By: Mad Dog
Merrill and I have been grilling as a team for 33 years now. We have seen, heard and grilled it all! We have seen many changes in the grilling industry and the way meats are harvested. Let’s go back to 1952 when gloriously colored, 22 ½ inch charcoal grills hit the scene. That’s how it all started. Three layers of coals, a full can of lighter fluid and the CAVE MAN’S HOTTEST HEAT MACHO MAN GRILLER WAS BORN! (Better known as carcinogen man).
He was ready to take on the most delicate duck breasts and lean medallions of venison. Then charcoal grillers quickly learned about low and slow to save their meal and their marriage. Next, we started banking two piles of coals on the bottom grate, let them get good and gray and placed a large bear roast, whole duck, wild turkey or a large slab of salmon above in the center. Put the hood down and the world had a convection oven. Turkeys and roasts in 12-18 minutes a pound, whole fish in minutes are tender and juicy – it was a wonderful world!
In the late 70’s and early 80’s, the gas grill companies tried their best. They had S burners, H burners and single burners. Grillers understood the value of fast, easy and economical gas grilling, but the wheel had to be reinvented. Cheap burners, lava rock and grease fires, not to mention the number of strap backs, large tenderloins of venison, salmon fillets and whole ducks burnt to a crisp, crunchy, blackened *#@!# mistake! Thanks goodness by mid to late 80s the gas grill companies got rid of the H, S, and single burners. They created 3, 4 and 5 burner gas grills with the ability to grill indirect using convection style cooking as mentioned earlier with the charcoal cooking. Wild turkeys, whole pheasants, roasts of bear and venison grilled low and slow in the gas grill. I just want to mention, you 2-burner gas grill owners…you’re okay. You can brown venison, steaks, salmon and pheasant breasts on one side where there is heat, move to the side with no heat, put the hood down and relax. With whole fish, wild turkeys and wild game roasts, you can also shift to the side without heat, lower the hood and relax. 80% of our grilling is done that way. Brown the meat to get the grill flavor and then move the meat over to where there is no heat. Did I mention please get an 8 ½ x 11 inch aluminum pan and place under the top grate on the side where there isn’t heat? Fill it halfway with water and it will evaporate to add moisture back in to your cooking. To go a step further, white wine, red wine, beer, apple or orange juice, diced onions, garlic and bay leaves can be added to that drip pan instead. Oh man! You just became a GRILLOLOGIST!
Do you remember the good ol’ days when you used to buy a rib eye steak and it was 50% fat? We were in heaven! Now there is a conspiracy out there! The pork, beef, lamb and poultry association, they’re all trying to make us meaner, leaner, fighting (or in this case hunting) machines! I have to do is take one look at Merrill and see it’s working …NOT! You harvesters of wild game and fisher people, your cuts of meat are as lean as any on this planet. Thus, special care needs to be taken to both prep the meat and the grill. First rule of thumb, if you put meat on the grill dry it comes off the grill dry (almost as dry as Merrill’s humor). 100% of wild game and fish need a light coating of oil (85% of all cuts of meat). When you lightly coat wild game and fish with oil before grilling, they brown up beautifully, hold their natural juices and flavors as well as the griller introduced flavors of marinates and rubs. This also keeps them from sticking on the grates of the grill.
Salmon, trout, and walleye fillets all can be grilled. Scale, leave the skin on, brush with oil, season as desired, preheat grill on high, turn down to medium heat and place fillets, skin side down, directly on the grates of the grill and lower the hood. Large slabs of salmon and trout are done in about 15 minutes. The fillets bead white on top, which is the natural juices being pushed upward as the fillet cooks. At that point, the fish should be firm to the touch and done. If you cut your fish into 2 inch steaks with the bone in, set grill to medium and use direct heat. Next, oil the steaks, season and brown 1 to 2 minutes per side. Move them over to the side of the grill with no heat. Put the hood down and treat them like little roasts. Grill indirect for about 12 – 20 more minutes. Whole fish are wonderful on the grill too! Squeeze fresh lemon in the cavity and around the whole fish. Oil the fish inside and out and season well. Set the grill for indirect heat and place fish on the grill on the side where there is no heat. Put the hood down. Average size whole walleye need about 40 minutes of total cooking time. After the first 20 minutes, work a spatula under the fish and gently turn over. Grill for another 20 minutes.
If you want to grill whole wild turkey, duck or pheasant, season, add a little onion, garlic and basil in the cavity and grill indirect 12-18 minutes per pound. Tent the bird the last half hour to keep the moisture in.
A quick little lesson on venison: Sirloin tip, bottom round, and top round roasts all need to be oiled and seasoned well. I like to oil the roast and rub it with jarred garlic, dried basil, rosemary and a little seasoning salt. Grill using indirect heat, 18 minutes per pound. Use a meat thermometer for desired doneness. For venison steaks, oil, season and grill over medium direct heat until desired doneness.
Get rid of the macho attitude. Remember low and slow. Happy Grilling!