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Grilling FAQ

Answers to your questions about grilling of all kinds

Answers to your questions about grilling of all kinds. Find out the difference between indirect and direct grilling. Learn about which fuel produces the best flavor and all kinds of other things that will make you a better griller.

Does piercing meats really cause them to dry out?

One of the oldest myths of cooking, it really doesn’t dry meat out if you use a fork to flip your steaks. Meat just isn’t built that way.

This is one of the oldest cooking debates, as well as one of the most widely held myths about cooking meat. If the piece of meat you were cooking was like a water balloon, piercing it would allow liquids to escape and cause the food to dry out. Meat, on the other hand, is not like a water balloon. Meat is much more akin to a swarm of water balloons. A fork piercing into the meat may damage some of those balloons (cells), but not enough to affect the meat’s moisture level. Apart from overcooking, the most damaging thing you can do to a piece of meat is to freeze it. Freezing destroys cell membranes and causes moisture loss in the cells. A couple of fork stabs won’t make much of a difference, but a few dozen will, so keep it to a minimum.

When Rotisserie Cooking how should I set the burners?

Surround your rotisserie cooking in heat, but don’t let direct heat burn it.

If your grill lacks a rotisserie burner, you want to surround your food with heat without having a high direct heat directly beneath it. It is critical to avoid flare-ups when rotisserie cooking to keep your food from burning. If your grill has a burner configuration, you’ll want heat on both sides of the food but not underneath it. If you don’t have a multi-burner gas grill, set the burners to low and place a drip pan directly under the food. Make certain that no grease escapes and reaches the burners. Even if you have a multi-burner grill that allows you to cook entirely by indirect heat, you should still use a drip pan underneath the food. This will, at the very least, lessen the mess inside your grill.

If you have a rear-mounted rotisserie burner, use it exclusively when using the rotisserie. To reduce grease accumulation inside your grill, it is still a good idea to place a drip pan underneath the food you are cooking. Large amounts of dripping can not only corrode your grill, but also cause large flare-ups and grease fires the next time you turn on the main burners. Grease fires can be hot enough to damage your grill’s internal components and body pieces.

How do I get a smoky flavor into food when using a gas grill?

If you are going to be grilling something for longer than it takes to cook a hamburger then you might want to think about adding smoke flavor to your grilling.

It has become increasingly popular in recent years to try to add smoke flavor to grilled foods. The issue with gas grills is that the only smoke produced is from the burning of grease. Try marketing your next cookout with the phrase “with the flavor of grease smoke.” Yes, everyone will be waiting in line for that. However, if you have hickory, mesquite, or another type of wood smoke flavor, you have barbecue. Actually, it isn’t, but I’m not going to go into that here.

The first thing you should know about using smoke when grilling is that it takes time for foods to absorb the flavor of the smoke. If you don’t intend to grill your food for more than 20 to 30 minutes, it’s probably not worth the effort. If, on the other hand, the dish you’re preparing will be on the grill for more than 30 minutes with the lid down, consider adding smoke to your grilling. You may have noticed it. So, how do you go about it? First, you’ll need wood, preferably hard, dry wood such as hickory, oak, mesquite, or cherry. You must now soak it in water until it is damp. Drain it so it’s not dripping and place it on the grill.

No, don’t simply toss wood chips or chunks on your gas grill. It doesn’t produce good smoke that way, and it’s bad for your grill. What you need is something to hold the wood in place so that it can smolder and produce smoke without scattering ashes all over the place. You have a choice between two options. You can either purchase a smoker box for your grill (which can cost up to $20) or wrap the chips loosely in aluminum foil and poke a couple of holes in the top. This allows the smoke to escape. You can choose which is more cost-effective.

To obtain presoaked wood chips quickly, place moistened wood chips or chunks in resealable plastic bags and place them in the freezer. All you have to do the next time you need wet chips for the grill is take them out of the freezer.

How do I grill indirectly on a charcoal grill?

Learning to grill indirectly will allow you to cook large, thick pieces of meat or whole poultry without burning the surface before the inside is done.

Indirect grilling allows you to roast foods more slowly than direct grilling. To grill indirectly on a charcoal grill, first light enough coals to cover half of the coal grate with two layers of coals. Once they are white and ashy, stack them to one side, leaving enough space for the food to sit on the cooking grate with no coals directly beneath it. If you were to look directly down on your grill, there should be at least one inch between the food and the coals. To ensure that the food cooks evenly, rotate it while it is grilling. With all of the heat concentrated on one side, the food closest to the fire will cook faster.

To solve the uneven heating issue, bank the coals on both sides of the grill and place the food in the center. This evens out the heat and creates a better cooking environment. The only drawback to this method is that if you grill at a low temperature, the coals on one side may go out. If you’re grilling at temperatures above 300 degrees F, only use the two-fire method. To take things a step further, try the ring of fire design. Once the coals have started to burn, pile them around the outside edge of the coal grate and place the food in the center. As before, make sure there is plenty of space in the center to keep the food away from the direct heat.

Indirect grilling is the best way to properly grill large, thick cuts of meat or whole poultry without burning the outside of the meat. So, if you want to grill a roast or a whole chicken, this is the method to use.

Which produces better tasting food? Charcoal or gas?

This seems to be an age old question and to be honest there might not be a definitive answer. There is however from strong evidence to point you in the right direction.

Which results in better-tasting food? What’s better, charcoal or gas? This appears to be an age-old question, and to be honest, there may not be a clear answer. However, there is plenty of evidence to point you in the right direction.

Though some may disagree, charcoal produces better-tasting grilled foods most of the time. Not to say that some things taste worse; rather, some things taste the same. In a blind taste test, “Good Housekeeping” magazine discovered that people couldn’t tell the difference between hamburgers and skinless chicken breasts cooked over gas or charcoal. People, on the other hand, could tell the difference in a steak. Their conclusion was that the longer something was grilled, the more the flavor of the fire was infused into the food. The smoke is the mechanism at work here. Even if the charcoal is only smoldering, it emits smoke.

Gas grills use a clean fuel that doesn’t produce much smoke. Manufacturers will claim that their patented vaporization barriers generate smoke from dripping grease, but do you really want the flavor of burning grease in your food? To be honest, it doesn’t do much to improve the flavor of the foods you grill. Smoke produces the type of smoke that enhances the flavor of food.

To produce smoke, you can add smoker chips to a box, but to impart that flavor to the food, it must be bathed in smoke. Because charcoal generates both smoke and heat, the two are mixed together. As the food absorbs the heat, it also absorbs the smoke flavor. If you enjoy the flavor of foods cooked over an open flame, such as a good steak, then you should use charcoal.

However, you must also ensure that the smoke produced by the charcoal is of high quality. Commercial charcoals with special additives for easy lighting, as well as cheap charcoal made from a little sawdust and a lot of glue, do not produce the best flavor producing smoke. You should use good charcoal or mix it with chunks of good hardwood, or you can buy lump charcoal that is made from actual pieces of wood rather than just sawdust. You should also keep a clean grill at all times. Ashes, burned grease, and other debris will cause the smoke produced to have an off-putting flavor on foods. So, if you’re going to use cheap self-lighting charcoal in a filthy, rusted grill, I’d recommend going with gas. If you are serious about the flavor of grilled foods and are willing to put in the effort, a good charcoal grill may be just what you need.

Lid up or down? What’s the difference?

Ah, the age old question. So what’s the answer, well it depends on what you are grilling. Thin foods that can grill quickly need a different environment that thicker foods that need more time to finish.

Grilling with the lid up on a gas or charcoal grill is similar to cooking over a campfire. It is effective, but it lacks the surrounding heat that some foods require to cook properly.

With a gas grill, closing the lid traps heat and allows temperatures to rise quickly. When you open the lid, you release all of the heat that has accumulated on the grill, which slows the cooking process. Because grilling is best done quickly and hot, it is usually best to leave the lid of your gas grill down as much as possible. There are, of course, always exceptions.

Foods that only need to be warmed or that are thin and will cook quickly can be prepared with the lid up. A hamburger won’t notice the difference because it is cooked in a few minutes over direct heat. A large roast or a whole chicken, on the other hand, will require the extra heat provided by having the lid down. Indirect cooking always necessitates the use of a lid. Personally, I always grill with the lid closed. But keep an eye on it. With the lid down, flare-ups will occur much more quickly.

The flow of air on a charcoal grill can be controlled by lowering (or raising) the lid. Depending on the position of the vents, lid down may result in a low or high temperature.

What’s the difference between indirect and direct grilling?

These two techniques provide you with everything you need to grill almost anything you can think of, but you must know how to do each well in order to be effective.

To use an indoor analogy, indirect grilling is similar to baking, while direct grilling is similar to broiling (especially if you have the lid up). Direct grilling involves cooking food directly above a heat source. Indirect grilling is accomplished by positioning food to one side of the heat source. On a gas grill, you must be able to turn off one side of the grill.

On a charcoal grill, build the fire on one side or in a ring around the sides, leaving the center empty of coals. When grilling indirectly, it’s a good idea to keep dripping grease from starting a fire and turning into direct grilling with a lot of flare-ups by placing a drip pan under foods.

What is the best way to light charcoal?

First and foremost, the best method is not to use quick, easy, or self-lighting charcoal. Depending on your preferences, you can use either a charcoal chimney or the tried and true lighter fluid.

To begin with, the best way to light charcoal is to avoid using any type of charcoal that is self-lighting or contains an additive that allows it to start without lighter fluid. These additives can leave a bad taste in your mouth, which you don’t want. When fully lit, charcoal should be clean and emit almost no smoke.

While lighter fluid may be more convenient, it can also impart a bad flavor to foods. If you do use lighter fluids, make sure to allow plenty of time for them to burn off. To use lighter fluid properly, make sure your charcoal is neatly piled and not scattered around the grill. Pour a generous amount of lighter fluid over the entire pile, making sure that every piece of charcoal is covered with fluid. Allow no more time between putting the fluid on the coals and lighting the pile than it takes to close the lighter fluid can and safely store it. It is actually preferable to light the pile with a piece of newspaper. You’ll need a lot of flame to get the pile to burn as quickly and completely as possible. Remember, you should never use lighter fluid again. Even hot coals will cause lighter fluid to vaporize, resulting in a nasty explosion.

Without anything more combustible than a few pieces of newspaper, the best way to light charcoal is without anything more combustible than a few pieces of newspaper. This is accomplished with a charcoal chimney, which can be purchased at almost any hardware store. A charcoal chimney allows you to get a large amount of coals to burn completely and quickly without adding anything to the fire that you don’t want in your food. Charcoal chimneys also allow you to start more coals while cooking.

How do I deal with flare-ups?

There are many strategies to dealing with flare-ups and a spray bottle of water nearby isn’t the best one. First of all it’s important that you understand that flare-ups are not as big a problem as you might think. Controlled flare-ups are okay, it’s when the fire gets out of control that you have a problem. There are several ways to deal with flare-ups and a spray bottle full of water isn’t the best way.

Planning for Flare-Ups: You need to plan on flare-ups and prepare for them. The first step is to reduce the risk of a flare-up by trimming any and all unnecessary fat from the foods you grill. For the sake of flavor, meats should be left with a little fat on them. This helps prevent meat from drying out while grilling. Now when I talk about fat I mean not only the fat on the meat but any fat you have added like oils in marinades or sauces. Marinades should be allowed to sink in and then drain off so marinated meat is not dripping in oil when it hits the grill. By reducing the amount of fat on meats that you grill you reduce the amount of flare-ups.

Have an Escape: Of course you can’t and shouldn’t take away all the fat. Foods like chicken with the skin on or a good thick steak or hamburger patties are going to have fat and that fat is going to melt and quite likely catch fire. That’s fine. What you need is an escape plan. Unless you are grilling enough food to cover the entire cooking surface of your grill you need to be ready to move meats out of the fire, to another part of the cooking grate. This gives you the ability to keep foods out of the way of a flare-up and prevent burning. Once you have cleared the area of a flare-up of food, let it burn. Fats exposed to flame and intense heat will burn away quickly. You can also use upper warming racks to hold food temporarily while the flare-ups persist. Like fighting any fire the first step is to get the combustible materials out of the fire.

Watch the Grill: Flare-ups lead to burnt foods only if they go unattended. If you are putting something fatty on the grill you don’t have the luxury of rushing in to check the score of the game. From my experience it takes a good five minutes to check the store. In five minutes a grease fire can reduce most anything to ashes, so stay by the grill. Watched food doesn’t burn.

Take control: Once you have a flare-up going take control of it. By moving meat that is dripping fat into the flare-up you can keep the flare-up in one place. Say you have a dozen chicken thighs going. When a flare-up starts move the chicken out of the way, say to the warming rack. Now drop the chicken pieces into the middle of the flare-up for a few seconds to let the grease on the chicken drain and burn away. Do this with all the pieces, then clear out of that area of the grill. Let it burn down while you keep the chicken either to another side or on the warming rack. Worse comes to worse remove food entirely from the grill, let the grease burn off and then resume grilling. If you can’t prevent it then you need to be able to control it.

Dosing the Fire: Now if all else fails you can resort to the spray bottle. A water filled spray bottle is a weapon of last resort. I know many so called experts that keep a spray bottle of water close at hand like a fire hose to put out flare-ups the second they happen. There are several reasons you don’t want to use a spray bottle. First of all you don’t put water on a grease fire. That’s always rule number one. Water and burning grease do not get along. Secondly, while the water will reduce or even put out the fire temporarily it does nothing to get rid of the grease in the grill. So the second that grease heats up again the flare-up will be back. Thirdly, when you spray a grease fire with water the grease explodes (why we don’t do this in the first place). That grease splatters over food and, well let’s say that partially burned grease doesn’t taste very good. If however, you end up with an uncontrollable flare-up move the food out of the way, to a plate if you have to, turn off the burners, and spray down the grease to put it out. Now you can start over.

Disaster Recovery: Once you have had that big flare-up it’s time to clean out your grill. Start by letting it heat up good and burn away as much grease as you can. Now get in there and clean out all the burnt grease and food from the bottom of your grill. A clean grill really does produce fewer flare-ups.

So remember to plan for your flare-ups. Reduce the risk by cutting back on the fat. Have an escape plan in mind to get food out of the way. And keep a close eye on the foods you cook.

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