Tailgate Secrets: The Beauty of Grill-Roasting

By the editors of Cook's Illustrated

Show the cold weather who’s boss.

On the biggest football weekend of the year, head outside decked in your team's colors (in layers, preferably) and fire up the grill for the best game-day spread around. When it comes to tender cuts that don't require slow cooking over low heat, like beef tenderloin or short ribs, the grill can add a smoky flavor to roasts in a way that ovens just can’t.

Grill-roasting relies on indirect heat between 300 and 400 degrees (in contrast to true grilling, which occurs at temperatures in excess of 500 degrees). We do this by banking the coals on one side of the grill and roasting the meat on the "cool" side, with the lid kept down to trap heat and create an environment much like the oven. With a gas grill, we keep the primary burner on and we turn the others off.

Four Secrets to Grill-Roasting Success

1. Season the meat. Salt the roast, let it stand for 1 hour, and tie it up before placing it on the grill. For lean cuts of pork, skip the salt and brine the meat before placing it on the grill.

2. Use wood chunks or chips to enhance the meat with smoky flavor. While charcoal will impart some flavor to the meat, wood chunks or chips are necessary to achieve true smokiness (especially with a gas grill). Place the soaked, drained chunks directly on the charcoal or wrap wood chips in a foil packet poked with holes (or place them in a foil tray for a gas grill). To keep the fire burning as long as possible, we also prefer to use briquettes rather than hardwood charcoal.

3. Bank the coals on one side of the grill. Many recipes recommend banking coals on both sides of the grill, but we find the edges of large roasts can burn with this method. We prefer to transfer all coals to one side, leaving the other half free of coals so the meat can cook without burning. To ensure it cooks evenly, it’s a good idea to rotate the meat halfway through cooking.

4. Use the vents to regulate heat. To help regulate heat, adjust the vents on both the lid and the grill bottom. We prefer to close them partially to keep the coals from burning up too fast and to help the grill retain heat.

RECIPE FOR MEMBERS: Grill-Roasted Beef Short Ribs

We begin our short ribs with a simple spice rub and jump-start the cooking process by giving the ribs a pit stop in the oven. In a foil-covered baking dish, the fat renders off the ribs, and the tough, chewy collagen begins to transform into moisture-retaining gelatin. Then we head out to the grill to complete the cooking while lacquering on one of our flavorful glazes.

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