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Published July 15, 2009, 12:00 AM

Lean, mean meat retreat

Forum reporter shares lessons learned from NDSU’s BBQ Boot Camp
When the opportunity to attend the North Dakota State University BBQ Boot Camp presented itself, I was quick to enroll in the meat military.

By: J. Shane Mercer, INFORUM

When the opportunity to attend the North Dakota State University BBQ Boot Camp presented itself, I was quick to enroll in the meat military.

I considered my attendance at the recent boot camp event in Lisbon a recon mission. What I found were dozens of meat-loving attendees, pounds and pounds of smoky victuals and tons of info on how to become a four-star grill general at one’s own home. So I followed up my boot camp training with additional research and offer up these tips for winning the battle of the barbecue.

And, if this isn’t enough, there’s a boot camp event 5 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday on the lawn of NDSU’s Shepperd Arena. Call (701) 231-7513 to register. Other BBQ boot camps are also being offered in other parts of the state this summer.


The flames, the outdoors, the sizzle: There’s so much to love about grilling. But none of that means much if you ain’t got the “flava.” You can add to that rich blend of smoke and meatiness by coating the meat in a rub.

Basic rub recipe:

10 parts salt

1 part pepper

.3 - .4 parts granulated garlic

Feeling a little sassy? Add some allspice for a little more of a Caribbean flavor or dried celery and onion powder for a Cajun/Creole taste.

Then coat the meat, poultry or seafood in vegetable oil (2 to 3 teaspoons per pound of meat) and apply the spice rub (1 to 2 tablespoons per pound).

Remember that thinner cuts don’t need quite as much rub as thick cuts.

Marinade in the USA

Marinades tenderize and add flavor. Marinade recipes are like opinions and elbows: everybody’s got a couple. I Googled “marinade recipe” and turned up 1.24 million hits (in .28 seconds). Common ingredients are olive oil and wine vinegar.

A few pointers:

  • Marinade works better on thin cuts of meat than on larger cuts, as it only penetrates the surface.
  • Marinate meat in the fridge in a freezer/storage/sandwich bag. Flip the bag frequently.
  • Poking holes in the meat to let the marinade in provides uneven results. It can also let juices escape during cooking.
  • Some marinades are weaker (yogurt-based, for example); others are stronger (pineapple marinades). Marinade time should be adjusted accordingly.

Food safety

Hey, it’s a lot more fun than getting food poisoning, my friend, so read these tips:

  • Keep meat stored in the bottom of the fridge. This helps prevent juices from dripping onto other foods.
  • Toss your cutting board when it develops grooves in it. Bacteria can hide and grow in the crevices.
  • To test the accuracy of your meat thermometer, insert the stem into a glass of water with plenty of ice in it. It should read 32 degrees. If not, the thermometer may have a calibration nut that allows you to correct the discrepancy.

What to grill

When looking for beef steak to grill, avoid cuts with the word “round” in the name and look for a cherry red color.

When it comes to pork, look for darker pink meat and avoid the light pink stuff.

If there is liquid swishing around in your package of steaks or chops, put it back in the store’s case and keep shopping. The idea is to keep the moisture inside the meat.

Temperature control

For steak, medium rare, cook to 145 degrees; medium, 160 degrees; well done, 170 degrees.

The USDA recommends cooking pork and ground beef to 160 degrees and chicken breasts to 165.

Direct grilling

Direct grilling uses high heat to get the job done. It’s what most of us think about when we think of grilling. This is the method typically used for cooking steaks, burgers, chicken fillets and chops.

For direct grilling, you want the temperature around 500 to 550 degrees. To test the temperature, NDSU Meat Lab Manager Austin Germolus says to hold your hand 6 to 10 inches from the coals. If it’s too hot to hold your hand over the coals for more than 3 or 4 seconds, it’s hot enough. (Or you could get a grill thermometer if you want to be a sissy about it.)

Indirect grilling

But the grill isn’t just for thin cuts of meat. You can cook a pork loin, Boston butt pork roast or leg of lamb on the barbie if you know what you’re doing. For this indirect grilling technique, drop the temperature down around 250 degrees.

Start by placing a liquid-filled pan (water, beer or wine all work) down among the charcoal, pushing the briquettes to the left and right sides of the charcoal rack.

Place the meat on the grilling grate, above the pan of liquid. Add more charcoal as needed, using a charcoal chimney to first ash them over before adding them to the old coals.

The same basic concept applies to a gas grill. If you have three burners, turn the two on the side up and the middle one down or off. Put a pan of water in the middle and cook the meat over it.

Either way, keep the lid closed as much as possible.

Grill tips

  • Turn steaks and pork chops every three to four minutes.
  • If cooking for a group, typically you’ll want half a pound of meat per person.
  • Wait to cook until the briquettes ash over if you’re using a charcoal grill. It takes about 20 minutes for the coals to be ready.
  • Don’t use a fork (or anything that punctures the surface) to flip meat on the grill. That allows moisture to escape. A spatula or tongs are better options.
  • Take your steak off the grill when it is 10 degrees lower than the temperature you’re aiming to hit.

    The internal temp of the steak will continue to rise after it’s off the grill.

BBQ Boot Camp dates

  • July 23 – Williston; contact Mary Froelich, (701) 577-4595.
  • July 31 – Jamestown; contact Eunice Sahr, (701) 252-9030.
  • Aug. 4 – Bismarck; contact Cathy Palczewski, (701) 221-6865.
  • Aug. 6 – Dickinson; contact Kurt Froelich, (701) 456-7665.
  • Aug. 10 – Cando; contact Crystal Martodam, (701) 968-4362.
  • Aug. 12 – Cavalier; contact Helen Volk-Schill, (701) 265-8411

If you go

  • What: NDSU BBQ Boot Camp
  • When: 5 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday
  • Where: Shepperd Arena, NDSU
  • Info: $30. Capacity is limited. Register by calling (701) 231-7513.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734