This is a story about hedging bets, about taking advantage of some old-fashioned barbecue techniques, and about the heartbreak of holidays.
It grows out of my permanent desire to see the end-of-May holiday as a start-of-grilling-season holiday, despite the weather in my part of the country at the end of May, which is typically in the 50s and drizzly. It also grows out of my understanding of the links between barbecue and braising, and of my ongoing appreciation of the broiler, which can be considered the rough equivalent of an upside-down grill.
Sadly, the broiler is not an exact replacement for the grill, because even the most powerful ones never become as hot as a grill fire.
Unlike a grill, by the time a broiler browns something nicely, it’s cooked all the way through, even overcooked. For example, it is difficult — impossible? — for a broiler to sear a hamburger while keeping the inside rare.
But if the interior is already cooked through, and a little more heat won’t hurt it, then the broiler becomes as effective as the grill. This is what you wind up with by braising meat first, then finishing it over high heat.
It’s a pretty nifty method that works equally well on the broiler or on the grill, producing delicious, super-tender meat with a nice external crisp, even if it rains.
Of course the broiler won’t add wood flavor, but then neither will a gas grill or briquettes. And I’m talking about a compromise situation here, not an ideal one. The ideal one is a day that is 23 degrees, sunny with an occasional cloud, and a light breeze. On such a day the broiler need not cross your mind unless you live in midtown.
The barbecued ribs I like best, for example, are cooked all the way through, using moist, relatively low heat, then finished over a high flame for a final browning. And you can nicely, if imperfectly, replicate this process by braising the ribs and then finishing them over the grill or in the broiler.
What I did for the ribs in the recipe here was brown them, then slowly braise them in the oven (the top of the stove would work as well). When they were nearly falling off the bone I took them straight from the braising liquid and ran them under the broiler, just until they crisped up. It could have been pouring rain outside and I would have been happy, at least from a food perspective.
Though the ribs remain my favorite use of this method, I’ve tried it on half a dozen types of meat with similar results. The chicken recipe here, a kind of mock tandoori chicken, is similar in technique but a world apart in flavor. It also mitigates the bane of chicken grilling (or, for that matter, broiling), the roaring flame-up. By braising the chicken first, you effectively remove just about all the surface fat, practically eliminating the risk of setting the pieces on fire. This same treatment would work nicely with fatty lamb, like chunks of shoulder or even shanks, which without the initial braising would be just about impossible to grill.
Then there is brisket which, unlike chicken, simply cannot be grilled over direct heat no matter how careful you are; it absolutely requires long, slow cooking. In fact, it’s difficult to grill (or broil) without some form of precooking, whether in aluminum foil (a venerable trick that makes sense) or in a barbecue pit.
The slow braising phase of cooking the beef, in a ketchup-and-chili-based sauce, may take a while — it doesn’t surprise me when brisket takes three hours or even longer to become really tender — but the final browning can take as little as 10 minutes and produces fork-tender brisket. As with the ribs, this treatment would be excellent for just about any meat, from chicken to tough cuts.
I’m not hoping for rain holidays. But at least this year I feel prepared. - NYT