Grilling isn’t just for meat anymore. You can do virtually all your cooking on the grill – vegetables, foil pouch entrees, dessert, even pizza. Instead of spending sultry summer evenings broiling along with your food in a hot kitchen, why not plan to fix your meals on your deck or patio? Grilling adds no extra fat to your food, takes no more time than conventional cooking, and best of all, clean up is a snap. If you’ve never tried your hand at grilling, it’s time to learn this great American cooking technique.
Gas grills are a lot like gas stoves – turn on the gas and light it. Most gas grills even have temperature settings so there’s no guesswork. To preheat, light all burners and close lid for 15 minutes. Carefully lift lid and scrape away any charred bits on the grates with a grill brush. Close lid again and let heat back up for 5 minutes. Charcoal’s a little trickier, but doable if you know the secrets. For one pound of meat cooked with the direct-heat method (smack over the fire), a good rule of thumb is 30 briquettes. For the same amount of meat using slower indirect heat, you’ll need about 50 briquettes.
Pile your briquettes in a pyramid before lighting. It takes about 20 minutes for charcoal to reach the proper temperature for cooking. It should be about 70 percent covered in ash with a faint glow. Spread the charcoal out so that it extends at least an inch beyond the edges of the food to be cooked. Also try using a chimney starter. Avoid using lighter fluid, as this can add a chemical taste to delicate foods.
To avoid foods sticking on the grill, dip a wad of paper towels or an onion sliced in half in a bowl of vegetable oil. Using long handled tongs, oil the grates repeatedly before placing food on the grill.
If you inherited your grill and have no instructions, here’s a time-honored method to determine temperature: hold your hand palm down over the fire about six inches above the coals. Count in seconds how long you can comfortably hold your hand there: 5 mississippis: 200-300 degrees Fahrenheit; 4 mississippis: 300-350 degrees; 3 mississippis: 350-375 degrees; 2 mississippis: 375 and above. Remember, some foods will continue to cook after you remove them from the grill. Pull steaks off the grill a minute or two before they reach your goal temperature. Shrimp can easily overcook when on the grill. For best results, try this trick: buy large shrimp still in the shell. Using fingernail scissors, cut along the back of the shell, but leave the shell and legs on the shrimp. If desired, devein shrimp before cooking. Rub a little olive oil or melted butter between the shells and the shrimp. Grill the shrimp on metal skewers without crowding the shrimp. The shells will protect the shrimp from overlooking and also impart great flavor.
What equipment is absolutely necessary? You need a good set of spring-loaded long-handled tongs for turning meats. A sturdy wire brush is absolutely necessary to clean your grill racks. While the racks are still hot from cooking, use the brush to remove stuck-on bits. For turning meat or serving, a long-handled spatula will serve you well. Different sizes of basting brushes come in handy. Skewers come in metal, wood and bamboo varieties. To keep the last two from burning up over the fire, soak them in water, fruit juice or wine for 30 minutes before using. Wire baskets and grids are great for vegetables and items that break apart easily like whole fish filets. Finally, a high quality instant-read thermometer is a must for avoiding under-cooked chicken and making sure you don't overcook your steak. If you only buy one piece of equipment this summer, make it a thermometer. Expect to spend upwards of $90 on a Therma-Pen brand thermometer. Trust me, you will never regret this investment.
A few miscellaneous tips to help you perfect your technique:
l Remove and properly dispose of grill ashes when cool. When mixed with water, ashes can eat through metal.
l Arrange food at least ¾“ apart for even cooking.
l Keep children and pets away from the grill when it’s in use.
l Set up your grill on a flat even surface.
l Don’t store extra gas tanks under or near your gas grill.
l Don’t wear loose, flowing clothing when working with fire.