An award-winning pitmaster shares 10 tips for cooking over an open flame

An award-winning pitmaster shares 10 tips for cooking over an open flame
·6 min read
Rodney Scott
James Beard Award-winning pitmaster and cookbook author Rodney Scott in his South Carolina restaurant.Rachel Askinasi/Insider
  • Pitmaster Rodney Scott shared his tips for cooking over an open flame.

  • Scott says food safety is extremely important both with raw meat and cooked temperatures.

  • The cookbook author recommends using wood lump charcoal instead of propane grills.

Rodney Scott has been honing his barbecue skills since he was a child and now has a lot of wisdom to share.

Rodney Scott
Rodney Scott tending to a pit at his Charleston restaurant.Rachel Askinasi/Insider

Rodney Scott is a James Beard Award-winning pitmaster, cookbook author, and the founder of Rodney Scott's Whole Hog BBQ.

With its first location having opened in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2017, the restaurant has since expanded into an empire with three more locations across Georgia and Alabama.

Scott learned the practice of barbecue from his parents, who also run a barbecue joint, and his time growing up in Hemingway, South Carolina. He worked with his family for 25 years until he moved to Charleston to open his own place.

In a recent interview with Insider, Scott shared his tips to help home barbecuers successfully cook over an open flame.

Scott says charcoal is the way to go. Specifically, he says to use wood lump charcoal.

man cooking on a charcoal grill
Charcoal grills can come in many shapes and sizes.VW Pics/Contributor/Getty Images

"We all understand that not everybody, especially in urban America, has a place where they can build big fires," Scott told Insider.

So he says that using a charcoal grill is the best at-home option.

If you're choosing between briquettes and wood lumps, Scott recommends lumps, which you can get in a variety of wood types that each impart their own flavors.

Arrange the coals on one side of your grill so you can better control the heat.

Two hamburgers with melted cheese on a smoking charcoal grill.
Hamburgers cooking directly over coals.Ali Majdfar/Getty Images

"For example," Scott said, "I'm right-handed, so I would put my coals on the left side of my grill."

He said he would recommend starting your proteins over the hot coals, and if it gets too hot and starts cooking too quickly, he'd move them over for more of an indirect cooking approach.

"Slide the proteins gently from over the direct coals to about the middle of the grill, and let it kind of smoke up there," he said.

Make sure the coals are fully hot before putting down your proteins.

Charcoal grill with burning coals
The wood lumps in this grill have started to turn white, which is what you're looking for.Anja Weber-Decker/Getty Images

If you lay your meat too soon, "you get that bitterness off the coals," Scott says. "The charred flavor, it's not always good."

Let the coals burn until they're white, then you're good to go, he said.

Don't put anything super greasy over the direct heat.

flames on a charcoal grill
The flames could get much more aggressive with more grease dripping down.picture alliance/Contributor/Getty Images

"We had a situation once where we put bacon on the grill and then it was too much over the hot flames, and of course, the bacon set the grill on fire," Scott told Insider. "But that's a normal thing, it happens. So be careful and stay in control of your grill."

If you are cooking something greasy, Scott recommends using that off-flame space that you set yourself up with when you piled the coals to one side.

Don't be afraid to Google your temperatures.

meat thermometer on a barbecue
Make sure your food is at a safe temperature.picture alliance/Contributor/Getty Images

It's important to make sure you're serving meat that's cooked to a safe temperature, Scott says. Sometimes, cooks may be inclined to show that they don't need a thermometer to know when their food is done. But Scott says to check your ego when it comes to food safety.

"Don't be embarrassed to not be a professional," he said.

Scott pointed out that many thermometers will have a label on the back that indicates the safe temperatures for different proteins, which could save you the step of looking up the information on the internet.

He did acknowledge, though, that some people do have a good idea about their meat's doneness just by feeling it with their hands.

"If you're a touchy-feely person, great, that means you've got it down pat," he said. "But still, temp it to make sure. [A thermometer is] a cheap purchase, and it's well worth it. You can protect yourself and whomever your guest may be when you're cooking for them in the backyard."

Handle your foods properly and safely.

cutting meat at a butcher
If you're using the same knife to butcher as you are to cut cooked meat, be sure to wash it well in between.Matthew Horwood / Contributor/Getty Images

Scott says it's important to not put your cooked food where raw food once was, and you should always clean up anything that's touched the raw food as soon as possible.

His biggest rule of thumb is to avoid cross-contamination, which he said he's heard people ask for clarification on.

It's when "this spoon that was around raw juice gets mixed into the sauce," he explained. "You don't want to do that."

That applies to cutting boards, knives, hands, and anything else you may be using.

Pay close attention to what you're cooking.

Rodney Scott's BBQ
Don't walk away from your barbecue for too long.Rachel Askinasi/Insider

This means keeping a close eye on your grill and knowing exactly what's on there, approximately how long it should take, and how hot your coals are.

"Don't put the food on and go inside and watch Lifetime or college football," he said. "Just stay focused."

If you're using a propane grill, make sure the tank is filled up.

propane weber barbecue
Propane barbecues are also a popular choice for home grillers.Smith Collection/Gado/Contributor/Getty Images

If you don't have a charcoal grill, the pitmaster says there are a few things to look out for when using one that runs on propane.

First, he says, check your fuel level before you start cooking and make sure you have enough.

"I've been to events where the propane ran out in the middle of the cook," Scott told Insider.

Keep a nice, low temperature when using a propane grill.

propane grill
Adjust the heat as needed.The Good Brigade/Getty Images

Scott recommends starting off with a low temperature on a propane grill. "You can always turn it up if need be," he added.

"And again," he said, "pay attention, temp it. Make sure that it reaches that safety temperature so nobody gets sick."

Have fun with whatever you're barbecuing.

Cooking over an open flame should be fun.Noam Galai/Stringer/Getty Images

"Take your time and have fun with your cooking," he said. Regardless of how many people you're cooking for, enjoy the process.

Read the original article on Insider

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