What The Flicka? reached out to me earlier in the week to compose a helpful “how-to” grill guide for all of you summer cooks who aren’t confidant with tongs and a lighter. Never fear sister-friends; I’ve got eight of the most important need-to-knows when it comes to grilling delicious, perfectly cooked outdoor meals. Read-on grill-cadets.
1. BBQ vs. Grilling: Many of us often say we’re having a “BBQ” when what we mean is we are “grilling.” The difference is simple; BBQ requires low heat, smoke, and slow cooking, whereas grilling is all about high heat (above 500 degrees) and speed. The tips I’ll share with you have to do with grilling exclusively; so if any of you have some amazing BBQ knowledge, please share!
2. Clean your grates, every stinking time. I know, it sucks. Once you down those delicious burgers and maybe a beer or two, the last thing you want to do is scrub the charred-on gunk off your grill grates, but trust me, it’s important. Overtime, that gunk will become a permanent fixture and make your food stick as well as encourage nasty rust to grow. Usually, hot water and a scrubby sponge thing are good enough, but if not, oven cleaner and gloves work wonders. Once you’re done cleaning, oil the grate lightly with a paper towel before putting it back. This is how I cover my own ass when I forget to oil the grates before I turn on the grill the next time.
3. If using charcoal, buy the self-lighting coals. Do not, I repeat, do not pour lighter fluid all over your charcoals to get them to light. That stuff will end up flavoring your food in the most disturbing way. Also, learn the pyramid trick. Stack your coals in a rough-triangle in the center of your grill, and light them from the bottom. Allow the coals to turn white before you spread them around the grill. This will ensure you have enough heat to properly cook, and the coals won’t suddenly burn out. If you use gas, make sure your tank is always filled. I find those nifty propane gauges to be really helpful.
4. Food grills differently based on its size and density. Hard veggies like corn on the cob and sweet potatoes take longer to grill then softer veggies like zucchinis, peppers and onions. Bone-in meat takes much longer to grill than boneless meats, too. Always start with your longest cooking (hard/bone-in) items and finish with your fast-cooking (soft/boneless) items.
5. Know doneness. Turn your hand over so the palm is facing up, and relax. Use your other hand to touch the soft pad of flesh underneath your thumb, above your wrist. When your hand is completely at rest, that pad of flesh will feel exactly like rare meat. Push it in and see how your finger goes all the way down to the bone. This is raw meat ladies. Now, if you make an “Okay” sign with your fingers (touch the thumb to your index fingertip) and feel the pad under the thumb, you’ll see it’s gotten a bit firmer. This is the texture of medium rare. In the grilling world it means the meat is cooked on the very outside, but deep pink underneath and bright red in the center. If you don’t like your meat bloody, keep cooking. If you move your thumb to touch the tip of your middle finger, the pad of skin will now feel even firmer. This is what medium feels like. Your meat will be cooked on the outside and reddish pink throughout the middle. Move your thumb to the ring finger and do a feel-ski. Welcome to medium-well doneness. If your hand were a steak, it would be completely cooked on the outside, with the center being faintly pink. For me – I will not eat meat cooked beyond this stage. But if you don’t like any hint of former life left in your meat, move your thumb to touch your pinky fingertip. This is well-done, and there is no hint of red, pink, or life force left in that once juicy steak/chicken thigh/hamburger.
6. Salt and Pepper. Do it. If you don’t salt and pepper your food (even your vegetables) before you grill them, they will not taste good. I promise. If you heard someone who seemed to know all about cooking tell you “Don’t salt your meat before you cook it!” ignore them. Trust me. Look into my big, brown, honest eyes. Salt and pepper that meat. As long as you cook it within the next thirty minutes, the meat will retain all its lovely juices, and it will actually taste good. Salt and pepper are a good cook’s arsenal. You’d be amazed at how delicious things like bell peppers, tomatoes, corn, hamburgers, fish, chicken (you name it) taste after a light sprinkle of good quality sea salt and cracked black pepper.
7. If you know you’re a flip-aholic, step away from the grill. Your food does not need to roll over every fifteen seconds. In every cooking class I’ve taught, I’ve noticed women really like to stir and move things around. I think it makes them feel like they are actually cooking. I respect your need to feel like you’re participating in the meal creation process, but helicopter cooking denies your food the chance to transform. Grill marks are sort of a requirement when it comes to grilling, and if you turn the food too soon, the heat doesn’t have a chance to create those wonderful, caramelized char marks. Everything you grill, everything, needs to be turned a total of once. Lay your food on the grill, leave it alone until the recipe tells you to turn it, and then turn it just once, and don’t touch it again, until it’s ready to come off the grill. If you’ve never done this kind of grilling, I promise you will be amazed at the level of flavor your food will develop. PS – this rule applies to the stovetop too. Back that spatula-ass up and give heat a chance.
8. Be creative. Nearly everything you can cook in the kitchen, even things you don’t think you can cook, can go on the grill. Iceberg lettuce wedges are awesome when they are seared on the grill quickly before serving them with crumbled bacon and thick buttermilk ranch dressing. Avocados halved and grilled on the cut side add a smoky intensity to guacamole. Sweet potatoes are rich and caramel-like when grilled. Making salsa? Try to grill the tomatoes, onions and peppers first. Your tongue will high-five you. I’ve even grilled raw pizza dough! It works. And it’s good. What crazy things have you grilled that turned out fantastic? I bet the list is endless.
Don’t be afraid of taking control of the grill, ladies. You might burn a few meals at first, and maybe a few fingers, too – but I know with a little practice, you’ll be donning the “Grill Master” aprons in no time. Let me know your favorite grill recipes, stories, tips and tricks. Happy summer eating!