Just in time for Fourth of July and other midsummer activities, barbecue enthusiasts are getting ready to cook up seasonal delights like burgers, chicken and ribs. The meat is usually the star of the show, but the bones themselves are often overlooked and can play a key role in preserving juiciness and tenderness after time on the grill.
Amy Thielen, chef and host of the Food Network's Heartland Table, joined MPR News' Tom Crann to talk about the secrets and rewards of grilling meat on the bone.
Bones protect the meat and make it easier to cook
Aside from supporting and helping to hold the meat together, Thielen said bones can protect the meat by serving as a barrier between the flames and the flesh.
"I think that when you cook the meat on the bone on the grill, it's more forgiving," she said.
Cooking meat with the bones in can also protect it when it's left on the grill for longer than normal. "If you leave it out a little too long, you have an extra drink, you forgot about it — your meat is still usually going to be okay," Thielen said.
The bones themselves eventually heat up and aid in cooking the meat, along with the heat on the outside.
Bones add flavor to the meat
Keeping the meat and the bones together in the cooking does more than just make the process easier and more efficient — it can affect taste and tenderness.
"The bones always give flavor, so that's what you're after," Thielen said.
One cut she said benefits from the bone-in strategy is what she calls the "Thielen Family Roast" — a pork loin on the bone that includes the babyback ribs. She said the ribs especially benefit from the way the cut cooks on the grill.
"They're falling apart, they're tender," Thielen said. "When you go to serve it, you want to slice them apart from the pork loin, which is still really juicy, and then you have these nice ribs that you hack into lenghts. Those are like cook's choice — definitely pull one aside for yourself.
Meats and cuts to grill on the boneThielen said she is a big fan of cooking whole chicken on the grill.
"White meat without the bone, takes five minutes, and the legs take almost an hour. But if you keep them on the bone, then they take the same amount of time, which is [a] convenience, but also the breast meat will be juicy," she said.
As mentioned above, chicken isn't the only type of meat that benefits from this bone-in preparation. Thielen's pork loin-and-ribs combo is another cut she recommends.
Recipe: Grilled Chicken on the Bone
From Amy Thielen:
1 4-pound chicken
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cloves garlic, grated
1 tablespoon canola or peanut oil
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for serving
Freshly cracked black pepper
Zest and juice (2 Tablespoons) of 1 lemon
Zest and juice (2 tablespoons) of 1 tangerine
Rinse the chicken and dry with paper towels. Set it on its back on a cutting board, and slice between the legs and the breast. Turn the chicken over and twist, cutting through the back bone if necessary, to free the leg portion of the chicken. Stand the chicken on its neck and cut down the ribs on either side of the backbone, removing the backbone. (A poultry scissors is helpful here.) Save the backbone for stock, and set both chicken pieces in a large pan or plastic bag for marinating.
In a small sauté pan, combine the coriander and cumin seeds and toast over medium heat until fragrant. Buzz finely in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. In a small bowl, combine the coriander and cumin seed, cinnamon, grated garlic, oil, salt, pepper, and lemon and tangerine zests and juice. Stir to combine. Rub all over the chicken evenly and marinate in the refrigerator for at least four hours and as long as two days.
To cook the chicken, preheat a large grill over medium-high heat. Right before cooking, reduce the heat on one side to low, keeping the heat high on the other side. You want to cook the chicken slowly and indirectly, in a covered grill. Start it on the skin, close the grill lid, and flip when it turns dark golden brown, about 10 minutes later. Cook on the bone side for another 15 minutes, then flip again. Prop the breast piece on its wings and on end when you can, to drive heat into the breast meat. Cook the breast meat until it reaches 140 F, and the leg piece until it reaches 160 F. It should take 45-55 minutes to reach these temperatures, with the breast meat taking longer to get done than the leg piece. When the skin has colored to your liking, but the meat needs longer cooking, cook the pieces bone-side-down until they reach the proper temperature.
Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes, then slice: separate the wings from the breast meat, the drumsticks from the thighs, and slice the breast meat thinly, and set on a platter. Serve with lemon sections.