Whether you’re feeding yourself or the family, making a romantic dinner for two, cooking for a holiday gathering, or preparing a raucous tailgate party feast, using your grill is by far the best choice. It doesn’t matter if you prefer gas or charcoal; grilling basics will help make your meal better every time. Whatever kind of grill you have, here’s some helpful information to make your meal or party a hit.
Learning Grilling Basics
Charcoal versus Gas Debate
My personal preference is charcoal, but I have used gas grills numerous times with success. There is nothing better than catching the first whiffs of a freshly lit charcoal grill on a beautiful day. This wonderful aroma signals that a meal is on the way, and we want in. It also triggers something primal in all of us; fire = food. Cooking on charcoal provides a flavor unmatched by gas grills. This is the point where gas grill owners stop me and say “charcoal takes too long and it’s inconvenient”. While lighting a gas grill does take less time, how can you choose speed over flavor?
It’s All In The Prep Work
Every meal on a grill has prep work involved, right? Your charcoal can be burning its way to that “perfect grey” while you prep. Getting to the point charcoal is ready (the grey) normally takes around 20 minutes. These 20 minutes are the perfect opportunity for getting your items ready for grilling. Whether it’s seasoning a cut of meat, chopping vegetables for kebabs, or working on your sides, the 20 minute wait time is nothing compared to the flavor achieved.
To guarantee success, use a charcoal grill such as the Weber kettle or others that are similar. You have the ability to cook smaller cuts of meat such as chicken breasts, steaks, chops, sausage or brats, or even fish with ease. The charcoal grill can also handle larger cuts such as roasts, whole chickens, pork shoulders, turkeys, and brisket. The secret for the larger cuts is usually the “low & slow” method. This can involve up to several hours or more depending on what’s on the menu. Using the low & slow method can also involve wood chips which provide even better flavor than just charcoal by itself.
Gas grills using either propane or natural gas are very popular and provide a great way to grill without the wait time or mess of charcoal. They come in many sizes and some are even portable. In many residences gas grills are the only option for those who love to grill. They are fast to light and very versatile when grilling. Gas grills are really great with the smaller cuts of meat. Depending on how the flame bars are set up on your gas grill, you may also be able to grill larger cuts of meat. Smoking on gas grills presents a challenge, but it is possible using wood chips and a foil pouch. Another option is “flavorizer bars”. These can be added to your gas grill and provide that “cooked on a grill” flavor that is usually missing.
No matter which type of grill you have, using them on a regular basis should not be avoided. The grill is the best way to cook food all year round. Grills are a huge part of entertaining and will provide you with many satisfied guests leaving your home very happy. Normally if you see a grill in use, not far away will be a cooler or two, chairs, tables, and great conversations among the guests. Grills are a natural draw for people who are curious about the menu or want to learn more about grilling. Once you learn the basics of grilling, you will able to cook fantastic meals with ease.
The two most common methods of grilling are direct and indirect cooking. Direct grilling is as easy as it sounds. The items are grilled directly over your coals or flame bars. This is the quickest way to grill, but also can be the most labor intensive. Grilling direct requires constant attention from the cook.
Depending on what’s being grilled, you may only have a minute or two to “flip it over” before the meat becomes dried out, burnt, or tough. This is especially true with boneless cuts like chops, steaks, or chicken breasts. There’s nothing worse than dried out cuts of meat that no amount of BBQ sauce can make palatable. Stay close to the grill while cooking direct!
Indirect Grilling With Charcoal
The indirect grilling method involves placing the meat to be grilled away from the coals. This method is normally used when cooking large cuts of meat that require hours to cook. Cooking indirect can be enhanced by using wood chips to add smoke flavor to the meat. Soaking wood chips in water for 30 minutes will help make them produce wonderful smoke that seeps into the meat creating that much sought after “smoke ring”. The smoke ring is the grill master’s quest, a badge of honor so to speak. Any griller worth their weight in charcoal will be glad to show off the smoke ring when their cut of meat is ready.
Indirect Grilling With Gas
Cooking indirect with gas depends on how your flame bars are set up. If you have the ability to shut off one half or a third of the grill, you can cook indirect. You can also use wood chips to smoke on the gas grill. Take a large handful of dry wood chips and place them in a foil pouch. Cut slits in the top of the pouch and place it near the flame bar. The heat will cause the chips to smolder which will produce the smoked goodness.
Done not Overdone
Learning when to take something off of the grill is an art. The only true way to learn is through trial and error on the grill. My rule of thumb is: “if you think it needs another minute, take it off!” Let the meat rest on a plate for two to three minutes; the meat will continue to cook while resting. If you notice juices that look bloody, put it back on the grill. If the juices are clear, the meat should be ready to serve. You can always cut into the thickest part of the meat to check for any under-cooked portions. You should follow this rule for everything except steaks. Steaks should be grilled from rare up to well done, depending on your guest’s tastes.
With larger cuts of meats, you’ll be using meat thermometers to check whether the meat is ready. Every meat has a target temp that needs to be reached before serving. For example, the target temp for poultry is 180 degrees Fahrenheit which is the minimum temp needed before serving. Hitting 180 prevents risking any health issues for your guests. Luckily, most meat thermometers have a guide to follow for poultry, beef, lamb, etc. right on the thermometer.
These are the basics to grilling with gas or charcoal. There are limitless meal options you can grill for your family or friends once you get the hang of things. Obtaining the “grill master” status will take some practice. The key is to plan your meal around the grill, practice grilling basics until you get it right, and never ever stop trying different methods. Now get grilling!
Coming up soon: Planning for the Big Game