Turn Up the Heat: Tips for Getting the Best Flavors From the Grill

Flags are flying overhead, ice-cold beverages are in the cooler, linen-clad guests are arriving for your summertime soirée. Before you fire up the grill for your next outdoor cooking venture, make sure you’re prepared with all the barbecue wisdom you need for a successful, and delicious, dining experience. First step: start with the grill that’s right for you. The debate between gas and charcoal is everlasting. Gas grills are the most effortless – they’re easy to heat, control, and clean up. Plus, you can choose between firing them up with natural gas or propane. Charcoal grills offer a hotter grilling surface, a slew of methods for controlling cooking temperatures, and options for adding flavor with a variety of charcoals.

Grilling with gas

As you light your gas grill, remember to keep the lid open before starting the ignition. Follow the lighting instructions specific to your grill. Grilling professionals recommend preheating your grill up to 10 minutes more than the time recommended by the manufacturer’s instructions. Create heat zones. Set one side of your grill on high for proper cooking of thick steaks or fresh swordfish. Heat the other side to a lower temperature for cooking vegetables and baked potatoes, so side dishes are done about the same time as entrées. Many grills have an upper-level warming rack – use it to toast rolls or keep already-cooked items warm.

Set the fire with charcoal

Select a hardwood charcoal, which is often available in your local grocery store. Hardwood is easier to get burning, plus it burns at a hotter temperature than average charcoal briquettes. Grilling professionals also agree that hardwood charcoal ensures your meal has a cleaner taste. Also consider different hardwoods for added flavors. Apple wood makes it sweet, Mesquite adds tanginess, and Hickory creates a bacon-like flavor. Use a chimney starter, also called a charcoal chimney, to get the fire burning. Add crumpled paper to the bottom of the chimney, fill it with charcoal, and light the paper. In about 20 minutes the coals will be ready to distribute inside the grill, without lighter fluid or charcoal pyramid building. Temperature control is key. To ensure even cooking, arrange meat over the hotter-burning flames, and delegate side dishes to the edge of the grill, away from the main source of heat. For slow cooking foods like ribs, don’t place the entrée directly over the heat. Instead, move the charcoal to the perimeter of the grill.

Quick tips to keep in mind

  • Food safety: use separate cutting boards and tools for meat, poultry, seafood, and vegetables
  • Marinate your meats: consider rubs and glazes
  • Keep grill surfaces clean: use a long-handled wire brush before and after cooking
  • Prevent sticking: to coat the grilling grate with oil, use a long-handled brush or soak a paper towel in oil and distribute with tongs
  • Arrange cooking food in orderly lines: this makes it easier to track how long each piece has been on the grill
  • Resist the urge to prod: give your food time to sear, turning only when grill marks form
  • Leave the lid up for vegetables, with the exception of large whole vegetables that need the steam
  • Apply sauces toward the end of the cooking time: wait until the last few minutes
  • Let foods rest before serving

From steak to pineapple, grilling makes food taste great, no matter if you choose gas or charcoal. If you can’t decide, why not have both? And don’t forget: there are other options, such as smokers, rotisseries, and gas grills with burners.

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April 30, 2012