Summer is prime time for grilling up memorable meals. To help ensure that those memories are of the thumps-up variety, following is smorgasbord of grilling tips and tricks. This article is mainly for meat-eaters, but you can apply many of these same tips to grilling vegetables or tofu, too.
Before the Grilling Begins
The first steps toward grilling success actually take place even before that first sizzle sounds. Pre-grilling steps include:
- If you’re a charcoal user, remember that charcoal absorbs moisture, so be sure to store it in a moisture-free area.
- Speaking of charcoal, the consensus of grilling experts is that charcoal produces better flavor than gas, but gas barbecues are unquestionably easier – so weigh the pros and cons and make your pick.
- Continuing the charcoal conversation, instead of using lighter fluid, many grilling aficionados recommend an electric charcoal igniter or a chimney starter. Regardless of the charcoal-lighting method, the coals are ready when 80 percent are ash-gray.
- If you’ll be using wooden skewers or toothpicks, soak them in water for at least 20 minutes before they hit the barbeque. And if you’re using those skewers to grill kebabs, pack the meat tight for medium-rare; for medium-well, space the pieces out.
- A nifty way to oil your barbecue’s grate before grilling is to chop an onion in half, dip the cut end in vegetable oil, and rub the oiled onion over the grate’s surface.
- Marinating your meat for a few hours prior to grilling will not only up its yumminess quotient, but marinades also protect against heterocyclic amines – carcinogens that can result from cooking poultry, red meat, or fish over an open flame.
- If you’re going to grill burgers, don’t press the ground beef into a flattened patty form, as the result will be tough to swallow; instead, strive for a more loosely formed patty.
- As you’re planning your barbecue menu, keep in mind that fruit is absolutely grill-able and delectable. Simply take your fruit of choice, slice in half, brush with melted butter and – if desired – brown sugar, then grill away.
The Main Event
Once you’ve completed your pre-grilling procedures, it’s time to step up to the main event – actually grilling your food. While you’re hovering over the barbecue, consider these suggestions:
- Use tongs or a spatula to turn meat and suppress the temptation to do any fork piercing, as that provides an easy escape for flavor-boosting juices. Another no-no is pressing down on burgers with a spatula.
- While items are on the barbecue, keep the top and bottom grill vents open; close them once you’re done cooking to help extinguish the coals.
- Always make sure that there’s at least one small area of your grilling surface that is free of food and not over direct heat. The purpose of this isolated area is to provide a “safe zone” to which you can move food for slower cooking or protect items from a four-alarm flare-up.
- A follow-up to flare-ups – it’s wise to have a water-filled spray bottle handy to douse unwanted flames.
- While your food is cooking is not the time to meddle, meaning that most meats – including burgers, steaks, and chops – should be flipped just once. Assuming that your barbecue grid has been oiled, meat should easily lift up for flipping once it’s cooked sufficiently.
- Barbecue sauce is a tasty addition, but it also is susceptible to charring, so don’t apply until the last 10 or 15 minutes of cooking.
- If you’re topping burgers with cheese, do so in the last minute or two of cooking, and then close the cover.
- As a general rule, it’s always better to undercook than overcook, for the obvious reason that the former can be put back on the barbecue, while the latter can be put in the category of barbecue lessons learned.
First, pat yourself on the back for a job (hopefully) well done, and release a sigh of relief because your post-grilling duties are a piece of cake. You do need to clean your barbecue grid, but that’s essentially just a matter of taking a stiff wire brush – while the barbecue is still warm – and removing any remaining food particles. If you have a cast-iron grate, cleaning with a wire brush should be followed by applying oil with a paper towel.