Even More Common Grilling Mistakes & How to Avoid Them
Mistake #13 - The Briquette Addict
Self-starting briquettes seem so easy to use. Just light them with a match. That’s it. And if they are hard to light, squeeze on some lighter fluid.
No problem, right? Wrong.
Briquettes are made primarily of charred wood and coal, and they are held together with starch binders. They contain lime (which turns white and lets you know when your coals are ready) and are sprayed with an accelerant (lighter-fluid) to make them light easily.
One of the problems with using briquettes is that people don’t wait until the coals are completely ready before putting the food on the grill. Some of the impurities used in producing the briquettes are then cooked into your food.
Although briquettes do burn longer, for the sake of your health and for flavor, I recommend using natural lump charcoal for grilling. You don’t need any lighter fluid to light it. All you need is a $10-$15 chimney starter, available at any hardware or home improvement store.
Crumple up 2 full sheets of newspaper. Put these in the bottom of the chimney starter, under the grate. Fill the chimney with the lump charcoal, and then light the paper.
Place the chimney on the bottom (small) grate of your charcoal grill, and wait until the coals are glowing cherry red. This will not take long at all.
I was amazed at how efficient a chimney starter is the first time I used one. Handle the chimney starter with heavy duty gloves and make sure you have a heat-proof surface to put it on after the coals are hot and you’ve put them in the grill.
Mistake #14 - The Stabber
When you went to the store to get your grill, the salesman up-sold you with a nice set of long-handled grilling tools. You got tongs, a really long fork, a really long spatula and a grill brush.
The first time you grill and it’s time to turn the meat, you reach for the really long fork, stab the meat and turn it over. You have a lot of mysterious flare-ups, and after checking the temperature with your instant read thermometer and letting it rest the appropriate length of time, you are surprised when you cut into it to find dry, tasteless meat.
Throw the fork away. Always, always use a spatula or tongs to turn food on a grill. After all, once the meat is dead, it’s dead. No need to kill it again.
Although we know that searing doesn’t really lock in the juices, stabbing the meat with a fork or a knife will allow the hot juices to run out. And once, they’re gone, they’re gone.
Mistake #15 - The Full Court Press
“If he won’t let me use my fork, I’ll use my spatula! I’ll just press this chicken breast down so it makes better contact with the grill.”
Wait a minute, do you hear that increased sizzle and see the flare-ups? That sizzle is not the satisfying sound of grilling meat, it is the sound of juices being pressed out with the spatula. The result—dry, tasteless meat.
Spatulas are made for turning, not pressing. Put it down unless it’s time to turn the food.
Your food is made up of cells that you have taken great pains to keep full of flavorful juices. You might even have introduced more juice and flavors through brining and/or marinating.
Now the food is like a sponge - full of flavor and juices. The last thing you want to do is squeeze them all out by pressing on the food. Just leave it alone.
Mistake #16 - The Wanderer
As I said in the introduction, grilling is a quick cooking method. Food generally goes from raw to cooked fairly quickly and can just as quickly go from perfectly cooked to burnt.
Don’t go wandering away from the grill to grab another beverage, answer the phone or check the laundry—you’ll walk away from near perfection and return to a ruined meal.
The easy answer is, “Don’t leave the grill.”
The expanded answer is have your phone by the grill, don’t start laundry before you start grilling, have a cooler by the grill and deputize someone you trust and who knows how to use an instant read thermometer to take over should you absolutely have to leave the grill.
Mistake #17 - The Seasonal Griller
It is a mistake to think that grilling season starts on Memorial Day and ends on Labor Day. Our ancestors didn’t stop grilling just because it got cold, and neither should you.
Use your grill at least a few times during the colder months. It is a great way to break up the monotony of heavy winter stews and braises, and it gets you out in the cool, fresh air for a while.
Who wouldn’t want a fresh grilled burger and some grilled vegetables in the middle of January? If it snowed the night before, clear a path to the grill and get started.
Mistake #18 - A Dangerous Maneuver
You have a grilling party all planned. The menu is set, the neighbors are here, and it begins to rain. You consider bringing the grill indoors.
According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 20 people die from grilling-related carbon monoxide poisoning every year. Grilling should ALWAYS be done in a well-ventilated, outdoor environment.
Never try to grill inside, even if you think you have good ventilation. If it starts to rain, either stand in it and grill or order pizza. Your health and safety are much more of a concern than is cancelling a party.