As the days get longer and the sun shines brighter, you start having visions of grill marks on meat and vegetables and remember the fun of last season’s backyard barbecues.
Whether you're a charcoal grilling enthusiast or prefer the convenience of gas grills, many foods cooked over flames just taste better. Knowing the best techniques for grilling and barbecuing different types of food, how to season and sauce them for optimum flavor, and fire preparation methods guarantees perfect results all through the summer.
A clean grill is essential to good grilling and barbecuing.
Use a wire brush to remove stuck on food particles from the grate and then clean it with steel wool to restore the grate to smoothness. A smooth service prevents food from sticking and brands the food with appealing grill marks. Use a paper towel to rub down the grate with a light coat of vegetable oil but don’t overdo it as too much oil will cause flare-ups. Clean all the ashes from the bottom of the grill and make sure the top and bottom vents move freely to provide good ventilation and control the heat. If the inside of the grill cover is caked with soot or grease, thoroughly clean it to keep unsavory drippings from ruining the food.
The key to good grilled and barbecued food lies mainly in fire control. Most foods cook best over medium or medium-high heat. Gas grills are fairly easy to regulate, but many cooks agree that charcoal types impart a richer flavor. Charcoal requires more expertise and patience.
To avoid petroleum tastes in food, start a charcoal fire using a chimney starter with a bottom chamber for newspaper that ignites the charcoal in the top portion of the tool. After the charcoal is lit, leave it in the chimney for 15 to 20 minutes until it is red hot and covered with a light coating of white or light grey ash. Carefully pour the hot briquettes into the bottom of the grill in an even layer, place the grate on top, and let the fire heat the grate for 5 minutes before placing the food on it. A good way to determine hotness is to hold the palm of your hand 2 to 3 inches over the grate. If you can only stand the heat for 2 seconds, the grill is hot. A medium-hot grill will start to burn your hand after 3 to 4 seconds and one heated to medium will start to burn you after 4 to 5 seconds. Don’t rush the fire or you’ll end up with food charred on the outside and raw in the middle. To impart the food with extra flavor, toss some water-soaked wood chips on the coals right before you put the food on to cook.
Many grilling aficionados believe that salting beef or pork before grilling dries it out as the salt draws the moisture from the meat to the surface and only salt the meat after grilling. Salting skin-on chicken will make the skin crispier and tastier but will not season the flesh of the bird. You can rub the flesh under the skin with salt, pepper or any seasoning you prefer to give the poultry more taste. Fish can be seasoned with dry spices before or after grilling; lightly coating the exterior helps the spices stick. Whatever spices you use, keep them minimal to avoid burnt and bitter tastes.
Marinating or applying dry rubs to food before grilling is an excellent way to enhance its flavor. Meat is best marinated or coated with rubs overnight. The fiber in poultry, fish, and soft vegetables breaks down in marinades and rubs, so they should be marinated for much shorter periods of time and periodically checked to avoid over marinating. Tomato and honey-based barbecue sauces add great flavor to meat and poultry but the sugar makes the sauce easily burn. Sauce meat and poultry 10 to 15 minutes before removing it from the grill. Turn the food frequently and closely watch it to avoid scorching.