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Grilling season is just around the corner so dust off those tongs and start cleaning the grates.
Chef Michael Lomonaco, owner of Porter House Bar and Grill in New York City spoke with TODAY to break down the dos and don'ts of great grilling. He shared his best tips for choosing the perfect cut of meat, how to maintain your grill and the proper ways to cook chicken, steak and fish so you get the best results every time.
Bring on the barbecue!
How to grill red meat
The prime cuts of meat (rib eye, strip steak, filet mignon) have the most marbleized fat content, making them more flavorful, tender and rich in beefy goodness. But they're also the most expensive. You can get more bang for your buck with less expensive cuts like hanger steak, skirt steak and sirloin steak that are flavorful and delicious when grilled. Here's the secret: Marinating the less expensive cuts makes them more tender, flavorful and helps them retain moisture during cooking.
Always preheat your grill. Whether cooking over gas or charcoal briquettes, the grill must be fully preheated before cooking. Starting it 10 to 20 minutes ahead of time will help ensure proper cooking temperatures which, in turn, help prevent sticking or under-cooking.
Buy a cheap meat thermometer (you can pick them up for as little as $6). The temperature read-out will tell you rare, medium-rare, medium or well-done with great accuracy.
The location of your meat on the grill is also important. Steaks should be cooked quickly over the hotter area of the grill to get a good char. Searing the surface of the food at a high temperature will form a caramelized crust and is a vitally important part of building flavor!
How to grill chicken
Boneless chicken thighs are — in my opinion — the moistest and most delicious part of the bird. But the breast can't be just as tasty if prepared correctly. Chicken breasts have a tendency to dry out if you don't know what you're doing. I like to leave the skin on, too, which helps the bird juicy and imparts more flavor.
Marinating also goes a long way in adding flavor. I like to marinate my chicken in a mixture of 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper, 1/2 cup minced fresh lemongrass (from 2 stalks), 1/2 cup fresh lime juice, 1/2 cup Asian fish sauce, 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes and 1/2 cup sugar. Ideally, you should marinate chicken overnight, but even a 2 to 3 hour soak will make a big difference in taste and texture.
Chicken is best cooked over the more medium range area of the grill, which is not super, super hot. This allows it to be fully cooked throughout and avoids burning the exterior. The chicken is done when the juices run clear when pierced with a fork. But you should also use a thermometer to make sure the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
How to grill fish
Don't be scared of grilling fish! Many types of fish grill very well. Salmon, tuna and swordfish are all excellent grilling fish. Shrimp is perfect on the grill, too. You can put them all directly on the grill without them falling apart. But other fish that are more on the flaky side are not suited to grilling on the grates (cod, bass, haddock, snapper, etc.). Luckily, there's a solution. Grill baskets are widely available, affordable and let you make all kinds of fish on the grill. They help hold the fish together while allowing it to get all the smoky, charred goodness of cooking over flames. They're also great for grilling fish whole.
Fish cookery is a matter of taste. Some people like salmon and tuna grilled medium-rare, others like their seafood more well done. As with chicken and steak, a thermometer will help you determine your preferred level of doneness without cutting into the flesh.
Fish will turn out better when placed on a hot grill surface. This will help prevent it from sticking to the grill grates, and it will cook very quickly in this location.
How to clean your grill
A grill that's ready to cook needs to be two things: clean and hot. Always clean your grill with a proper brush before and after cooking. After cooking, brush the grill to clean it and then "season" it with a paper towel dabbed with cooking oil.
Buy a new, stiff metal brush every few months during grilling season to keep the brush fresh and effective. Old brushes can be dangerous. When they start getting overused and worn, the bristles may come out and end up in your grill or food.
This article was originally published June 21, 2017.