It’s barbeque season and a time of a happy marriage of beef with fire. We know that when folks eat Wagyu they want to best eating experience possible. Unfortunately, not everyone is a master with the grill.
BBQ’s are quite nearly bipolar in debate and in practice. There are, first of all, those who argue cooking over coals versus those who like to push a button to cook with gas. And there are, of course, people who think they can BBQ and really can’t. You get the cooks who either burn things to a crisp or serve it up so raw you get parasites just from looking at the stuff.
We don’t want to see you messing up your Wagyu.
So we’re going to pontificate about how to grill it and why working with Wagyu over a BBQ is a little bit different.
Let’s start with the obvious: your grill.
If you have a gas grill we really can’t help you. A grill with gas is just cooking outside. It adds nothing to your food other than convenience. You might as well stay in the air-conditioned house and not shame yourself by throwing Wagyu on what is essentially an indoor cooking appliance.
But at the same time don’t think yourself any kind of purist if you light a bag of pre-fueled coals or, worse, douse your cooking power with explosives that poison your foods.
Wagyu and fire belong together and that means using real wood charcoal or, best yet, just real wood. The smartest device you can get to help you with this is a simple chimney-style charcoal fire starter. You-tube is loaded with videos that show you how easy, safe and chemical free these devices are to use.
When you get your hickory flaming and your coals burning hot you do not just simply throw meat at it.
Calm down. Take a big breath…and wait. This is the secret not only to good BBQ but also to great beef. Give the fire a few minutes to calm down, to heat the seasoned cooking surface.
Bring your Wagyu to room temperature before you cook it. That means taking it out of the fridge for 40 to 60 minutes before you put it on the grill. This helps to prevent scorching and shocking the beef when it hits the grill. It also helps to contain essential fats that contain the flavor you expect from Wagyu.
You should have a hot and cool side to your grill. In other words, one side contains the fire for direct cooking while the other uses ambient heat that simulates an oven. You will use both sides of the grill.
One of the first things you will notice when cooking Wagyu is that it is very soft. You must handle it carefully because you can easily tear the flesh with even your hands. It’s tender, folks. That’s why you buy it. So be deliberate and gentle.
Give each side of your meat maybe 30 seconds at most to sear. Then immediately move it to the cool side of the grill and let it cook.
There is an endless and fruitless debate about cooking meat — any kind of meat — to completion. Unfortunately, that results in a lot of abuse of red meat.
You aren’t looking for a particular color or kind of “doneness”. You want the insides of your meat to be no greater than 145 to 150 degrees. That means getting a meat thermometer, guys. No fudging it. No sticking your finger on the surface and looking for some kind of recovery or juices from a little pressure. Just spend the $7 on Amazon that it takes to get a proper meat thermometer. It will end all BBQ debates in your family, trust me.
When you remove your Wagyu from the grill and someone invariably cries, “Cook it longer, it’s bleeding!” throw them the car keys and tell them to go to the local burger joint if they want to eat abused meat.
Wagyu is, by nature, more red than typical beef. It is soft and tender and if there are running juices it doesn’t come from “blood”. Micro-analyze it if you must. Nobody died from cooking to 145. Say it with me, kids. This is your optimum point of flavor and you should never go beyond it.
Let your Wagyu sit for a few minutes once it is the right temperature. You don’t want it to cool but wait five to ten to let things settle. Cutting in too soon disrupts the natural flow of fats as they settle and you’ll lose all that flavor if you cut into it too soon.
A special word here about grilling Wagyu burgers: these are really soft patties.
It is important that you just place them on the grill and let them cook. Don’t press down on them. Don’t flip them over right away. Resist the urge to fiddle with them.
If you’re not careful they will fall apart. Even worse, if you leave them over a flame they will create an inferno. Wagyu’s marbling — which gives it such intense flavor — melts over an open flame. Cook them slowly on the cool side of the grill and be patient. Use that meat thermometer.
Resist the urge to sauce.
In fact, I dare you to eat any kind of Wagyu off the grill without sauce altogether. BBQ sauce is full of sugar — and sometimes salt — that detracts from the natural flavors of the beef. Trust me. You’re going to want the full Wagyu experience from your grill and that is best without sauce.