Grilling Like a Pro
Is there anything that says "summer's here!" more than a great cookout? And is there anything more disappointing than dried-out grilled chicken, raw-in-the-middle burgers, and burned kebabs? That said, once you learn how to do it, cooking on the grill can be one of the healthiest and tastiest ways to prepare food. We've stripped grilling down to its basics, giving you all the tools you need to make a great meal—"Kiss the Cook" apron not included.
1. CHOOSE YOUR TOOLS
The first question any aspiring griller must tackle: charcoal or gas? Each has its advantages. Charcoal grills are thought to give food more of a smoky flavor (as do any flavored wood chips you add). They're also generally cheaper than gas grills. But they are messier and take more work. Gas grills need less supervision and they're more predictable—you can control the heat with a turn of the dial.
Depending on what you're planning to cook, you'll also want to gather some or all of the following:
[ 1 ] A pair of long-handled tongs for moving food around on the grill (the giant fork that comes with most barbecue sets is useless; it will pierce meats and let all the juices run out).
[ 2 ] A large spatula for flipping burgers or turning whole fish.
[ 3 ] Elbow-length oven mitts, hot pads, and dish towels.
[ 4 ] A long-handled pastry brush for applying sauces and glazes.
[ 5 ] Skewers. Wood ones are better than metal, as they don't poke large holes in the food. Use two at once, and you'll keep food items from spinning around on the grill.
[ 6 ] A side table to hold plates, food, etc.
[ 7 ] Clean plates and platters for food coming off the grill (don't put cooked foods on dishes that have already held raw meat).
[ 8 ] Heavy-duty aluminum foil to package up delicate vegetables, and for whole fish. Alternatively, you can use vegetable or fish baskets, but choose nonstick or be sure to coat them well with cooking spray.
[ 9 ] An instant-read thermometer to check on foods that grill slowly.
2. DO YOUR PREP WORK
Preparation is key no matter how you're cooking, but when you're working on the grill, it's particularly crucial. If you gather all your supplies and do all the food prep in advance, you won't have to leave the grill unattended while you run inside. You'll need to remember to marinate if necessary and, if you're using wood skewers for kebabs, soak the skewers in water for at least 30 minutes before loading them up with meat or veggies. That way they're less likely to burn.
Always make sure your grill grate is clean before you start cooking. For best results, scrub a metal grate with a wire brush (or a big wad of crumpled tinfoil) after it begins to warm up. Finally, even if your guests are starting to grumble, wait until your grill is thoroughly heated before beginning to cook.
Natural hardwood charcoal burns cleaner and hotter than briquettes, which often contain fillers. If you do use briquettes, choose those labeled hardwood and avoid the self-lighting kind, which are saturated with petroleum.
You can use starter fluid if you like, but it's easy to light a charcoal fire with a chimney starter: Load the top of the metal canister with charcoal, stuff newspaper in the bottom, and light the paper with a match. The updraft spreads the fire from the paper to the charcoal and in 30 minutes your coals will glow. Turn the starter over to dump out the coals. Spread them evenly or, if you are going to do indirect grilling, bank the coals to one side of the grill.
And remember, don't use gasoline or highly volatile fluids to ignite charcoal. And never add starter fluid to an existing fire.
3. GET GRILLING
The two main methods of grilling are known as direct heat and indirect heat. In direct grilling, the food sits right over the heat source. This is best for vegetables, lean fish, and small pieces of poultry. In indirect grilling, the food sits on the cooler side of the grill, farthest from the hot coals or the flame (for charcoal, you'll want to load the coals in advance so that one side will be fuller than the other). But even foods that are typically grilled on direct heat can benefit from resting on a cooler part of the grill to finish off so they stay juicy. The best foods to grill indirectly are tougher cuts of meat, large roasts, and whole chickens and turkeys.
How you work once you're cooking is also important. Don't place food too close together on the grill; air needs to circulate around the food so that it sears properly, and your fire also has to have the air it needs for fuel. And don't move the food around too often. You won't have sticking problems if you let the food really sear and turn it only once.
[Technique: Hooked on Fish]
|To grill a whole fish, like the tilapia pictured here, fill the cleaned fish with herbs, lemon slices, or other seasonings. Brush the skin with olive oil. You can then cook it directly on a well-oiled grill, place it in a fish basket, or wrap it in foil. If using foil, remember that the fish won't have as much smoked flavor, but it will be nice and moist. (If you want a charred effect, you can slip the fish out of its foil when it's mostly cooked and lay it right on the grill to finish.) A whole small fish needs about 5 to 7 minutes per side; for medium, 10 to 12 minutes per side; and 20 minutes per side for large.|
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