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Airflow (noun). The flow of air. In barbecue, one makes use of airflow by heating the air, which causes warm air to rise to the top and cold air to sink to the bottom, creating a convection current that cooks the food.
Ash bucket (noun). A metal bucket for ash from past fires, or for charcoal and kindling for future fires. Usually comes with a lid (to keep the ash, coals, or kindling in) and a shovel.
Ashen (verb). When charcoal turns white and ashy, and is therefore ready to cook over. Depending on the type of coals and the weather, this can take anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes.
Bake (verb). To bake is to cook food, whether baked goods, meats, or vegetables, in the dry heat of an oven or a grill with the lid on. Baking is typically done at a temperature of up to 375°F (190°C).
Bark (on Meat)
Bark (on Timber)
Bark (noun). The dry, harsh outer layer surrounding the trunk, stem, and branches of the tree. Most grillers and meat smokers remove the bark from the wood before cooking with it for even combustion and cleaner smoke.
Baste (verb). To baste is to brush or drizzle the surface of the meat with butter, fat, oil, or pan drippings to improve heat transfer and give the skin a crispy, golden-brown crust with a rich aroma and complex flavor resulting from the Maillard reaction.
Beechwood (noun). The wood of the beech tree. A hardwood, it burns evenly and smolders with a moderate smoke that’s best for grilling and smoking beef and pork.
Borax (noun). Borax, scientific name “sodium borate,” is a salt of boric acid added to charcoal briquettes as a powder to separate them from the commercial molds in which they’re made.
Black Wattle Wood
Broiler (noun). A broiler is any breed of chicken that’s bred and raised specifically for meat production. Broilers are slaughtered at 4 to 7 weeks of age, when they are about 4½ to 6 pounds in weight and of ideal size for broiling or roasting, whether in the oven or on the grill.
Broiler (noun). A broiler is the part of an oven where broiling is done. The broiler in an electric oven is the top rack and top panel. Gas ovens have a dedicated broiler drawer under the oven door, which uses the heat from the burner above it.
Broil (verb). To broil is to grill in the oven under dry, direct, and intense heat, typically in the range of 500 to 550°F (260 to 290°C). When the weather is bad and one’s only option is to cook indoors, broiling is the cooking method closest to grilling.
Caramelization (noun). The oxidation of sugar that gives it a golden-brown color, nutty aroma, and caramel flavor. Fructose, the natural sugar in fruit and vegetables, caramelizes at 230°F (110°C). Sucrose in sugar caramelizes at 320°F (160°C).
Charcoal (noun). The black carbon residue obtained either from burning compressed industrial waste (charcoal briquettes) or scrap lumber (lump charcoal) in the absence of oxygen. Charcoal is used as fuel for cooking, whether over an open fire or in a kettle grill. Many also throw in the firebox of their smokers.
Charcoal briquettes (noun, plural). Charcoal briquettes, known simply as “briquettes,” are the compressed coals made of coal dust, sawdust, wood chips, pulp, peat, borax, and binders (petroleum- or starch-based).
Chimney starter (noun). A chimney starter, also known as a “charcoal chimney,” is a cylindrical container made out of metal. It’s used for lighting batches of charcoal and preparing them for grilling or smoking meats.
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Convection (noun). A method of heat transfer. When air, fat/oil, water, or a cooking liquid get heated, it rises to the top and gets replaced by cool air, fat/oil, etc.
The continuous movement of hot air or liquid to the top and cool air or liquid to the bottom creates a convection current that warms, cooks, and browns the food.
Creosote (noun). When wood smolders, it produces tar, cresols, phonols, and a few other organic compounds that combine with moisture to form creosote—a flammable black gunk which builds up in the chimney and poses a fire hazard unless removed.
Cross-contamination (noun). When harmful bacteria get transferred from one piece of food to another through direct contact or through contaminated hands, a countertop, cutting board, or utensil that haven’t been sanitized properly.
Crosshatch Grill Marks
Crosshatch grill marks (noun, plural). The intersecting parallel grill marks that one gets when one rotates the meat, first with the ends facing 10 and 4 o’clock, the facing 2 and 8 o’clock, during grilling.
Direct-heat grilling (verb). Grilling by placing the food directly above the hot coals or smoldering wood in a kettle grill, or the lit burners on a gas grill. Some higher-end wood pellet grills have a deflector plate that slides under the grate for direct-heat grilling.
Dry heat (noun). The type of heat used for broiling, grilling, searing, and roasting food. Fat or oil is added to the pan, brushed on the grate, and/or rubbed onto the food to improve the conduction of heat and facilitate even cooking.
In addition to rubbing the meat with fat or oil before slapping it on the skillet or grill, or sliding it in the oven, many baste it throughout the cooking process to obtain a crispier crust.
Electric grill (noun). A grill unit powered by electricity instead of charcoal or gas. Most electric grills have flat-top griddles, though makes and models with tall ridges that impart grill marks on the meat can also be found.
Electric smoker (noun). A rig for smoking meats, seafood, and cheeses powered by electricity instead of equipped with a firebox.
Evaporative cooling (noun). Heat is a form of energy. When meat is grilled or smoked, it gets charged up with thermal energy. Some of that energy is used to convert the moisture it contains to vapor. That vapor escapes to the surface in the form of sweat, and the meat cools itself naturally, even during cooking.
Pitmasters call this “stalling.”
Fig wood (noun). The wood of the fig tree. A hardwood, it smolders with a mild, sweet, cinnamony smoke that’s best for grilling and smoking pork, poultry, and fish; less so for beef, lamb, and veal.
Foil (verb). To wrap a piece of meat tightly in aluminum foil before, during, or after cooking. Sometimes, this term is used synonymously for wrapping with butcher paper.
Fruitwood (verb). The wood from trees that bear fruit. Fruitwood is a type of hardwood that, thanks to its mild and fruity smoke, is commonly used for smoking pork, poultry, and seafood.
Fry (verb). To fry is to cook food in hot fat or oil, usually in a pan, pot, or fryer, until it is done and ready to eat. Depending on the amount of fat or oil used, there are three kinds of frying: pan-frying, shallow-frying, and deep-frying.
Pan-frying is done in 1-2 tablespoons of fat or oil, just enough to cover the cooking surface. Shallow-frying is done in enough oil to make the food float. In deep-frying, the food is completely submerged in oil; in a tall pot, Dutch oven, or deep fryer.
Game (noun). The meat of wild birds and animals. Generally, game is hunted instead of being grown on a farm. It has a rich aroma and a strong flavor of “wild meat” that appeal to some and repel others.
Game birds (noun). Wild birds, including, but not limited to, geese, grouse, ostriches, pheasants, pigeons, quails, snipes, and waterfowl. Smoking complements the odor of game birds; sweet, slightly acidic sauces mellow their intense flavor out.
Ghee (noun). Ghee, also known as “clarified butter,” is regular butter that’s heated to evaporate the moisture and strained to remove the butterfat.
Grate (noun). A grate, also called a “grill grate,” is the part of a grill that comes in contact with the food. Most grates are made out of cast iron, cast stainless steel, or welded stainless steel rods.
The grates store heat and transfer it to the food during grilling. They also have holes through which hot air from the lit coals or gas flame can flow upward, cooking the food more evenly. Many have tall ridges that leave grill marks on the surface of the food.
To make gravy, a big block of butter and cooking liquid (such as beer, bouillon, broth, cream, whole milk, stock, or wine) are added to the pan. The gravy is simmered, with or without the addition of onions, then thickened with cornstarch and drizzled over the meat for serving, or in a ramekin alongside the meat.
Grease fire (noun). When grease gets heated to the temperature at which it ignites, a grease fire occurs. Grease fires should only be put out with Class B, BC, and ABC fire extinguisher.
Grease tray (noun). A sloped tray that goes on the bottom of gas grills, which collects fats and juices that drip off the meat during cooking and funnels it to a disposable cup or pan underneath.
Green wood (noun). Freshly-cut firewood that hasn’t been seasoned. Burns unevenly and emits a heavy smoke that imparts meats and vegetables with an unpleasant flavor.
Griddle (noun). A griddle, called “plancha” in Spanish-speaking parts of the world, is a flat, thick, and heavy metal plate for grilling food.
The plate, made of cast iron, carbon steel, or stainless steel, is either placed on the grill’s grates and preheated with it; or, in the case of electric grills heated by heating elements underneath.
While grates are ideal for meats, griddles provide a flat and smooth cooking surface for preparing delicate foods that mangle easily such as bacon, eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, toasted bread, French toast, and pancakes, to name a few.
In more recent years, grills electric grills and grill pans for the stovetop have also been made available.
Grill brush (noun). A brush with a scraper head and stiff bristles, whether made out of nylon, palmyra, or steel, for scraping burnt bits and pieces of food from the grill grate.
Grill (verb). Grilling is the cooking of food, typically meat and vegetables, over hot coals or the flame of a gas burner. The food is placed on a grate and cooked, directly or indirectly, with relatively high heat until it reaches the desired doneness.
Grill marks (noun, plural). Grill marks are the brown or black streaks left on the surface of meats, vegetables, and buns or slices of bread after they’ve been prepared on the grill.
Some cooks stick to single-strip grill marks, whereas others rotate their meats to give them crosshatch grill marks.
Grill marks are the outcome of the Maillard reaction, which takes place on the surface of food when it is cooked over relatively high heat. They make the food more appealing by giving it the typical BBQ look and impart it with the rich aroma and savory flavor resulting from “the Maillard.”
Hardwood (noun). The wood from dicot trees with flat, wide leaves rather than round, long needles. Hardwood is porous and generally suitable as cooking fuel.
Heat (noun). Thermal energy. For the purposes of cooking, heat is measured in degrees, Celcius (°C) in the metric system and Fahrenheit (°F) in the imperial system.
Heat transfer (noun). All cooking, except for the preparation of salads, cold soups, and some desserts, involves the transfer of heat—thermal energy—from a heat source to the food items.
Hickory (noun). The wood of the hickory tree. A hardwood, hickory smolders with a strong, savory smoke that paints meats dark and gives them a rich, bacon-like smell. It works well with pork, chicken, turkey, and game birds.
Igniter (noun). The igniter is the part of a gas grill that lights the gas. It consists of a spark generator, an electrode, a collector box, and wires. Some makes and models feature piezoelectric igniters. On others, the igniters are powered by a small battery that warrants replacement every now and then.
Ignition (noun). The act of igniting a charcoal, gas, pellet, or electric grill so that a flame starts or the heating elements are switched on.
Indirect heat (noun). Cooking food low and slow, with gentle heat, by placing it close to, not directly above or under, the heat source.
Indirect-heat grilling (verb). Grilling by placing the food over a charcoal-free zone on a kettle grill, or one with unlit burners on a gas grill.
Since wood pellet grills have a separate, isolated firebox, they provide indirect heat by default.
Jerky (noun). Beef that’s cured by trimming the fat, cutting the lean meat into thin strips, and then drying it. With no fats to go rancid and a low moisture content that wards off bacteria, jerky lasts for 1-2 weeks when left out and 1-2 months in the fridge.
Kitchen hygiene (noun). An umbrella term for the safety measures taken by the cook when storing, handling, prepping, cooking, and serving food. Hands are washed and countertops, cutting boards, and utensils are cleaned with the goal to prevent cross-contamination.
Kitchen shears (noun). A type of scissors for breaking down poultry, snipping fresh herbs, and opening packages. Kitchen shears are made out of food-grade stainless steel.
Lumber (noun). An umbrella term for wood that’s been cut and processed into beams and planks ready to use in construction and carpentry.
Lump charcoal (noun). Lump charcoal is made by burning scrap lumber in the absence of oxygen in a process called carbonization. The pieces of wood are loaded in a kiln, with the air cut off, until the moisture, sap, and chemicals in the wood have burned off.
Maillard reaction (noun). The Maillard reaction, folk name “browning,” is a chemical reaction that takes place on the surface of protein-rich foods at temperatures between 284°F (140°C) and 355°F (179°C).
The high heat causes the proteins and the carbohydrates to get charged up and start moving frantically. Eventually, the two start to collide and fuse, and their collision forms hundreds of aroma and flavor compounds that make the food smell appealing and taste savory.
The Maillard reaction is why seared steak, rotisserie chicken, toast bread, and roast coffee are so good. It is also why food comes out somewhat bland when it is boiled, steamed, poached, or cooked sous vide, as water’s boiling point is well below the minimum temperature required for browning to take place.
Marbling (noun). The streaks of intramuscular fat on a steak that melt during grilling, making the meat delectable and succulent. A well-marbled steak is one that gets eaten first at the table.
Marinade (noun). Dry rubs or wet marinades, whether oil- or water-based, that infuse meat with additional aromas and flavors before it is cooked.
Wet marinades use acids, such as lemon juice or vinegar, or enzymes from fruit juice that break down the proteins in tough cuts of meat and thus tenderize it.
Mesquite (noun). The wood of the mesquite tree. A hardwood, mesquite smolders with a strong, aromatic smoke that’s best for beef, veal, lamb, and game birds.
Messmate (noun). The wood of the messmate tree. A hardwood, messmate smolders with a nutty, popcorn-like smoke that imparts meats with a pleasant aroma and flavor. It’s highly versatile and can be used on dark and white meats alike.
Nitrates (noun, plural). An additive for curing meat that makes meat bright pink, keeps the fat that it contains from going rancid, and retards the growth of the breeds of bacteria that cause spoilage.
Oak wood (noun). The wood of the oak tree. A hardwood, oak wood burns slow and steady, making it ideal for long cooks. It smolders with a relatively heavy, somewhat savory smoke that works well on beef and pork.
Offset smoker (noun). A horizontal smoker with a long, round cooking chamber made out of a barrel and an isolated firebox on the side for smoking meats with indirect heat.
Peach wood (noun). The wood of the peach tree. A hardwood, peach wood gives off a fruity, nectarous smoke that does wonders to chicken, grouse, pheasants, and turkey.
Pecan wood (noun). The wood of the pecan tree. A hardwood, pecan wood has a sweet and mellow smoke that pairs equally well with beef and lamb as it does with pork and poultry.
Preheat (verb). Heating the grill empty and with the lid on, for about 15-20 minutes in the summer and fall, and 25-30 minutes in the spring and winter, so that the grate gets hot and the walls start to radiate heat.
Grilling works best when room-temperature meats and veg come into sudden contact with the uniformly-hot cooking surface. A properly preheated grill is one that browns and cooks foods evenly.
Quail (noun). Folk name for the European quail, also called “common quail,” a game bird that comes out particularly tasty when smoked.
Roast (verb). To roast is to cook food, whether roasts, slabs of meat, a suckling pig, a whole bird, or vegetables, in the dry heat of an oven or grill with the lid closed. Roasting is typically done at a temperature between 375°F (190°C) and 500°F (260°C).
Sap (noun). The sticky substance that circulates inside trees to carry water, mineral salts, and dissolved sugars from the roots all the way up to the leaves.
Sear (verb). To sear is to briefly brown a cut of meat at relatively high heat, in a skillet, or over direct heat on the grill. Searing gives the meat a crispy, golden-brown crust and imparts it with the rich aromas and savory flavors from the Maillard reaction.
Searing can cook thin cuts of meat through. Thick cuts of meat, however, require longer cooking times and a gentler temperature to cook fully on the inside, so they need to be started or finished at a gentler temperature.
Seasoned firewood (noun). Firewood that has been air-dried outside for one season or longer, or in a kiln at 120-190°F (49-88°C), until its moisture content has dropped to below 20%.
Seasoned firewood burns evenly and imparts a pleasant flavor on the meats when used for grilling or smoking.
Seasoning (verb). Drying freshly-cut firewood, whether by splitting it and leaving it to air-dry or heating it in a kiln, to remove the excess moisture and make it suitable to use as cooking fuel.
Seasoning the Grill Grate
Seasoning (verb). Brushing and oiling the grate before and after every use to give it protection from corrosion and rust. Seasoning requires heat, which polymerizes the oil onto the metal, so the grate must be heated for 10-15 minutes after the oil is applied.
A well-seasoned grate is one that won’t corrode and rust—and that keeps foods from sticking.
Skillet (noun). A skillet is a frying pan with a heavy bottom and sloped sides typically made of cast iron, carbon steel, or stainless steel. Skillets are used for searing thick cuts of meat, sautéing thin cuts of meat and vegetables, and pan-frying in general.
Slather (verb). To apply a binder, such as cooking oil, pickle juice, mustard, hot sauce, BBQ sauce, Worcestershire sauce, to a hunk of meat before applying the rub. The binder is said to help the dry rub adhere to the meat.
Smoke point (noun). The temperature at which a cooking fat or oil stops to ripple and shimmer, and starts to break down and burn. All fats and oils have a smoke point, some higher than others.
Heated past its smoke point, a fat or oil will emit a stream of bluish smoke that, if in the kitchen, stains the walls and sets off the fire alarm. Harmful compounds also form in the pan that make one’s food smell burnt and taste acrid.
Softwood (noun). The wood for coniferous trees with round, long needles rather than flat, wide leaves. Softwood is non-porous and, in some cases, has resin canals.
Softwood smolders with a heavy smoke that gives food a bitter taste and can sometimes cause illness, which is why it shouldn’t be used as a fuel for cooking.
Stall (verb). Meat stalls when its internal temperature rises to 150-175°F (65-80°C), then all of a sudden stops rising, sometimes for hours on end, because of evaporative cooling.
Terpenes (noun, plural). The aromatic compounds in herbs, shrubs, trees, and plants in general that give them their distinct floral aroma.
Timber (noun). An umbrella term for standing trees or wood from trees that have been cut down that, unlike lumber, has not yet been processed.
Trim (verg). Removing the excess fat from a cut of meat. Requires a knife with a sharp, flexible blade, such as the fillet knife.
Trimmings (noun, plural). The excess fat and meat scraps cut from a larger piece of meat. The fat can be melted in a skillet and cooked with; the scraps can be used to make broth.
USDA grades (noun). The United States Department of Agriculture’s grading system for the quality of beef. The grades are, from superior to inferior, Prime, Choice, and Select.
- Prime beef has the best marbling and is most suitable for dry cooking over high heat, be it broiling, grilling, or roasting.
- Choice beef has good marbling and is most suitable for wet cooking with moderate heat, be it braising or stewing.
- Select beef has the least marbling; it is lean. It must be cooked low and slow, and doesn’t come out as succulent.
Buy the highest-grade cuts you can afford. The more marbling on the cut, the more flavorsome the meat.
Vertical smoker (noun). An upright smoker with a tall, round or rectangular cooking chamber and an isolated firebox at the bottom for smoking meats with indirect heat.
W, X, Y, Z
Walnut wood (noun). The wood of the walnut tree. A hardwood, walnut wood burns cleanly with a strong-flavored smoke that pairs best with beef, particularly brisket.
Boiling, poaching, and simmering are all wet-heat cooking methods.
Wood chips (noun). Small pieces of wood, with the bark stripped and cut into chunks with a width and length of 1 inche or less and a thickness of ¼ to ½ inches, for grilling and smoking.
Wood chunks (noun). Medium pieces of wood, with the bark removed and cut into chunks with a width and length of 2 inches and a thickness of up to 4 inches, for grilling and smoking.
Wood logs (noun). Large pieces of wood, from the trunk of the tree or a hefty branch, with the bark stripped, then cut crosswise and sometimes split into halves or quarters, for burning as fuel.
Wood pellets (noun). Small, cylindrical pieces of biomass, usually ½ inches long, used as a fuel for pellet grills. Wood pellets are made from compacted sawdust, scrap lumber, and the other residuals leftover from sawmilling.