Our very clever, very clothed Never Cook Naked columnists, Mark Scarbrough and Bruce Weinstein, are at your disposal, able to troubleshoot everything from questionable table etiquette to tricky cooking techniques (as well as, natch, proper cooking attire). Curious to read more solutions to culinary conundrums? You may wish to peruse previously asked questions, starting with the last column’s answers regarding hostess gift etiquette, how to get your hands on hatch chiles, and wax versus parchment paper.
Dear Never Cook Naked Guys: Why does every single thing I grill ALWAYS stick to the grate?—Tired of Torn Food
Dear Tired: We have an easy solution for you. Oil the grate, not the food.
Yes, some celebrity grilling mavens insist that oiling the food takes care of the problem. It doesn’t. It creates more problems. Namely, flare-ups. Trust us. We lived an entire summer without bangs. Thank you very much, cable TV.
You can slick that grate–and, in so doing, solve your vexing problem–in one of two ways:
1. Before you light the grill, remove the grate and coat it with nonstick spray oil. (Never ever shoot nonstick spray oil onto a hot grill.) Then fire up the grill and wait, wait, wait until it’s good and hot before carefully replacing the grate. Then wait just a few minutes and add your food. (You want the grate to be hot enough so you can get a good sear but not so hot that the oil burns off before you toss on the food.) Or, failing that….
2. Heat the grill with the grate in situ, dab some oil on a wadded-up paper towel, grab the paper towel with long-handled tongs, and swipe the wad of recycled tree over the hot grate. If you’ve got a really hot grill, you’ll need to work fast as the paper towel can—and will–ignite.
Seems simple, right? Actually, there’s more. When you put your chicken breasts or strip steaks on the grill, resist the temptation to turn them within seconds of their hitting the heat. The fats and proteins need to sear, brown, even caramelize. All before the meat will, at long last, release with just a gentle tug of the tongs–for a chicken breast, that may take three or four minutes over high heat and for a strip steak, it can take up to five minutes. So relax. Have a swig of beer. Take a breather. You can thank us later, when your family applauds their meal not being as desiccated as usual.
One last thing. Food sticks at your backyard barbecue because food stuck at your previous backyard barbecue. Always use a wire grill brush to scrape the bits of burnt-on, carbonized junk off the grate when you’re done barbecuing, preferably while you let someone else tend to the dishes. Then let that grate sit for a spell over high heat to burn off any lingering cooties. There. Ready for next time.
Dear Never Cook Naked Guys: Are the disposable bamboo utensils now on the market reusable when washed in hot, soapy water? They’re a handsome, eco-conscious alternative to plastic throwaways, but I want to make certain I’m not mistaken in reusing them this summer.—Bamboo Babe
Dear Babe: We always applaud those who disregard ad-copy points. But in this case, we’re at a loss over what part of the word “disposable” could be considered hype.
Fact: most bamboo dinnerware is not treated with sealants and thus is porous enough to absorb fats (which can go rancid), sugars (which can ferment), and proteins (which…actually, we don’t even want to go there). Do you really want to partake of that?
That said, some bamboo dinnerware, labeled with the ridiculous oxymoron “reusable disposable,” can indeed be gently cleaned. But we recommend you do so without any sanitizing detergent, which can seep below the surface and come back out at the most inopportune moment, like the next time a piece of pie is in your mouth. Some manufacturers suggest instead wiping the remnants of dinner off the forks or plates with a damp paper towel and warm water, then using the bamboo products again. Truth be told, we don’t feel that’s truly sanitary. Sure, you can give it a whirl. Maybe you’ve got a good supply of Cipro at home. But we don’t. So when you invite us over to your next picnic, open a new package for us, please.
Dear Never Cook Naked Guys: How long can grilled meat sit out safely at room temperature before I run the risk of getting myself—or my guests–sick?—Nervous for Good Reason
Dear Nervous: Food safety is really important because…
1. Even your BFFs will sue you if you make them sick.
2. You probably have more friends coming over than you have toilets.
When both the lawyers and the numbers aren’t in your favor, follow this basic guideline: Properly cooked meat can be left at room temperature for no more than two hours. And note that you need to make that just one hour if the room temperature is above 90°F (as well as consider moving somewhere cooler, because that’s just insane).
So if the BFFs are coming over this Saturday, here’s what you do: keep the raw meat in the fridge until you’re ready to cook it. If you’re grilling at a public park, keep the meat on ice in a covered cooler in the shade, and be certain to shove a thermometer in that cooler; as long as it registers 40°F or lower in there, you’re still in the safety zone. (So many rules, so much bacteria.) Grill only as much meat as everyone can eat at one time. Then fire up the grill every hour or so until your guests have run out of belt notches. Or lawyers. And if you invite us to your next picnic, open a new package of utensils for us, please.
Got more questions? Good. We do, too. That is, more questions AND answers. In case you missed the mention above, for more cooking etiquette and enigmas explained, you can take a peek at previous columns from our Never Cook Naked Guys. Anything pertaining to food or drink goes. Well, anything within reason. But first, those previously tended-to questions we promised….
Illustration © 2012 Eric Hanson. All rights reserved.