As the days lengthen and the weather turns warmer, we’re naturally tempted to spend more time outdoors. For me, that also means exploring new grilling opportunities.
If you need a primer on the basics, you’re not alone. Many people find that they’re a bit rusty after the long winter. As long as the grill itself hasn’t suffered the same fate, you can be ready to go with just a few simple reminders.
If you don’t already own a grill, now is the perfect time to buy. Before buying, think about which grill type would work best for you.
Gas grills are quick and convenient, but they can also be pricey. Charcoal grills are less expensive and deliver superb char-grilled flavor, but they require a little more time and effort.
If you want to try your hand at making your own smoked meats and jerky, a pellet grill might be your best bet. These units can run for hours with little interference, and you can customize the flavor depending on what type of wood pellets you use. Note that electricity is required for this type of grill.
You might also consider investing in a kamado grill, a charcoal-fueled unit with a round egg-like shape. Used in Japan for over 3,000 years, these grills are capable of reaching inferno-like temperatures, making them a highly versatile option. Note that they usually feature a ceramic construction, which makes them more fragile than most of the competition.
A grill should always be seasoned and cleaned prior to the first use, even if it’s just been sitting in the garage for the winter. Start a medium fire and allow the grates to heat up, then remove them and wash thoroughly using hot, soapy water.
Make sure you have the essential tools on hand. While you could easily purchase an entire arsenal, the following items will give you a good head start.
- Grilling tongs
- Meat thermometer
- Flat spatula
- Platters large enough to hold whatever you’ll be cooking (at least 2)
- Aluminum foil
- Metal or bamboo skewers
Direct vs. Indirect Heat
Different foods require different cooking techniques, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with a few of them before you fire up the grill.
First of all, you should learn the difference between direct and indirect heat. When you cook over direct heat, you place the food directly over the heat source. Indirect heat, meanwhile, is typically reserved for low-and-slow techniques such as braising. It means placing the ingredients over an area that isn’t directly over the coals or the flames, allowing them to cook slowly and evenly.
Low, Medium, and High
Maintaining the correct grill temperature is essential to a successful cooking operation. Here’s how to tell whether your fire is hot enough for what you have in mind.
Low heat is generally classified as any temperature below 300 degrees Fahrenheit. These temps are typically reserved for smoking and braising, and are easiest to maintain on a pellet grill. For a low-medium fire, the temperature should be set to about 300 degrees. Gas grills can usually achieve this with just one burner running, but you might have a harder time cooking at this temp on a traditional charcoal-fueled unit.
Pre-cooked sausages like hot dogs and bratwurst will usually call for medium heat, about 350 degrees. You can tell when a charcoal fire has reached this temp when you can hold your hand just above the cooking grate for 6-7 seconds.
Medium-high heat, about 400-450 degrees, is recommended for grilling steaks and pork chops, or any thick cut of meat. Some grilled vegetables will also recommend this setting. If you can hold your hand over the cooking grate for 4-5 seconds before pulling away, the coals should be medium-hot.
When a gas grill is set to high, or the temperature of a pellet or charcoal grill climbs above 500 degrees, it’s all set to make grilled flatbread or pizza. You can also use these temps to get a good sear on grilled meats. You’ll be able to tell when the fire has reached the correct temperature when you can’t hold your hand over the cooking grate for any more than a second or two.
For me, versatility is the best aspect of grilling. There’s always room for interpretation, and just about everything that can be prepared indoors can be made to taste even better when cooked over an open flame. So tie on that apron and get ready to take advantage of everything that the grilling season has to offer!