You know that smoky, slightly flavored taste surrounding your favorite meats and vegetables at your favorite restaurant? Have you ever wondered how it is they achieve such flavor so quickly? If so, you may be experiencing the delicious results of professional pellet grilling.
Restaurants create meals using something extra that you’re most likely unaware of and not practicing at home. Yet this doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish these tastes and recipes with your pellet grill on your backyard deck or patio. All it takes is to learn a few of the tips and tricks on pellet grilling that restaurants don’t want you to know.
What Exactly is Pellet Grilling?
The essence of this type of grilling is the wood pellets you can use to create different smoky flavors.
Wood pellets come in various wood types with comparable burn times and the creation of heat. The key then is the actual type of wood and the flavor it will add. Restaurants have figured out which types of wood pellets work best with different cuts of meat and use these pairings diligently, although some do occasionally experiment.
Essentially, once you turn your grill on and set it to your preferred temperature, the auger located in its base begins to turn. This motion feeds your wood pellets from the hopper slowly into the firebox. An electric heating element located in the firebox ignites them, creating a smoky addition to your grill with the help of a blower or vents, and a thermostat for self-regulating.
Tips and Tricks of Restaurant Quality Pellet Grilling
Restaurant cooks and chefs like to keep most of their pellet grilling techniques a secret, and that’s understandable. Yet, there are a few tips and techniques occasionally shared which can benefit you in the quest for grilling masterpieces of your own.
A few restaurant tips and techniques to keep in mind include:
- Pellet grilling often leads to a less smoky taste than a wood burning fire. To counteract this, some restaurants add an extra smoking tube or a smoke box to increase the level of flavor. You can add such tubing to your home pellet grill as well.
- To pull more smoke into meats, especially thicker cuts, resist bringing them to room temperature before placing them on the grill. Smoke adheres more readily to cold meats, condensing on the surface. Place your dry rub on the meat the night before and place it in your refrigerator. When ready to cook, pull directly from the cold and place on the heated grill set at a low smoking temperature. Allow to cook longer, checking the internal temp with a meat probe thermometer to ensure that the center is cooked to a safe 165°F.
- As meat cooks on your grill, its surface tends to dry out. Overcome this by slightly spritzing or basting the meat throughout its cooking time. You can use plain water or add extra flavor with beer or wine.
- Knowing how different types of wood burns is beneficial to choosing the correct one for your recipe.
- Mesquite: burns hot and fast, producing lots of smoke
- Oak: burns even and slow, creating a mild flavor
- Hickory: burns even and slow with a stronger flavor than oak
- Pecan: produces a strong sweet and smoky flavor better suited for shorter grilling times and creates too strong of a flavor for longer grilling times.
- Fruit woods, such as cherry or apple: creates a milder effect on flavor
- While most recipes call for oiling the grates of your pellet grill before adding the meat, many cooks prefer to add the oil directly to the outside of the meat for better caramelization.
- Partner certain wood pellets with particular types of meat. These include:
- Beef, all cuts: Woods promoting a sweeter aroma and resulting smokiness will balance the bold beef flavors. Stick with maple, pecan, or other such sweet woods.
- Pork, including ribs and chops: Use mesquite pellets for a stronger flavor and aroma. If cooking slowly for a longer time, use hickory.
- Poultry, including chicken: Experiment with different types of wood pellets to create the taste you like. For deep penetrating nuttiness, go with nut tree woods, such as pecan. To create a sweeter effect, consider using cherry wood pellets. If intense smokiness is the goal, go with alder.
A few specific tips and techniques restaurants use for menu items include:
- Before adding a pork butt to your grill, liberally apply a dry rub mix, including sweet, salty ingredients. Since these usually need to cook for a longer period, use hickory wood pellets in your grill.
- Grill bone-in chicken cuts, such as breasts or thighs, by first soaking in an aromatic brine for up to 24-hours before grilling. Grill on low heat for approximately two hours, skin side down.
- Cover your beef brisket with mustard, then add your favorite rub. This helps to create a crispy bark to the brisket. Start with oak pellets for a few hours, then add pecan wood pellets to boost the resulting flavor.
- For smoked turkey breast, start by brining overnight. Fill your hopper with lighter-smoked fruit tree wood pellets such as cherry or apple. Don’t cook too slowly to avoid a mushy texture. Instead, cook at an even temperature such as 325°F for the same amount of time as needed in a regular oven.
- For a smoked steak, set the pellet grill to the extra smoke setting (if it has one). Grill steaks at 225° F until the internal temperature reaches 115°F. Set steaks aside and turn up the grill’s temperature to the hottest setting possible (often around 500°F). Sear steaks on each side in a cast-iron skillet placed on the grill.
- BBQ benefits from the less smoky effect of pellet grilling in that the meats are usually covered in sauce and wrapped in foil. Here, a strong bark, or crust, is unnecessary.
Grill Like a Pro
To gain more insight into how your favorite restaurants use a pellet grill, notice how an item is described on their menu, or ask your waiter, the owner, or the chef directly. They may or may not reveal clues to how to create that savory taste you and your family enjoy, but it’s worth a try.
The more you learn about pellet grilling, the sooner you’ll be able to put into practice all the tips and techniques restaurants use to entice you to return, creating delicious meals at home for you, family, friends, and neighbors.