You don’t bake everything in the oven at the same setting on the thermostat. Grilling is no different. Some foods require high heat (450° to 600°F), others moderate (350° to 450°F), and still others low (275° to 350°F). This is easy in most gas grills because they have a thermometer in the lid, but charcoal grills usually lack this feature. A deep-frying thermometer with a long metal stem can double as a grill thermometer. Insert the stem into one of the vent openings in the grill lid to take the reading.
Rösle 24" Charcoal Grill
This charcoal grill is packed with features to make grilling even more enjoyable. Round dome lid is high enough to accommodate large chickens and turkey and is hinged so it tilts at a 45° angle for easy access. Includes weatherproof, heavy-duty grill cover (a $60 value).
You will have more control over how fast the food cooks if you have one hot zone and one moderately hot zone. For a charcoal grill, spread the coals into a slope, with one side two or three coals deep and the other side with scattered coals. For a gas grill, turn one burner on high, and the other burner(s) on low.
Flare-ups are caused when the fat in the food drips on the heat source, but they need oxygen to stay alive. Cook with the grill lid closed as much as possible. You’ll not only trap the heat in the grill, but also cut off the oxygen that feeds flare-ups.
Charcoal has the edge in flavor, but it is hard to beat gas for convenience. Many serious grillers have both models, using the charcoal grill when they want to impart deep, smoky flavor to foods and the gas grill when they want to prepare a meal quickly.
Scrub the grilling grate clean after use. Any food that remains on the grill will not “burn off.” It will actually burn onto the grate, and make it harder to remove the next time you grill. Get in the habit of scrubbing the grill grate right before you shut it down, when the stuck-on food is still relatively soft. If you don’t have a grill brush, grasp a wad of aluminum foil with long tongs and use it to scour the grate.
Prepping Food for the Grill
Let meat and poultry stand for 30 minutes to an hour at room temperature before grilling. Apply the seasonings during this period. They will penetrate more fully than if you sprinkle them on just before tossing the food on the grill.
A juicy, tender hamburger can be yours if you choose the right ground beef. The amount of fat directly contributes to the juiciness of the burger, so the leaner the beef, the drier the burger. Some markets state the cut of beef used for grinding; others indicate the percentage of fat in the grind, and still others do both.
Some people prefer ground turkey or chicken for their burgers. Because both must be cooked through, care must be taken to prevent dryness. Incorporate moisture by adding 2 tablespoons of a wet condiment such as teriyaki sauce, pesto, Dijon mustard, ketchup or mayonnaise for every pound of meat. Then mix 2 tablespoons dried bread crumbs into the ground meat. As the meat heats and the fat melts, the crumbs absorb and retain fat that would otherwise drip out of the patty.
Hamburgers shrink during cooking, and a perfectly shaped raw patty can end up looking like a hockey puck. To avoid this, shape about 5 ounces ground meat into a 4-inch round, then make an indentation, about 2 inches wide and 1 inch thick, in the top. As the meat cooks, the indentation will equalize the shrinkage.
Never press on a hamburger to speed its cooking. You’ll squeeze out the precious fat and juices that make the burger taste so good.
The best way to keep grilled shrimp from spinning on their skewers is to use flat skewers. If you have only round wooden skewers, the shrimp will need extra securing. Curve a shrimp into a C, following the natural shape of the shrimp. Place two skewers side by side and about ½ inch apart, and run both skewers through the shrimp from the bottom to the top. Continue until all of the shrimp are skewered.
As a steak cooks, it loses moisture and the flesh firms. Press your fingertip lightly against the top of the steak in the thickest part. Rare steak will feel relatively soft. If the meat feels somewhat firm, it is medium-rare. If it is firm with some resilience, it is medium. Well-done steak will feel firm and spring back.
For a grill without a built-in thermometer, the hand method can be used: If a hand can only be held 5 inches above the heat source for: 2 seconds, the fire is hot (450° to 500°F or more) 3 seconds, the fire is medium-hot (about 400°F) 4 seconds, the fire is medium (about 350°F)
In grilling, underdone is preferable to overcooked. If the food isn’t quite done, it can always be put back on the grill or finished on the stovetop, in the oven, or in the microwave. If the food gets overcooked, there is no remedy.
Extra Flavor on the Grill
Natural hardwood chips can infuse foods with great smoke flavor while grilling on either a charcoal or gas grill. Alder gives a light, aromatic flavor that’s perfect with seafood. Apple provides a sweeter, aromatic flavor that is good with poultry or pork. Cherry lends a deeper, sweeter note to beef tenderloin, pork, poultry, or lamb. Hickory gives a stronger, hearty smoke flavor to beef, pork, or poultry. Mesquite provides the strongest, smokiest flavor and is well suited to beef. Oak provides a medium smoke flavor without being bitter. Pecan creates a medium smoke flavor, milder than hickory but stronger than oak.
Before grilling, foods can marinate in a boldly flavored liquid, usually a combination of a vegetable oil and an acid such as wine, beer, citrus juices, or vinegar plus garlic, herbs, spices, and condiments like Dijon mustard or Worcestershire sauce. Marinades are best for flatter foods like chicken breasts, flank steak, pork tenderloin, or fish fillets (only marinate fish for 30 minutes, as the acid in the marinade could “cook” the delicate fish).
During grilling, a buttery baste can be brushed on to keep delicate foods moist. For barbecue sauce or other grilling sauces, it’s best to sear the food first on both sides over direct heat, then move it to the indirect side of the grill and brush on the sauce. Most barbecue or grilling sauces have a high sugar content and will burn on the food over high heat. On the indirect side, the sauce will lacquer the food and develop a beautiful sheen.
For simple grilling, foods can be brushed with vegetable oil on both sides and sprinkled with a dry rub, which is any mixture of dry herbs and spices mixed with salt and pepper.
After grilling, food can be served with any number of sauces, from pestos and aiolis (garlicky mayonnaise) to classic French béarnaise, potent Asian-style vinaigrettes, all-American barbecue sauce, South American chimichurri, or chocolate ganache for grilled fruit.
Control Grill Temperature
On a charcoal grill, the temperature is lowered by slightly closing the side vents or by closing the lid, which deprives the fire of air. If the vents and the lid are both closed at the same time, the fire will go out. The temperature can be raised by opening the side vents or by adding more charcoal to the fire.
On a gas grill, the heat is adjusted by turning the heat control knobs to the desired level. The temperature can be increased by closing the lid or lowered by keeping the lid open.