Grilling 101

Strictly speaking, grilling is done by placing food directly over a hot flame. In the old days this meant a fire and something to keep the meat from falling into it. Today it can be a little $20 charcoal grill or a $15,000 gas grill. There are a lot of bells and whistles on grills these days but the basics never change so you can learn how to grill regardless of the kind you have.

Hot and Fast: For thin cuts of meat and smaller items like kebabs, steaks, chops, burgers, and dogs you want to turn up the heat and go quick. This means you need to keep a close eye on the grill and more importantly the food. So how hot is hot?

The Rule is to (carefully) hold your hand just above the cooking grate and start counting seconds

  • 5 Seconds – Low
  • 4 Seconds – Medium
  • 3 Seconds – Medium High
  • 2 Seconds – High
  • 1 Second – Crazy

This is true for gas or charcoal. When cooking hot and fast you want your fire at High.

Turn, Move, and have an Escape Plan: You shouldn’t turn foods too frequently but flip when you need to. You want even cooking and you can’t do that over direct heat without flipping occasionally. You also want to move your foods around the grill. Take advantage of all that space you have. Think of this, when you put a steak on a hot grill the cooking grates create grill marks, but cool down in the process. Moving to a new space when you flip will give you better grill marks. The other reason to move your food around, particularly on a gas grill, is to avoid Flare-Ups. Flare-ups are going to happen and you need to be prepared for them. Your best bet is to move food out of their path and not run for the spray bottle, which is never a good idea.

Control the Heat: Hot and fast isn’t the way to go for everything. Fish, chicken, vegetables, and fruit (yes, fruit) are better grilled at lower temperatures. Aim for medium heat with these foods. For a gas grill this means turning down the knobs, for charcoal it means going smaller when you build a fire. You still need to watch these foods closely, but they are generally going to take longer to cook because of the lower temperature.

Take it Indirect: Indirectly grilling is when you have the fire on one side and the food on the other. Yes, this is basically baking, but you still get the light the grill so it is still cool. You use indirectly grilling for large foods like whole chickens, roasts, racks of ribs, and any other food need a lot of time to cook. Indirect grilling allows you to get big foods cooked through the middle before the outside turns to charcoal (not the kind of charcoal you burn, but just as tasty). Don’t know what kind of grilling method to use? Don’t worry. All my grilling recipes tell you which way to go.

When is it Done?: This is the secret to the art of grilling. While there are general grilling time guidelines you can use the simple truth is that knowing when food is done is a challenge. What you need to remember are the three laws of successful grilling. Law 1: You can cook more, but you can’t uncook. Of course this is leads us to Law 2: Undercooked meats can kill you. Sounds serious, but that’s just because it is. What I am saying is that you need to work your way up to done and not just hope to get lucky. So what is the real answer? Law 3: Trust by Verify. Experience is the best tool you have to getting the foods you grill done, but a thermometer is necessary to make sure you have it right.

These basics will help you learn how to grill. For basic grilling techniques remember to follow these rules:

  • Always keep your grill grate clean to prevent sticking.
  • Generously oil the grill using a paper towel, small bowl of vegetable oil and tongs.  (Watch out for Flare-ups)
  • Always give yourself plenty of time. Don’t leave your family and/or guests waiting.
  • Always keep an eye on what you’re grilling.
  • Do not use spray bottles of water to control flare-ups. Flare-ups are caused by too much fat and too much heat. Trim excess fat and when you turn meat on the grill move it to a different part of the grill.
  • Bring steaks and pork chops to room temperature before grilling them. Keep  fish and chicken refrigerated.
  • Do not add sugary sauces or marinades to meat on the grill. These will not only burn your food but will leave a nice burnt mess on your grill grates.
  • Keep your grill away from anything flammable like lighter fluid, fences, your house, etc..
  • Spice up your food a good hour before you grill. This lets the flavor sink in.
  • Have the proper grill tools to do the job.
  • When searing foods, always keep the lid open.
  • Place grilled food on a clean plate.
  • Let steaks, chops, and chicken rest for 10 minutes before serving.

While all these rules and laws will help you learn how to grill I know that you are probably interesting in grilling something specific so here is some additional resources to help you out.

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