or: How to Be the Best BBQ Friend
This is the companion guide to the MilkRun Barbecue Party Pack, which consists of bratwursts, all beef hot dogs, pork tenderloin, bone-in ribeye, and burger patties (that have bacon and cheese ground into them — holy moly). Wanna know why we’re making this companion guide? Because it’s a bummer to invite your friends over, fire up the barbecue, and then realize that you have no idea what temperature each food should be or what you should do to make sure they all come off the grill piping hot!
There’s a better way, and that way is with science!
Cooking with a Two-Zone Fire
Without getting too deep into the nitty gritty of it, we suggest setting up your grill so that you have access to both direct and indirect heat. Direct heat is cooking your food directly over the coals. This is how you get a sear — that nice steak crust — from the radiant heat of the coals below your food and grill marks from the conductive heat of an ultra hot grill grate. Direct heat is what most people associate with grilling. On the other hand, indirect heat is just as important; food that is not directly above hot coals is subjected to convection heat, which is more like your oven, a little more gentle, and allows for cooking slow and steady, so you can get the inside of a pork loin cooked through without having the outside burnt and tough.
With a two-zone fire, you’re setting yourself up for both options — keep all of your hot coals piled on one side of the barbecue so you have access to both direct and indirect heat. One side for searing, one side for cooking. There are more advanced techniques you can use in relation to coal placement, but having a “hot” side and a “warm” side will be great for most of your summer grilling and a good way to get a handle on your barbecue’s nuances.
Don’t panic! Don’t worry! You’re gonna be fine.
Cook Time and Timing Things Out
The goal for a big barbecue is to cook everything on your grill so you can pull them off and serve ‘em hot. Now, if you prefer to serve up hotdogs and burgers first and whet your party’s appetite before serving up a sliced pork tenderloin, bratwurst, and ribeye platter a bit later — there’s absolutely nothin’ wrong with with that! But, we know that some people like to have everything coming off around the same time, especially if you have 8 hot dogs and 12 guests, you just need to know approximately how long each thing takes to cook and work backwards from there, which is what we’ve done in the next section.
The five things that come in our Barbecue Party pack will change with time (read: with what’s available from the butcher), but at the time of this writing (Spring 2019) this is what we’re looking at:
- Bratwursts (3)
- Pork Tenderloin (12 oz)
- Bone-In Ribeye (2 x 12 oz)
- All Beef Hot Dogs (8)
- Revel Bacon & Cheese Burger Patties (3)
Holy smokes that’s a lot of food!
The first thing we’re going to do is separate them by how long they take to cook, how long they need to rest before you cut into them, and how well they hold when they’re hot. Looking at the longest combined cook/rest time gives us the full time we’ll need on the grill and it’s just counting numbers backwards from there. We’ve already kept them in order from longest cook time to shortest. But first, a treatise on salt:
Salting the Meat — Efficient and Optimal!
Rib-Eye and Pork Tenderloin: As J. Kenji Lopez-Alt writes:
you should salt your meat about 40 minutes before it hits the grill. When the salt first hits a steak, it sits on the surface. Through the process of osmosis, it’ll slowly draw liquid out of the mat, which you’ll see pool up in little droplets. As those droplets grow, the salt will dissolve in the meat juice, forming a concentrated brine. At this stage in the game—about 25 to 30 minutes in—your steak is in the absolute worst shape possible for grilling. That moisture will evaporate right off, leaving you with a tough, stringy crust.
Give it a bit more time, and eventually that brine will begin to break down some of the muscle tissue in the meat, allowing the juices to be re-absorbed, and taking the salt right along with it.
What does this lead to? Meat that is both better seasoned and more tender and moist when you cook it.
Burgers: Salt burger patties right before you put them on the grill. If you salt them ahead of time, they’ll become tough and snappy — like a sausage — because of how the naCL causes insoluble proteins to bind together. You want a tender, juicy burger, not a sausage patty on a bun.
Dogs: Don’t salt the dogs or brats, you silly goose! They’re already filled with the right amount of salt, which is why the proteins are already bound together. Who’s out here salting hot dogs??
How Do I Know When It’s Done? Use a Thermometer!
Yes. You, like so many others, may have been using the “poke test” all these years but we’ll happily go on record saying that — well, it’s just not the best option. There are so many variables that affect the feeling of a steak, from the compression difference of a lean vs fatty steak to the physical differences between beef and pork and sausage. It’s just not reliable!
Want to know when your meat is at the right temperature? There’s a handy-dandy tool for easily and accurately testing the temperature of a food item — a thermometer! We suggest treating yourself to an instant-read digital thermometer (any kind will do) and you’ll thank us later. In fact, we bet that you’ll never want to cook a steak without one again.
Still skeptical? Imagine if you were baking a cake and your oven didn’t have a temperature setting you could check, you just cranked the dial to the best of your ability… and then to test your cake’s doneness you just poke the outside of it.
Right, nobody would do that. Buy a thermometer — improve your cooking, from grilling to oven-roasted chicken and everything in-between.
25 Minute Countdown to Cook It All!
It might be intimidating at first to try and cook everything at the “same time” as you put one thing after another on the grill, shifting from direct to indirect heat, but it’s important to remember one major thing that everybody seems to forget from time to time — you’re just cooking food. You’re working with great ingredients start with, so it’s pretty hard to blow it, but in the end you’re making food to share with your friends or family (or a big BBQ platter for yourself!) and you should have a good time, not a stressful one. Use your thermometer to check temperatures and have a great meal!
That said, let’s dive right in!
Bratwursts (0 minutes in) 150° internal temperature
What we want to do is give the bratwurst ample time to cook but enough heat to make sure the casing gets snappy and crisp — with sausages, what you don’t want is end up with a shriveled, wrinkled dry tube or a blown-out mess. Here’s the trick — hot heat most of the time. If you keep sausages near the middle of the grill (remember, coals are heating one side only), you’ll get the hotter direct heat and the softer indirect heat at the same time.
Keep the sausages toward the middle, but not over the center of the coals. Flip them often so you don’t burst the casing but get a nice, brown, crisp exterior. Take it slow! Brats like medium-low heat (300-350 degrees) and it’ll take around 20 minutes to hit that desired internal temperature of 150 degrees. When you pull ‘em off the grill, give them a couple minutes to rest!
Pork Tenderloin (5 minutes in) 145° internal temperature
Okay — so you’ve got your brats on, they’re staying hot on both sides with some nice char lines… now it’s time to get the pork tenderloin going. It goes on second and you pull it off last, but it can hide on the cooler side of the grill while it cooks for the most part.
Pork tenderloin is great — it’s juicier and heartier than something comparable chicken breast while still remaining lean, and when you slice it into fanned out coins on a plate or platter, it’s elegant and delicious!
This one’s easy though: Put it directly over the hot coals for a few minutes on each side so it gets a nice char and grill lines (you’ve gotta impress ‘em with those grill lines!) and then transfer to the indirect heat side of your grill to cook through to 145° before you pull the tenderloin off and let it rest for 8-10 minutes before you slice in.
Bone-In Ribeye (10 minutes in) 120°-160° internal temperature
Ribeyes are a highly marbled, rich, classic steak cut. Well known as one of the best, most flavorful cuts of beef available, the ribeye is often referred to as the “beauty steak.” You’ll know why when you look at one. And here’s the kicker — they’re relatively easy to cook.
Give ‘em ~3 minutes on each side directly over the hottest part of the coals (maybe a couple more for good measure if you’re feeling it) then transfer them to indirect heat alongside the tenderloin so they cook to your desired doneness — about 8 more minutes for medium-rare. Actually, disregard that time and just USE YOUR THERMOMETER!
Here’s your steak chart:
All Beef Hot Dogs (16 minutes in)
These beef grillers are easy to get going and only need about 7-10 minutes to heat up. Simply leave some room near your bratwurst (which are probably lookin’ pretty good right now but don’t forget to flip them and adjust their proximity to heat) on the center of the grill and treat the hotdogs similarly. You don’t want to put them on direct heat so long that you burst them, but you don’t want to just dry them out the whole time over indirect heat. Let those casings get snappy!
Burger & Hot Dog Buns
We don’t include burger and hot dog buns in this grill pack, but you can get ‘em from MilkRun’s Bakery Aisle. People like their buns treated differently — some like ‘em crispy and charred on the edges, some like ‘em soft but warm. Either way, you’re probably gonna throw them down right now, before the burger patties, or right after. We like to put ‘em on a top shelf (if you have one) over indirect heat so they warm up but don’t crisp. #softbuns
Revel Bacon & Cheese Burger Patties (18 minutes in) 125°-135° internal temperature
Before you put your burger patties on, check the temperatures of the bratwurst, pork loin, and ribeye steaks ‘cause it might be time to pull them!
You’re almost there! One last meat to grill! Place your burger patties directly over the hot coals and close the lid. Give them about 3 minutes or less on each side and make sure the burgers are around 110° before you put cheese on them. Let the cheese melt (unless you’re not a cheesehead) and when he burger is 125° (medium rare) or 135° (medium) — which should only take about two minutes maximum — you can pull ‘em off the grill.
Putting It All Together!
Now that you’ve got everything off the grill and onto platters and plates, here’s what you should do — let the steaks rest about 10 minutes before you cut into them. The bratwurst and pork tenderloin can rest for 6-8 minutes. Hotdogs and burgers can get prepped with their buns and condiments and served just in time for you to start slicing up and plating everything else! Congratulations, you’re a BBQ hero!
It may seem intimidating if you haven’t done a lot of BBQing to try and manage this many things on the grill at the same time but a lot of that apprehension (for most people) comes from not being able to tell when something is ready. Here’s the secret, once more, for the people in the back — use a thermometer! Most people aren’t able to tell the internal temperature of ANYTHING just by giving it a glance… and the best part is, you don’t have to be able to. We’re the #1 tool making animal on the planet — take advantage of that!
So how’d it all turn out? Did you complete your barbecue quest? Is everybody lounging around in deck chairs sipping wine and beer and relaxing with a full belly?
Awesome, that’s what we hoped you’d say.