The Unexpected Meat You Need To Avoid Grilling At All Costs

Grilling is the great American pastime, with an estimated 64% of Americans owning a grill or smoker. And with grilling, it can seem like everything takes well to the concept: burgers, hot dogs, chicken, steaks, ribs, pork shoulder, mushrooms, onions, peppers, kebabs, etc. It can sometimes feel like you can slap pretty much anything on there and have it come out tasty. Except ... you can't actually do that. Even though it can seem like anything (or at least any meat) can be grilled, there are some foods that don't work out so well on the grill. Brisket is fantastic for a cookout — but only if you smoke it. 

It may come as a surprise that brisket doesn't take well to grilling, considering it's often known as the king of smoked meats. The reason gets down to food science and how the brisket breaks down (or doesn't) when exposed to high heat.

Brisket is designed to be cooked low and slow, and speeding up the process can have disastrous effects

Brisket is generally regarded as the be-all, end-all of smoked meats, and there's good reason for its popularity. When made right, a good smoked brisket is almost a spiritual experience. That's especially true in Texas, where it's practically a religion anyway, turning a once-cheap cut of meat into one of the more expensive parts of the cow. 

Originally the province of Jewish immigrants who would braise it (particularly for religious holidays), brisket made its way west in America and eventually became the BBQ staple we know today.

But while it smokes (and braises) beautifully, it doesn't work at all for grilling. The reason is that brisket is a connective tissue, meaning it's rich in collagen and other generally tough fibers. Collagen-rich meats do cook well — but only if you cook them slowly. Braising and smoking work well for brisket because they give that collagen time to break down and turn into delicious meat juice. Grilling, on the other hand, exposes it to high external heat, leading to a tough cut of meat that doesn't at all resemble what brisket is known for.

Brisket isn't the only food that doesn't take well to grilling

Much like brisket, there are other foods that don't grill well at all. Some of them aren't surprising — it's doubtful many people think grilling spinach or tofu is a good idea. But some of them might catch you off-guard, especially because a lot of them are meats. Bacon, for instance, doesn't work at all, for a couple of reasons. First, bacon does well when it's exposed to consistent direct or ambient heat; hitting parts of it (the parts touching the grill) with more heat than others leads to it being unevenly cooked. Second, and even more importantly, bacon produces so much grease that it can start a fire easily. Stick with the oven or frying pan here.

Pork chops should also logically cook well on a grill, but they often don't. Meats that grill well usually have significant fat content, and pork chops are leaner, so the grill heat tends to dry them out. That's also the reason that while certain steaks (particularly strips and ribeyes) do well on the grill, you probably don't want to give a filet mignon, a much leaner cut, the same treatment.

Grilling is all about making a plan beforehand and choosing the right cut of meat, wood, temperature, and the like. There are plenty of ways to get it right — but there are also plenty of ways, as with brisket and these other meats, to get it wrong.