Over the years, you have no doubt learned many tips and tricks from your parents, friends, colleagues or that stranger down that café who struck a conversation with you out of the blue. From many of such conversation, you can tell that people often hold their own beliefs about BBQ as gospel.
Here, we share the myths that had been circulating and attempt to explain them. Starting with.
Myth #1. You Can Tell The Temperature By Holding Your Hand Over The Grill
I consider the human hand to be extremely versatile, but not magical. For the record, the hand is especially terrible at sensing temperature.
But I can understand how this myth comes about. Our hands contain an immense number of sensory receptors. These receptors react to the external environment and produce electrical signals to our brain, compared to past experiences, and make a judgment.
But this judgment is prone to errors as the temperature that you detect is relative to your hand temperature. Consider this, have you tried washing your freezing cold hands with running room temperature water? Did you not feel that the water is warm, or in some instances, scalding?
However, remember that the temperature of the water remains at 83F but the signal you got was probably around 100F. Scientificamerican have a detailed study of this phenomenon.
Moreover, the distance between your hand and the grates will cause a difference in sensation. Trying to hold your hand 1 inch, then 5 inches above the grates. The feeling is totally different.
Hence, hovering your hand inches above the grates stands you a better chance of getting a well-done limb. In many cases, you have a better chance to get a good steak with a thermometer.
Myth #2. You Need Barbecue Sauce To Call A Barbecue A Barbecue
One of the American favorite sauces – the BBQ sauce. Just because barbecue sauce has a barbecue in it doesn’t make it the official sauce. In fact, the BBQ sauce has changed a lot since the early 19th century. If anything, the modern BBQ sauce that we are used to now is very different from the seasoning that was used – modern BBQ sauces are more tomato-ish.
Any pit master who spent countless hours perfecting the meat on their grill will most probably consider applying BBQ sauce an embarrassment. It is definitely not compulsory to use BBQ sauce in BBQ.
Myth #3. Searing Your Meat Seals In The Juices
What? You must be joking if this isn’t true. Get the grates as hot as possible, place the steak on it and let the high heat cement a harder surface and lock in the juices. It sounds plausible, no?
No. It does not work that way. The moisture or juices in the meat are very very small molecules. It won’t be impeded just by a slightly hardened, browned crust. Heating will always squeeze out juices and nothing you do can stop it.
This myth was first posited by a German pioneer in organic chemistry. In 1847, he published a monograph titled “researches on the chemistry of food”, proposed that “the losses of muscle could be prevented by heating the meat surface very quickly”. His words, not mine.
This theory was later debunked by a study done by the University of Missouri in 1930. However, this persistent myth managed to survive until today.
What this method does do is caramelize the surface of the meat, bringing you that sweet flavor. Ironically, this sensation, is perhaps, one of the drivers behind the propagation of this myth.
Myth #4. Meat Should Always Fall Off The Bone To Be Considered Good
Heard of the saying – “It is so tender, it falls off the bone!”. This is a personal preference, not a fact. There is nothing wrong to enjoy a piece of tofu-like BBQ ribs. Equally, there is nothing wrong with enjoying one that doesn’t.
In fact, according to the competition standard. A rib that falls off the bone is considered too tender. A good rib, by competition standard, should be tender to be bitten off cleanly and easily.
Take this saying with a pinch of salt. Less disagreeing and more enjoying.
Myth #5. Marinade Tenderizes The Meat
You may have heard of this – marinades sink deeps into the meat, tenderizing it and creating more flavor as it permeates through it. The truth is far from it. Goldwyn busted this myth by finding that marinades don’t penetrate more than an eighth of an inch of the meat, even with hours of soaking.
He suggested using spices and herbs on the surface to enhance the aroma instead of using marinades. A sprinkle of sugar will help with browning and flavor.
Myth #6. Barbecue Is Derived From French Term – Barbe a Queue
The French term barbe-a-queue means Beard to Tail. This is supposed to refer to the act of barbecuing a whole pig. This is just ridiculous. This explanation doesn’t sit well with etymologists.
Probably, best said by the Oxford English Dictionary – “The alleged Fr. barbe a queue ‘beard to tail,’ is an absurd conjecture suggested merely by the sound of the word.” Once again, their words, not mine but cannot be apter. Absurdity. The most probable explanation of the word “barbecue” comes from the Haiti Indians.
Myth #7. Flipping Your Meat More Than Once Cause It To Be Tough
This applies to all kind of food. From steaks to burgers. The theory behind it is that frequent flipping will cause the juices to leak from the impact of the turn. Imagine, the steak bouncing on the grates every time you turn. Each bounce causes some moisture to leak out.
In my opinion, this theory is often misused. For burger patties, this might be somewhat true. But that is only because burgers are thin. Flipping it once is more than enough to cook it thoroughly. For steak, that is a whole different story. If you subscribed to the idea of only flipping it once, chances are you will get unevenness where a side is more cooked than the other.
So, flip that steak often.
Myth #8. Soaking Bamboo Skewers Before Grilling Prevents Them From Burning
For the record – wood burn eventually, no matter how soaked. There are recipes that suggested soaking your skewers for 20 minutes before grilling it. Being the amateur I once was, I tried it – it got burnt. Hardly a surprise there.
Consider this, a bamboo skewer is that teeny weeny bit of wood. It cannot absorb and contained that much water in it. Throwing them over a flame will help them to survive for a couple more seconds. Soaking them for 20 minutes (1200 seconds) for 3 seconds more. Not really value for effort there. Use a metal skewer instead.
Myth #9. Lifting The Lid Adds To Grilling Time
“Lookin’ ain’t cooking”. The theory behind this goes like this. Opening the lid frequently lets heat escape, and extending the amount of time needed to cook that meat. This is familiar, isn’t it? It is similar to the concept of not opening your fridge door too often – the cold air leaks.
The thing is, like the fridge theory, the hot air does escape from the grill. But it is insignificant. The meat will still get cooked even if you open the lid several times in that 20 minutes timeframe.
So, open away and flip the meat as needed.
Myth #10. Seasoning Steaks With Salt Before Cooking Will Cause It To be Tough
The theory behind this is that salt will deprive and drain all moisture in the steak due to it being an ionic compound meaning it is hygroscopic. Its properties allow it to absorb both liquid water and vapor in the air.
So, the saying about salt absorbs moisture is true. But only if you salt it hours before cooking it. Salting it just before getting it on the grates is perfectly fine. Within that short time, it wouldn’t make that much of a difference and it enhances browning too.
Myth #11. Using A Fork To Flip A Steak Will Cause The Juices To Leak Out
The idea is that using a fork will cause holes in the steak and juices will leak out by the gallons from it. This theory is not entirely true. Imagine a lake, will it matter if you extract a gallon of water from it?
While there is indeed a leak from the holes that you poked. It is not significant in the grand matters of steak-grilling. What matters more is that you flip it to ensure evenness in cooking. And no, the moisture is not going to leak out by the buckets, a drop or two won’t matter.
Myth #12. Everything, Everything Is For The Sake Of A Smoke Ring
That pinkish band on the outer rim of the meat just below the crust? It is the ultimate sign of a great steak! No, the ultimate sign of a great steak is when it melts in my mouth.
There are fans who swear by this. But I say don’t get too fixated on this. While beautiful looking steak has that pinkish ring. Not all pinkish ring means that the steak is good. That ring can also exist in under-cooked or over-cooked meat too.
Also, smoke is not pink in color, it would not cause a “pink” ring. It is caused by a reaction between myoglobin in the meat and carbon dioxide gases during cooking.
Really, don’t get too hung up on this.
Myth #13. The Higher The BTU Rating Of Your Grill, The Higher The Temperature Of Grill
BTU stands for British Thermal Units / Hour. Many manufacturers capitalize on the higher BTU of their grills as an absolute advantage compared to others. The US Energy Information Administration defines BTU as “the quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of liquid water by 1-degree Fahrenheit at the temperature that water has its greatest density”.
So, it means the higher the BTU, the higher the quantity of heat require and by extension, the more fuel used. It does not mean higher heat, period.
Myth #14. The Pinkish Juice From A Steak Is Blood
Many said that the pinkish juice from a steak is diluted blood. That sounds reasonable. I cut my finger the other day and it does look somewhat like that – only redder. Admittedly, seeing that ghoulish blood-like liquid oozing out from the meat seems unappetizing.
But fortunately for us, no, it is not blood. The reddish meat juices are just water made pink with a protein called myoglobin, found in muscle tissue. It is not found in blood. So have no worries and enjoy that steak.
Myth #15. A Well-Used BBQ Pit Adds Flavor To Food
As reasonable as it sounds, it doesn’t work the same way as a well-seasoned cast iron pan. If you do clean your grill frequently – it will work as good as new and it doesn’t confer any more flavor to your food. The flavor comes from good ingredient and well-honed cooking skills.
But, good job on that cleaning in any case.
Myth #16. Your Grill Can Clean Itself
If someone is a proponent of Myth 15 and does not clean the grill. It is bad news. A dirty grill makes dirty food. It confers flavor – the weird, irritating and unpleasant taste that makes you want to spit that steak out but can’t in front of all your friends.
Oh, and pre-heating the grill up for 10 minutes is not clean enough. It kills bacteria for sure, but would you eat from a grill that charred black from all the oil and fats that was on it from the BBQ last season? Do yourself a flavor, get it cleaned from time to time.
Myth #17. Leaving Bones In Adds Flavor To The Meat
The saying that bones, inherently, contains flavorful compounds that will be transferred to the meat that wraps it is often propagated. It is true that bones contain compounds such as calcium phosphate and collagen. But it can only be extracted and form gelatin when boiled over time – called a soup stock.
The grilling time for a steak is too short – nor is it boiling. The “flavor” will not get transferred to the meat, contrary to popular belief.
What it does is making it looks very appetizing and presentable. So cook it with the bones on but don’t count it for additional flavor.
Myth #18. The More You Look, The More You Need To Cook
An extension of the “do not open that lid theory”. It posits that the more you peek at your steak while it is cooking, it gets shy and wants to stay on the grates a little longer. Once again, no, the amount of time peeking it will not significantly increase the needed time on the grill.
So peek away.
Myth #19. You Need To Soak Your Wood Chips Beforehand
This myth perpetuates that you can add flavor or season your wood just like food. The seasoned wood will, therefore, confers flavor and aroma into your food. It is also said that wet wood causes more smoke and the more smoke is better for the aroma too.
Well. Wet wood is more resistant to fire. Which means you will get a hell of a time trying to light it up. On the other hand, smoke will only permeate the steak after 20 minutes. The smoky aroma that you are smelling? It probably came from your shirt.
Myth #20. Steaks Will Cook Better If You Rest Them At Room Temperature Before Grilling
Just nope. While it true that steaks at room temperature will promote evenness in cooking. Resting it at room temperature does nothing other than to breed bacteria. Getting it out from the fridge and straight to the grill, spent the time anticipating that food probably better justify your time.
Myth Or No Myth, BBQ Remains Popular
As one of the favorite cooking styles of people around the globe. Barbecue has given rise to many interesting myths over the last century. Some are somewhat justified, many are just imagination and good stories. In this article, we have covered 20 of them. Do you have any of your own?