Kentucky is a major producer of beef cattle. Little says the state's 1.1 million cows makes it rank eighth in the nation. Boyle County has 35,000 cows and calves and while Little doesn't raise any beef cattle, as the county's agricultural extention agent he works with the county's many producers.
The local cattelmen's association usually is serving Creekstone brand, which is USDA choice. The meat originally is from Kentucky, but it is shipped to feed lots in Kansas.
"They use a lot of Kentucky cattle," Little says.
He uses paint thinner
When getting ready to cook, Little says many people are surprised to learn that he uses paint thinner to fire up the charcoal.
"It's a cleaner burning fuel than charcoal lighter," he says. "It gets the fire hotter, quicker."
When using charcoal, medium, ash-covered coals are ready in about 30 minutes. The correct temperature is important because if the coals are too hot, the outside of the food can become charred and overcooked before the inside is properly cooked.
For gas grills, he recommends heating the grill for 5 to 10 minutes before cooking. After use, he says turn the heat to high and leave the grill on for 10 to 15 minutes.
One test to see if a grill is ready to use is to hold the palm of your hand about 4 inches above the coals. Coals are medium hot when you can hold your palm there for 3 seconds before the heat forces you to pull it away.
Grilling times vary based on the thickness of the meat. If a ribeye steak is 3/4-inch thick, cook it 6 to 8 minutes. A 4-ounce beef patty that is 1/2-inch thick should be cooked 11 to 13 minutes. Patties should be cooked to 160 degrees internally.
This can be tested by buying a meat thermometer for about $2.50.
"If you use it for burgers, slide it in on the side and not the top," Little says.
For seasoning, Little likes Nature's Seasoning.
"It's got garlic in it," he says, but notes that Lawry's Seasoning Salt also is good.
Season the meat after it is on the grill. After the meat has been turned, put the seasoning on it.
"Some people think salt will take moisture out of meat and it doesn't," he notes.
Even with all of his grilling techniques, Little admits that it's the cut of meat that makes the difference, which is determined by the fat content.
"It's the intra-muscular fat that keeps it juice and gives it flavor," he says.
Marinades and rubs
A tenderizing marinade must contain an acidic ingredient, such as lemon juice, yogurt or vinegar) or a natural tenderizing enzyme found in fresh papaya, ginger, pineapple and figs.
A rub is a blend of seasonings, such as fresh or dried herbs and spices, used to flavor the surface of uncooked steaks or ground beef patties. Paste-type rubs often contain some oil, crushed garlic or mustard.
* Marinate in the refrigerator, never at room temperature.
* Tender beef steaks can be marinated briefly for flavor, 15 minutes to 2 hours. These include ribeye, ribs, top loin, Porterhouse, T-bone, tenderloin, sirloin, chuck top blade and chuck eye steaks.
* Less tender beef steaks should be marinated 6 hours or as long as overnight in a mixture containing a food acid or enzyme. These cuts include flank, top round, eye round and chuck shoulder steaks.
* Marinating longer than 24 hours in a tenderizing marinade can result in a mushy surface texture.
If a marinade is to be used later for basting or as a sauce, reserve a portion of it prior to adding the beef. Marinade that has been in contact with uncooked meat must be brought to full rolling boil before it can be used as a sauce.