY (SADLY NOT ELEVENTHLY)

Lastly, tea—unless one is drinking it in the Russian style—should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don't like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

Orwell concludes:

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one's ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

Let the arguing commence, tea lovers!

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Job Alert: The UK Needs a Chicken Nugget Taste-Tester

Do you like highly-processed chicken molded into mushy, breaded bites? Are you willing to relocate to England? Can your palate distinguish a savory nugget from a mediocre one? Your dream job awaits, AJC.com reports.

British retail chain B&M recently posted a job listing calling for a "chicken nugget connoisseur" to help the company get feedback on their new line of frozen food products. The chosen applicant—or applicants—will get a monthly voucher worth £25 ($34) to spend on frozen goods. Job duties consist of eating nuggets and other items and then providing B&M feedback.

The post describes the position as "temporary," so it's unlikely there's opportunity for advancement. If you care to apply, B&M will accept a paragraph describing yourself and why you’d be good for the job—though if you actually have a CV full of previous nugget-related positions, we're confident they'd love to see it.

[h/t AJC.com]

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