How to Master Cooking Anything on the Grill
During the summer, I spend as much time outdoors as possible. I’ll read outside, eat outside, and, most importantly, cook outside. Although it would be awesome to have an extensive outdoor kitchen, you really only need one tool for the ultimate alfresco culinary experience, and that’s a grill. Both charcoal and gas are great, but I recommend gas for quick weeknight meals and charcoal for more-leisurely weekend dinners. With a little chef know-how and plenty of practice, you can master cooking anything on the grill. Here’s how it’s done.
You can’t cook with an unlit grill, so you’ve got to learn how to turn it on. For gas grills, you simply make sure that the propane tank is open, then use the grill’s lighter button to ignite the fire under the grates. A charcoal grill is a little more complicated. Start by filling a chimney starter with a few bunches of crunched-up newspaper. Cover with charcoal and more paper, then light the top layer of paper using a long match or handheld lighter. Take the grate off the grill and place the charcoal down in the grill. Keep an eye on the charcoal; once it is smoking and heat is rippling off, dump the hot coals out of the chimney (using an oven mitt!) into a pile. Use tongs to arrange the coals to your liking. Allow the grill plenty of time to heat up before you start to cook.
You wouldn’t use a dirty pan to make pork tenderloin over the stove, so why would you use a dirty grill? To prevent food and bacteria buildup, it’s crucial to routinely scrub the grill with a dry wire brush. Scrape away any burned bits of food when the grill is turned off. If a lot of buildup falls into the grates, turn the grill on and close the lid. The buildup will burn off in no time.
To ensure that no food sticks to the grill, the grill must be well oiled. After you clean the grates, coat them with vegetable oil or cooking spray. Before you place any food item on the grill, make sure the grates are nicely coated in oil. You don’t want your expensive steaks to stick!
Before you start grilling, make sure you know where a fire extinguisher is. It’s better to be safe than sorry! Also, always keep the lid open when lighting the grill, make sure the grill is at least 10 feet away from your house, and know how to handle flare-up, which is caused when grease or oil falls into the fire. Remove a fatty piece of meat before the juices fall into the flame or close the grill to stop a flare-up.
There are two types of heat on a grill: direct and indirect. For cooking items hot and quickly, place them directly over the heat. For cooking items slowly, you’ll have to put them to the side of the direct heat so that they receive it indirectly. Indirect grilling is necessary for larger foods like whole chickens and pork shoulder, as you need to cook the entire thing and not just sear it on the outside. Vegetables, like asparagus and bell peppers, and steaks are ingredients that can be cooked over direct heat. Remember that you can always manage the heat level on a grill by turning it up or down; turn off a section to create an area for indirect cooking.
If you’re new to grilling, start with a barbecue no-brainer: hot dogs. They are already cooked, so you’re basically heating them up over direct heat. Try medium heat, and turn them every couple of minutes with tongs. Cooking an item like hot dogs will give you confidence for more-difficult meats. Generally speaking, thinner cuts of meat, like burgers, steaks, and lamb lollipops, can be cooked quickly over direct heat. Bigger cuts, like pork chops, whole beef tenderloin, and brisket, should be cooked over indirect heat. The key to grilling any type of meat is to put it on the grill and leave it. Don’t play around with it: the meat will come up easily off the grill once it is time to flip.
There’s nothing worse than super-dry grilled chicken, and one way to ensure your breasts don’t dry out while grilling is to brine the chicken beforehand. Soaking the meat in a seasoned bath of salt, sugar, water, and herbs will ensure that the chicken stays moist. If you’re in a hurry, grill up boneless chicken paillards over direct medium-high heat for about four minutes per side. Grill a whole chicken or bone-in, skin-on pieces of chicken over indirect heat with the lid closed for a longer period of time, 15 to 20 minutes per side. Using barbecue sauce? Brush it on the chicken when it’s almost done cooking. Putting the sauce on the chicken too early could result in burned skin.
Vegetables charred on the grill are one of summer’s simple pleasures. To ensure that they don’t fall through the grates, keep vegetables in larger pieces, and chop after grilling. Generously oil quick-cooking veggies, like asparagus, zucchini, tomatoes, and corn, then throw over direct heat and grill until slightly wilted or charred. Heartier vegetables, like onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, and potatoes, can be charred over direct heat but then moved to indirect heat until they are completely cooked through.
Jumbo shrimp and prawns are the easiest types of seafood to cook on the grill. They can be cooked over direct heat, quickly, until pink and plump. Fish, on the other hand, is one of the more difficult items to cook on the grill. Why? Once fish is cooked, it’s naturally flaky, and it’s easy to lose an entire fillet of salmon as the flakes fall through the grates. To avoid this problem, grill fish whole with the head still intact, or invest in a handy fish grill pan.
Don’t be intimidated by the grill. Just like with everything else in the kitchen, practice makes perfect. You can grill just about everything, including bread (for crostini, it’s downright scrumptious), pizza, fruit, lettuce, kale, cheese, sandwiches, avocado, and citrus. Experiment!