Listen to Meathead: This Is How You Cook Meat

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Don’t mess with Meathead. Photo: John Boehm

If you have a question—any question—about grilling, smoking, or outdoor cooking, chances are extremely high your search will end at amazingribs.com

With more than one million monthly visitors, Amazing Ribs is the go-to guide for everything barbecue. There’s good reason: The site takes a scientific approach to the art of outdoor cooking, carefully explaining the correct way to smoke the perfect turkey, barbecue a beautiful rack of baby backs, and just about everything else related to the grill. 

Don’t let the science angle throw you. The content—recipes, techniques, and gadget reviews—is anything but boring. It’s all spelled out by the humorous, down-to-earth hand of Meathead Goldwyn, the site’s founder and burning coal. Take Click and Clack of Car Talk, mix them with a few shots of Julia Child, replace the boeuf bourguignon and sherry with pork shoulder and a cold beer, and you’ll have a general idea of what to expect from Meathead and his small team of testers.

“It’s all about authenticity,” Goldwyn told Yahoo Food, when asked about the secret to his site’s success. “We don’t accept the common wisdom as fact. We do a lot of testing and myth-busting. A lot of information has been around for centuries that science proves false.” 

Goldwyn’s worked as a journalist for most of his life, which explains his deep-rooted cynicism. He developed a love of science early on, taught at top schools, and has judged dozens of high-profile food and drink competitions. He’s also married to a leading food-safety scientist at the FDA. 

“I’ve been around awhile and I’ve got some chops,” summed up Goldwyn, who started Amazing Ribs in 2006. “People believe in what we write. And we do things a bit differently.”

We recently caught up with Goldwyn (he actually prefers to be called Meathead, a nickname his father bestowed in tribute to the son-in-law on All In the Family; only his mother calls him by his birth name, Craig) to grill him on his best tips and tricks. 

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Photo: StockFood / Snowflake Studios Inc.

INVEST IN A THERMOMETER. Don’t even attempt to grill before you buy both a high-quality digital thermometer to measure the heat inside the grill and an instant-read digital meat thermometer. The thermometers that come with grills, Goldwyn warned, are useless. “Spray paint it black and ignore it,” he said. “It’s often off by 50 degrees. Worse, it’s in the dome of the grill, six inches away from the meat. You’re cooking the meat, not the dome.” Here’s Goldwyn’s full review on thermometers.

FORGET WHAT YOU’VE READ. Don’t sear a roast, such as prime rib, or blast it with high heat before cooking it at a lower temperature. This method builds up too much heat and will leave a gray, dry outer layer of overcooked meat. It can also burn off the delicious rub. Instead, reverse sear.  Go low and slow. Set up your grill into two zones. Simply pile your coals and wood on one side of the grate and a pan of water on other side. Cook your meat at 225 degrees (the optimal temp for grilling) on the side with the pan, not directly the coals. For gas grills, just turn off one or two burners and place the meat over those.

When your digital instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle of the roast reads about 10 degrees shy of the optimal temperature, move the roast to the side with the hot coals. Roll the roast a quarter turn and repeat on all four sides until you have a nice, deep brown crust. This will take 5-10 minutes; you want 130-135 degrees for bright pink, medium rare; 135-140 degrees for medium or rich pink; 120-130 degrees for rare or bright purple/red.

“Almost every cookbook tells you to brown a roast before putting it in the oven, but that defies science and logic. You’ll end up getting rainbow-colored meat and only a little piece that’s perfectly cooked,” Goldwyn said. “Chefs who have had formal training in culinary school can’t get the old ways out of their heads. At the end, that’s when you give it all you’ve got to darken the outside to a beautiful mahogany color.”

DEBONE. Contrary to popular belief, the bone adds no flavor to the roast while it’s cooking. Cut it out yourself or have the butcher do it. Save the bone for the gravy or soup. “I beg people to take out the bone because it acts as a heat shield,” Goldwyn said. “Bones contribute flavor in a stew or stock. The marrow dissolves and makes a wonderful flavor. Think about the science and the logic behind it.”

REMOVE MOST SURFACE (CAP) FAT. Melted fat doesn’t penetrate the meat, it just melts off, taking the rub’s spices and seasoning with it. Besides, most people cut off the fat before eating the meat. The rub flavors the outside of the meat, while the interior fat flavors the rest.

USE A DRY BRINE. Wet brines barely penetrate the outermost layer of meat. Instead, sprinkle the roast with kosher salt and let it sit for 6 to 24 hours. After the salt penetrates the surface, cover the roast with a paste or wet rub of oil, herbs, and spices. The oil helps to dissolve the herb and spice flavors, and brown the crust into a flavorful bark.