Simple techniques to take the guesswork out of grilling
For all, you guys out there who are already grill masters read no further. But for the rest of us mere mortal home cooks who would like a few tips about grilling, read on.
I must warn you: when researching the grilling technique, I found so many different viewpoints that I decided to provide those tips that were in consensus or made the most sense to me.
And be sure to check out my 8 Grilling Tips To Grill Like A Pro
The Right Way to Grill
From reading and experimenting, I learned that the right way to grill is what works for you, and the only way to get really good at grilling is to practice. I sometimes ask my wife when out for dinner, "How come when I grill fish, it isn't perfect like this?"
The answer is I may grill a piece of fish once every two weeks, and professional chefs grill a lot of fish daily. So I guarantee if you grilled as much fish as one of these pros, your fish would be perfect too.
I could do a whole article (and maybe someday I will) on the different cuts of beef that are best for grilling steak. Then, you could write a book about how to use various rubs and marinades to enhance flavors.
Also, we often use the terms grilling and barbecuing interchangeably, but they are different.
Traditional barbecue is done slowly with low cooking temperatures and a lot of smoke. Grilling depends on a higher temperature to sear what you are cooking to keep the juices in. So here are some tips and ideas for grilling.
First of all, grilling is a lot like broiling. Both use direct heat, but when grilling, the heat source comes from below, and when broiling, the heat source is from above.
Both methods are great when cooking tender cuts of beef, chicken, fish, and vegetables. However, make sure whatever you are cooking isn't too thick, or it will burn on the exterior when the inside is done.
Although grilling is considered a healthy way of cooking because much of the fat will drip into the fire, be careful to avoid flare-ups from the fat. Not only will you potentially burn what you are cooking and give it an acrid flavor, but you can also create a nasty fire hazard.
Growing up, my father (the self-appointed grill master) only used charcoal as a fuel source. (I'm not even sure they had gas barbecues back then.)
He made the common mistake of not using enough charcoal at the start or replacing it when it burned down. As a result, the food was never appropriately seared, so the juices were released, and the meat dried out.
He also used self-starting charcoal briquettes that gave the food a funky chemical taste. I've been told you can buy natural lump charcoal with no additives, which makes a big difference, but I've never found it, so I opted for a gas grill.
Easy to control the heat and even easier to maintain. I've even experimented with adding some pre-soaked chunks of Hickory wood to boost flavor.
It would help if you started with a clean grill. There's nothing worse than grilling a beautiful Filet Mignon and tasting like red snapper. Removing all the residue with a wire brush is done right after you finish cooking while the grate is still hot.
If you wait until it's time to start cooking, some scrapings can fall into the flames and cause a flare-up. So before heating the grill, brush it or spray it with a bit of vegetable oil to prevent food from sticking. This is especially important if you are using a sugary basting sauce.
It's also vital that your grill is hot well before you start. Unfortunately, many of us, especially with gas grills, wait until right before we start cooking before cranking up the heat. Mistake.
Preheat that grill for 15 to 30 minutes before you start cooking. Have all your cooking tools ready and standing by. These include not only aprons and utensils but also seasonings and basting sauces. And be sure to have a spray water bottle on hand in case of flare-ups.
Know thy Grill
Every grill is different and will have different hot and cool spots. It would help if you learned where they are and used them to your advantage.
If you're grilling up a steak, you may want to cut off any excess fat and season with a bit of salt before you start. However, you may want to pre-cook chicken in the microwave or oven to reduce cooking time and give you more browning control.
With fish filets, I like to place them in a zip lock bag with a bit of olive oil and herbs, but you can also prepare a glaze to coat them just before grilling. But, again, remember to bring items to room temperature before grilling.
Marinades are great for adding flavor to what you are grilling. Check your cookbooks for which marinades work best for your ingredients.
The longer you marinate, the better. However, it's best to marinate overnight in the refrigerator and if you use it for basting, make sure you boil it first to kill any bacteria that may be present.
Also, pat dry the meat, chicken, or fish before grilling so the marinade doesn't cause flare-ups. Barbecue sauce is used to baste what you are grilling, and although commercial barbecue sauces are a big business, the essential ingredients are tomatoes, vinegar, onion, mustard, and brown sugar. So experiment and create your special sauce.
How Long Do You Cook It?
I guess the most frequent questions are, "how long do you cook it for?" and "how can you tell when it's done?" Although every cookbook you pick up has guidelines for each ingredient, it returns to experience and touch.
I suggest you follow your favorite cookbook guides to grilling but start touching the foods at different intervals to get a feel for firmness and texture.
For example, as a general rule, I cook a one ½-inch New York Strip steak for ten minutes. I start by grilling for 2 ½ minutes, then turning it 90 degrees and cooking for another 2 ½ minutes, flip the steak over to its other side and repeat the process, thus giving the steak the classic grill marks.
At the same time, I test the steak with my finger to feel for various degrees of firmness. For example, medium-cooked feels like touching your cheek. If you want to get specific, you can use an instant thermometer.
For steak, 115 – 120 degrees is rare, 125-130 degrees is medium rare, and 135 – 140 degrees is medium. Don't forget; the meat will continue to cook once you remove it from the grill to rest, so you may want to remove it before hitting your target temperature, so you don't overcook it.
Everyone seems to have their favorite grilling techniques, tools, marinades, and family recipes ....often secret. And if you like gadgets, you'll love grilling since many great tools enhance your grilling experience.
Check out my Grilling Tools for a few examples.
These grilling tips only touch the surface of what there is to learn about grilling as a cooking method. The best advice I can give any home cook is to practice as much as you can. It's a great way to cook without mess, especially in the summer when it's too hot to cook inside.
Nice article. You can get nice lump charcoal at Lowes, Walmart and even some Grocery stores now.
Oh man, It is just about time to fire up the grill this year. All the tips are excellent. Will definitely help out this evening.
Just my opinion, but charcoal definitely give a much better flavor. I never use lighter fluid or self starting. I recommend using a charcoal chimney which uses paper to start the charcoal, and I do not cook until the charcoal is grey and red (from the intense heat from the charcoal chimney.
The high heat at first sears the meat slightly, but quickly the temperature reduces. Just my two cents... my gas grill is for the nights when I need to quickly cook boneless/skinless chick breast for the kids, or for cooking corn, etc....
Anything that simplfies the process gives you more time to be organized and properly concentrate on actual grilling.
Like the previous guy said, a charcoal chimney is the best and easiest way to light charcoal. A grill basket holds lots of burgers or whatever so they can all be turned over at once. A squirt of water from a spray bottle kills flames and stops food burning. All these things save effort and improve quality.
I also practice searing the meats before placing them on the broiler grill whether it be a steak or chicken for the simple fact to avoid sticking even if you baste for non stick it actually saves and sears in natural juices, i even do it to burgers.