Expert Grilling Tips from the Austin Food & Wine Festival

We're feeling the grill love on The Kitchn this week, and what better way to toast to the season than with some tips we gathered from Tim Love's cooking demo at the Austin Food & Wine Festival this year, featuring a record-breaking 200 charcoal grills! We drank some tequila, cooked directly on the charcoals, and learned which wood is best for particular types of meat.

Ahh, the mouth-watering smell of smoked wood. Nothing can queue up cravings and images of perfectly-crusted tender juiciness any better here in Texas. But how do you make sure your grilled creations live up to the expectations?

Here are some interesting tips you may not know of that we learned from Tim Love, celebrity chef, native Texan, and one hell of a grill master.

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1. Choose the right type of wood for the job. For more flavor you need to use charcoals and wood. Do you know which wood to use for which type of meat though? Tim uses Mesquite wood for typical everyday grilling - burgers, vegetables, and slow roasting. Oak wood is Tim's choice when trying his hand at a traditional Texas brisket. And for anything pork - pork chops, pork ribs, smoked pork shoulder - "It's gotta be Pecan." The wood you choose plays a big role in imparting the flavors you have come to love and recognize. Which is also why food you enjoy while traveling on vacation tastes so different - they're using different types of wood, from trees indigenous to that region.

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2. Season your meat and grill with peanut oil. At the cooking demo, we had a chunk of NY Strip and a slice of skirt steak at our tables. It's always good to coat your steaks with some oil before grilling so that the rub or seasonings adhere and to prevent the steak from sticking to those hot grills. When grilling Tim Love mentioned that he always uses peanut oil - for its higher smoke point and cheaper cost compared with olive oil. He also suggests not to be shy with the seasoning, and to use twice as much salt as you think you should.

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3. Wait for your coals to get hot and your steak to reach room temperature. You've likely seen us mention the importance of waiting for your meat to get to the appropriate temperature before grilling. The same is true for your charcoals. You want them nice and hot, with grey ash developed around the sides and reaching toward the top. What do you do while you're waiting for those things to happen? Grab a bottle of wine or take a shot of tequila — or both like we did at this cooking demo. As Tim Love said "When it's hot, you put the steak on. When it's not, you drink Tequila."

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4. Put your steak on the grill and then relax. Your grill is good and hot, you've put your steak on and are couple of glasses in on that wine. What do you want to do now? If you're like me, you want to open up that grill and check on things. I like to see how things are doing in there! But according to Love, don't do it. Take that bottle of wine or tequila and take a few paces back from the grill - just out of arm's reach. Then sit back and relax, let the magic happen. (However, Adam Perry Lang says the exact opposite!)

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5. Develop a crust on any type of meat. It's easier to develop a delicious crusty outer layer to thick cuts of steak such as a NY Strip because the thickness of the meat allows for more grilling time and more charring. But how do you achieve the same crust from thin cuts like skirt steak? Cook it directly on the charcoals. After our skirt steak had been grilling for a few minutes we finished it on those fiery coals. You could sense everyone's reluctance to do this. We're going to get all that ash on this perfectly good steak! But we did it, and it was amazing. The hot coals seared the steak nicely. There was no ash, just a beautifully blackened crust. I now have no reservations about doing this technique again!

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6. Cut against the grain. Once the steak is cooked and you've let it rest a few minutes to allow the muscles to relax and fats to redistribute, it's time to serve. Do you cut against the grain or with the grain? With the meat lying down, cut along the short side of the meat, which will break apart the connective tissue and allow all that hard work to just melt in your mouth.

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Try these tips out the next time you fire up your grill and I assure you the results will be delicious. Cheers to Food and Wine!

Related: Grill the Best Steak of Your Life in 6 Steps

(Images: Chris Perez)

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