Lessons from the grillfather
A Guide to Better Grilling This Summer
I couldn’t wait to be a grown-up. (What a bad decision that was, but I digress...). I couldn’t wait to grow up. I couldn’t wait to drive, to drink whatever it was I couldn’t, to vote. I can count all the reasons that I couldn’t wait to be a grown-up. One of the biggest reasons, I couldn’t WAIT to be a grown-up? I wanted to cook the meat at the family reunions. I couldn’t wait to be my Uncle Harry, or my Uncle Junie. They had the best job at the family reunions. They got to grill the meat, drink beer and set the tone of the meal with their creations on the grill. Whether it was as easy as burgers and hot dogs, or chicken, ribs, or steak, my uncles and older cousins did wonders on the grill.
I finally did grow up (my wife might beg to differ...), but I do remember when I got my first apartment, the first selfish purchase I bought, was a charcoal grill. And you couldn’t tell me a thing. I had watched my uncles and my father and grandfather so many times; I didn’t even need to ask for help of how to grill properly. In hindsight, that wasn’t a smart choice. My creations the first few times I grilled would’ve qualified for a grilling version of the hit show “Nailed It”. Too much salt, not enough salt, coals weren’t hot enough, coals were too hot, over cooked meat, undercooked meat…or my favorite, “lighter fluid chicken”, that’s the name my food was dubbed after not allowing the coals to get be completely ashen before beginning to cook the bird. And while I got better at grilling, I didn’t completely master the art until I mastered one major obstacle that I fought with my entire life: PATIENCE!!
Grilling is an art form. There are many different avenues to that art form, which I will get into in a bit. But it does require patience. Even if you are just doing some quick grilling on the gas grill, or smoking for an entire day, add patience to the tips I am going to share with you.
This has always been my favorite way to go. (However, using a smoker is coming in hot...I know, bad joke) In my opinion, grilled food tastes best when grilled properly on a charcoal grill. But there are major things to watch for when using a charcoal grill:
1. Lighting the Coals: So growing up, lighter fluid was the way to go. And while newer methods to lighting charcoal have come up, if you are old school and you want to use lighter fluid, soak your coals, let them sit for about 10-15 minutes and then light them. Wait until your coals are an ashen color before placing your food on the grill, or your food will have a lighter fluid taste. Your best bet is a Chimney Starter. Place some newspaper in the bottom of the Chimney Starter and then place the coals on top of the newspaper and light from the bottom. Takes about 15-20 minutes, but your lighter fluid taste is non-existent. Again, wait until the coals are fully gray, and then place in the grill.
2. Make Sure Your Coals are Evenly Placed: This is pretty self-explanatory. You want your food to cook evenly, so make sure you spread the coals evenly. If you are cooking different things, put 2/3 of your coals to one side, that way you can cook different foods at different temperatures if needed.
3. Maintaining Temperature: Always preheat your grill. 5-10 minutes after the coals turn gray should do. That sizzle when your food touches is the best sound in the world. Also, make use of your vents on a charcoal grill. If you need to cook in somewhat of a time frame, open your vents, if not close them tighter. You will get more smoke flavor that way if that’s what you are going for.
I swore off gas grilling for years. I thought it was cheating. I really did. However, I have come a long way on gas grilling. A) It’s extremely convenient. Especially when you are doing something quick like hot dogs or burgers. B) It’s also a lot easier to control the temperature with a gas grill, and it’s easier to use direct and indirect heat. My advice for gas grillers:
1. Be Careful When Lighting the Grill: Safety is number 1. Make sure the top is up. And make sure your connection to your tank is secure. If you try to light and it doesn’t, TURN YOUR KNOBS OFF BEFORE YOU ATTEMPT TO TROUBLESHOOT!! Trust me that will not end well. Most gas grills have an automatic lighter, but if you have to light manually, light as soon as you turn the gas on. If it does not light right away manually, turn your knobs off, check your connection, then turn them on again and try again. Again, safety and patience are our friends.
2. Always Keep Your Gas Grill Clean: The grease splatter in a gas grill can cause flame ups which can scorch your food. Also, if you like the grill marks in your food and don’t want your food to stick to the grates, make sure they are clean. Soap and water on your grates should do the trick. Your gas grill should have a grease tray; clean that out about every few grill sessions. Preheat your grill for about 15 minutes before you cook on it after cleaning your grates. That is unless you like soap flavored foods.
SMOKING (Charcoal, Pellet, Electric)
This has become my favorite form of grilling. It also requires the most patience, but in my opinion has the most rewarding outcomes. I have a pellet smoker and it might be my most prized and cherished possession. I mean, my kids and wife are ahead of it on the priority scale, but I let them all know that touching my smoker will result in consequences and repercussions. What should you know about smoking foods? I’m glad you asked.
1. LOW AND SLOW IS THE WAY TO GO: I have found that the most effective meals done on the smoker are meats or entrees that are smoked between 195-250 degrees Fahrenheit for a longer period of time. You can go higher if you don’t have all day, but if you don’t have time restraints, somewhere between 225-250 is the way to go. If you have a pellet or electric smoker, you normally can set the temp and forget it. But if you have a charcoal smoker, and you have to keep feeding with charcoal or wood (that’s for advanced grillers), make sure you are keeping account for all the spikes in temp when you add new.
2. Make Sure You Have the Right Accessories: For most grilling, but especially for smoking, you must have a proper working thermometer. There are so many to choose from. I recommend if you get a smoker, get one with a probe thermometer attached to the smoker, but also, think about a digital and/or Bluetooth Thermometer. The probes are great, the others (Digital and/or Bluetooth) as back-ups are recommended. Also, get a great set of gloves. You do need to touch your food and quite often will need to touch when hot.
3. Maintain your smoker properly: Rule #1; Season that Bad Boy when you get it! Spray with oil or get fat splatter and then smoke it at high heat (approximately 400 degrees for about a half hour) That’s a must or your first meat smoke will taste like a store or the box it came in. Also, clean the outside and the inside, but do NOT soap your grates. Steel Wool or wire brush any excess on the grates but never use soap. I won’t get into recipes and dry rubs versus wet marinades, as to each is their own. Plus, that’s truly the best part of grilling; finding and trading recipes and styles with your friends, and scouring the internet and YouTube for the different ways and varieties to prepare your favorite dishes. Summer is here and it’s time to grill. Have Fun! Be Safe... and Be Patient!
The Grillfather has spoken!