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Grilling Guide

Learn the basics of grilling meats, vegetables and fruit, including how to season grilled foods. Find great grilling recipes!

If you grew up in the 1950s or 1960s (or if you've caught a sense of that era from vintage TV), you know what barbequing used to be -- a shallow grill on a tripod of aluminum legs or, for homeowners with more refined backyards, a built-in brick grill that was included as part of the patio design. Barbequing was popular largely because it helped keep the heat of meal preparation out of un-air-conditioned houses.

While most of the cooking at the time was relegated to Mom, it was Dad who almost always handled the grill. As for the fare -- most Dads pretty much kept to hamburgers, steaks and hot dogs.

Today those old-fashioned grills have been largely replaced by gas or kettle grills, complete with lids to enclose the foods and the heat, and features such as rotisseries, smokers, prep centers, and a host of gadgets and grilling utensils.

More than eight out of ten households, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, now own an outdoor barbeque grill or smoker. And, while we tend to view the start of summer as the start of the grilling season, the truth is that over half of grill owners now use their grills year-round, and not just at home.

Many tailgaters, for example, find packing the grill and the coolers into the back of the SUV and enjoying the culinary entertainment that takes place before and after the game as much a part of game day as what goes on inside the stadium.

The old fashioned picnic hasn't gone out of style, either. It offers an ideal combination of getting away from it all and the fun of grilling.

We're more creative than ever about the foods that go on the grill now. In fact, practically any food can be found on the grill today. All cuts of beef, pork, poultry, wild game, sausages, fish, vegetables, beans, soy foods, side dishes, and even fruits and breads are prepared over hot coals for the delicious, savory flavor that only this method of cooking can provide.

Tools of the Trade

There are a few important pieces of equipment you should have stationed near your grill at all times:
• Oven mitts, for protection from the heat of the grill, which can reach 500 degrees or more.
• Tongs, which are a far better tool than a fork for turning foods on the grill.
• An apron, because cooking on a grill can be a messy business. (Besides, you want to look the part.)

By the way, contrary to common practice, one thing you should avoid using if at all possible is a spray bottle filled with water to put out flare-ups. It's far more effective to just move your foods away from the flare-up (even removing foods from the grill temporarily, if necessary) and try to control it that way. Spraying water should be used only as a last resort. Water and oil don't mix, and spraying a grease fire can cause the grease to explode or splatter, either on you or your food.

Grilling Basics

• Always start with a clean grill. This will help reduce the chance of flare-ups from burning grease, and it will also help keep smoke from previous barbeques from permeating the flavor of your food. That grilled salmon last weekend might have tasted pretty good, but salmon smoke on the grilled fruit kabobs you've prepared for tonight's dinner might not be quite so appealing.
• Position your grill in an open area, away from anything flammable, including your house. Heat from a grill that's set too close to the house will cause siding to scorch or melt and can even start a house fire. The same is true for grilling on the porch -- it poses a serious fire risk.
• To get the charcoal started, place crumpled newspapers or fuel cubes (another new invention since the 1960s!) in the center of the charcoal grate located in the bottom of the grill. Make sure the air vents on the outside of the grill are in the open position.
• Determine how much charcoal to use. One layer of charcoal should suffice for most foods; for larger foods, such as roasts, turkeys, or whole chickens, use two layers. When grilling in cold weather, use more charcoal.
• Place the charcoal briquettes over the newspapers or fuel cubes. Stack them in a pyramid shape and light the starter materials using a long match or fire starters.
• When the charcoal is coated in a light gray ash (after about 25 minutes) the coals are ready.
• Before cooking, the hot coals must be spread out according to the cooking method you'll be using. For the direct method, arrange them evenly across the charcoal grate. For indirect cooking, stack the coals on the sides of the grate, leaving an open space in the center of the grill.
• Place the cooking rack in the grill. If you're planning to cook low-fat meats, tofu, tempeh, or other foods that might stick to the rack, you may want to first coat it with oil.
• Close the grill lid, and give it a few minutes to thoroughly heat up before putting the foods on.
• Keep in mind that when cooking with indirect heat for long periods of time, fresh charcoal will need to be added throughout the process. Add 5 to 6 briquettes to each side of the grill as needed to maintain the heat (generally about every 45 minutes).
• Stay with the grill at all times! An unsupervised grill can heat up too quickly and overcook the food, and a flare-up, where grease from the food catches fire, can virtually ruin the meal or even cause a fire.

chicken dinner

Tips and Tricks for Perfect Grilling

After foods are placed on the grill, patience is key. Foods should be turned only once, halfway through the cooking time, and the grill lid should be lifted ONLY to turn the food or to test for doneness. Too much turning or lid lifting will keep foods from cooking properly and may actually create tough or dry results.

Many grillers have questions about whether to keep the grill lid off or on while foods are on the grill. Here are some rules of thumb: If the food requires direct heat but will cook in just a few minutes (such as hamburgers, hot dogs, soy foods, or fruits), or if the foods just need to be warmed up, the lid can be left up or down without much difference in results. The grill lid should be kept on, however, for foods cooked with the direct method that require more than just a few minutes of grill time, and ALL foods that need to be cooked with indirect heat.

If during the cooking process you feel that the grill temperature needs to be lowered, either raise the cooking rack, spread the coals apart, or partially close the vents on the outside of the grill. To raise the grill temperature, lower the rack, tap the ash from the coals, move the coals more closely together, open the vents, or add more charcoal.

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Quick Links

» Grilling Guide
» Grilling Meats, Vegetables & Fruit
» Seasoning Grilled Food
» Homemade Rubs & Marinades
» Sizzling Grilling Recipes

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