Other parts of this series on Grilling and Smoking:
Summer is officially here, and that means it’s time to fire up the barbecue grill and send smoky, mouth-watering aromas out into the air. We decided to compile some tips and suggestions that will help make your next barbecue the best it can be, no matter your grilling skill level.
The best way to start, and the only way really, is with a barbecue grill. If you are new to the game, you might be a little stunned to find out how many choices you have. But it really comes down to two types: charcoal and gas. Which one you choose depends almost entirely on personal preference.
Some of the things to consider are:
Cost: Gas grills require a larger initial investment and begin at around $150 and run into the $10,000 range. A charcoal grill, on the other hand, ranges in cost from around $50 to $500.
Convenience: A gas grill heats right up when you turn it on, whereas you have to tend to charcoal. If you are looking for a quick way to fix a meal, gas is a better option. However, charcoal can burn hotter than a gas grill, and if that is your desire when grilling, you’ll want to head in that direction.
Maintenance: Gas grills are easy to clean and maintain. Charcoal grills require a lot more elbow grease to clean.
Flavor: Most people can’t tell the difference between food cooked on a charcoal grill vs. a gas grill, but many aficionados will swear there’s a difference. It all comes down to preference, and what tastes the best to you.
Prepare your meat and vegetables
Once you’ve decided what kind of grill you want, it’s time to move on to preparing your meal.
The choices are plentiful when choosing meat and vegetables. Almost anything that can be cooked on a stove can be grilled. Whether you are opting for beef steak, pork, or chicken, remember to remove the food from the refrigerator 20 minutes prior to cooking. Season your meat liberally with salt and pepper and other desired herbs and spices.
Wash, cut, and prepare your vegetables.
- Remember to use separate cutting boards. One for raw beef, lamb, and pork; one for raw poultry; and one for fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t rinse poultry. Simply pat dry with paper towels and discard paper towels.
- Purchase a food thermometer that can be calibrated to test food doneness.
- Keep cold food at 40 degrees or less.
- Keep hot food at 140 degrees or more.
- If perishable food is within 40 to 140 degrees for more than 4 hours total, discard it.
- Do not put cooked meat onto surfaces that previously held raw meat.
Start your grilling
There are two basic types of grilling, direct and indirect or zone. Direct grilling means that the food is placed on the grill directly over the full force of the heat source, whether it’s charcoal, hardwood, or gas. Almost any food can be grilled directly over fire. When you grill this way, the direct and intense heat sears the food, giving it a crusty, flavorful exterior.
Indirect grilling involves moving the food to one side of the heat source, usually over a drip pan in a covered grill, so that it does not cook directly over the flame or heat. It has some advantages, including slowing down the cooking process. It works much like it does when you roast food in the oven. Using the zone method also means you can have two levels of heat in one grill. With both a direct fire for searing, and an indirect fire for slower, more thorough cooking, you have the best of both worlds.
So how do you do it?
Direct grilling: Spread an even layer of hot coals on a charcoal grill or light the proper burner.
Indirect/zone grilling: Charcoal: Spread half the coals into a double layer over one third of the bottom of the grill. Spread the remaining half of the coals into a single layer in the next third. Leave the remaining third of the bottom of the grill empty. Gas: Three-burner: Turn one burner on medium-high. Turn one burner on medium. Leave one burner off. Two-burner: Turn one burner on medium-high. Leave one burner off.
Charcoal recommendation: Use natural lump charcoal. It’s made from pure wood and doesn’t contain any additives.
Seasoning the grill: Once grill is hot, place grill grate in place and put the lid on to heat.
Meanwhile, pour vegetable or canola oil into a container. Using tongs, dip paper towels into oil and carefully coat oil the grill grate. Discard the paper towels.
Once the meat is on the flame, how do you know when it’s done? This is when a meat thermometer comes in handy, and it’s an essential tool for any avid griller. Below, we have listed the ideal temperature of doneness for different cuts of meat.
Temperatures of Doneness
Beef and Lamb
Steaks: Rare, 120-130 degrees; Medium-rare, 130-135 degrees; Medium, 135-145 degrees; Medium-well, 145-150 degrees; Well, 155+ degrees
Ground: 160 degrees
Steaks, chops: Rare, 137-140 degrees; Medium-rare, 140-145 degrees; Medium, 145-150 degrees; Medium-well, 150-155 degrees; Well, 160+ degrees
Ground: 160 degrees
Cook until opaque throughout and it flakes with a fork or paring knife