GUIDELINES TO OUTDOOR GRILLING

The following are guidelines on how to grill, what equipment to buy and hints to help make it a success.

Guidelines to Grilling

Start with a clean grill.  Did you know that you can clean your grill racks in your self cleaning oven?

Preheat your grill if it is gas or propane; or, start your charcoal 35 to 40 minutes prior to beginning the cooking process.

Allow flames to die down and the coals to burn to a light gray.

Opening vents will increase the heat and closing them will decrease it.

Spray or brush the grill with non-stick vegetable oil.

Start meat, fish or poultry at room temperature to reduce cooking time.

Keep a spray bottle of water handy to extinguish flame-ups.

Use direct heat for grilling steaks and foods that you want to cook in a hurry. This means placing the meat directly over the coals or gas flame. Then there is indirect heat which means you bank the coals to one side of the barbecue and place the meat on the other. With a gas grill, turn on only one side of the gas grill and place the meat on the other side. You may want direct heat to sear the outside of a piece of meat, but then indirect heat to cook for a long time, such as baby back ribs or a roast.

Tools for the Barbecue

A long handled spatula with a durable handle for turning meats, burgers and vegetables.

Long handled tongs to turn large cuts of meat, steaks, etc.

A strong wire brush with a long handle to clean the grill racks immediately upon the completion of the cooking process.

A good basting brush.  I have one that has a hook that latches over the edge of the bowl to keep it from falling into the marinade.  Get one that is dishwasher safe as you will need to run it through when you have finished basting.  Most sauces have a definite taste so you don't want to contaminate your next cooking adventure.

Good thick mitts or potholders.  I like the mitts because they cover the whole hand, wrist and part of the arm.

A good carving fork and knife as well as a cutting board.  I love the Chop Chop plastic cutting sheets.  I got 4 in one package and each one is labeled.  There is one for dairy/vegetables/fruit, one for meat, one for poultry and one for seafood.  They are just the right size to fit on your regular cutting board or use them directly on your counter.  They are quite durable and when you're done, they go into the dishwasher to make sure they are clean and sanitary.  Most kitchen stores carry them.

A large roll of heavy duty aluminum foil for cooking some items or just to keep foods warm and safe from pests and pets.

A skillet that is dotted with holes.  I'm not certain what you call it, but mine has a handle that folds toward the pan for storing.  This is used for small items such as shrimp and vegetables that you are grilling and you don't want to drop them down through the grill racks onto the flame.

Not essential, but nice to have is a burger basket and a fish basket.  They are long handled baskets within which you secure your burgers and fish in while they are grilling.  You can do several burgers or pieces of fish in one basket.  When it is time to turn the burgers or fish, one flip of the basket and they have all been turned over.  It keeps them from breaking up on the grill racks.

A good barbecue thermometer.

Either a package of wooden skewers for kabobs or some good metal ones.

Nice to have, but not essential is a rotisserie attachment.  Skewer a whole chicken, turkey or group of Cornish game hens; how about a whole roast, beef fillet or pork tenderloin.  Then turn on the switch and let it revolve as it cooks.  It is really juicy and tender.  Do not try to stuff poultry or meat with dressing as it will fall out.  Instead, stuff it with lemon halves, orange quarters, peeled onions or apples.

Hints to a Successful Barbecue

Before you begin handling food or utensils, wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds.  Rinse well and dry with a paper towel or a hand towel designated for clean hands, but not your dish towel.  Keep the two items separate.

After handling uncooked meat, fish, poultry, seafood or raw eggs, wash work surfaces, utensils and hands again with hot, soapy water.  Use a plastic cutting board that will go into your dishwasher when done.

Refrigerate food within 2 hours of cooking and on hot days, no longer that 1 hour.

Don't overload the refrigerator; leave room for air to circulate.

Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator, not on the countertop.

Keep refrigerator temperature at 40 degrees and the freezer at 0 degrees.

To avoid cross-contamination of food, store meat, fish and poultry in zip-lock bags, separate from each other. 

Rely on one container to carry raw meat or poultry to the grill and another for returning it to the kitchen or table.

Boil basting liquid or marinade for 3 minutes before consuming.  Use one spoon for stirring, another clean one for sampling EACH TIME YOU SAMPLE.

Always use an instant-read thermometer to verify that cooked foods reach their USDA-recommended minimums.

180 degrees for whole poultry

170 degrees for poultry breast, well-done meats.

165 degrees for stuffing, ground poultry, reheated leftovers.

160 degrees for medium meats, eggs, egg dishes, pork, ground meat.

145 degrees for medium-rare beef, veal, lamb.

140 degrees for held-hot foods such as on a buffet.

Don't salt your meats before placing them on the grill as the salt brings the juices of the meat to the surface.  The result will be tough, dry meat.

Pork is a delicate meat and it needs gentle heat when cooking on the grill.  However, you shouldn't overcook pork.  It should have a pink blush in the center with juices flowing (160 degrees).  This is from the U.C. Berkeley Wellness Letter of June, 2001.

Fish can become tough if it is overcooked.  Be sure not to cook it on extremely high heat or for too long a period.

Beef steaks are good on high or medium high heat, but don't overcook.

When making vegetable packets or kabobs be sure to keep all of the items consistently the same size so they will finish cooking at the same time.

Be careful not to put tomato based sauces on meat until the last minute. These sauces contain sugar which will burn and turn bitter. Your meat might just catch fire.

Remember to soak the wooden skewers for kabobs for 10 minutes just before using them so they don't burn up in the heat.

Do not pierce the meat with a fork as that will release the juices and make the meat tough.  Instead, to test for doneness, press the meat with the back of a fork or spatula.  Rare meat will be soft, a medium steak springy and well-done meat will be firm.

Use only the freshest vegetables for grilling and if making kabobs, choose vegetables with similar cooking times or precook those that take longer such as small onions.

Use care in selecting meat, fish and poultry.  Check carefully the "use by" date on all packaged meats.  Ask to smell the fish to make sure it has a sea aroma, bright eyes (if it is whole fish) and not watery when lightly pressed.

Learn to Talk Barbecuese

Rotisserie cooking.  The equivalent of spit cooking on a continuously revolving rod.  Good for whole roasts, turkeys, chickens and game hens.  Results in a juicy and tender entrée.

Smoking.  Smokers are available for a reasonable price.  However, you can add water-soaked hickory or other flavored wood chips, close the lid and allow the smoky flavor to penetrate the meat.  Fresh herbs also lend excellent flavor.  You aren't curing the meat in these smokers, merely cooking it with a smoky flavor.  Be sure to refrigerate any leftovers.

Grilling.  The usual hamburgers, hotdogs, steaks cooked on the grill.  However, this cookbook offers much more.  Grill vegetables, fruits, desserts, breads as well as all kinds of meats, fish and poultry dishes to tantalize your taste buds.

Marinades.  A combination of 3 types of ingredients used to flavor the meat in order to give it flavor, moisture and to tenderize it.  You need an oil (almost any kind of cooking oil will do), an acid such as vinegar, fruit juice or wine/liquor/beer and a seasoning, usually herbs and spices (either fresh or dried will work).

Rubs.  A mixture of spices and herbs that are rubbed into the meat, poultry or fish with the intention of sealing flavors into the cooked item. Some believe it is the only way to add flavor and heat. Rubs are usually dry, although they can be wet or paste-like. Generally you spread them all over the meat and then grill as usual.  Some rubs are better if you let the meat sit for a while before grilling so it can absorb the flavor. Be careful with recipes containing sugar. Do NOT cook them over a high heat or the sugar will burn. If the rub also contains water (wet rub) it will keep it from burning as easily, but burnt sugar is bitter so watch it. It is suggested you use indirect heat when using rubs with sugar so the flame never comes in direct contact with the meat.  Barbecue rubs are fun to experiment with since they can pack so much flavors and can be tailored to your individual tastes and heat.  There are rubs for all cuisines and types of meat so branch out and give them a try.

Mops.  Just another word for basting sauce.  Some use a small dishwashing mop to baste the meat, fish or poultry.  It is used to primarily keep moisture on meat that has a tendency to dry out.  Sugar and tomato based sauces are not good candidates for mops since they easily burn.

Accompaniments.  Salsas, stuffings and sauces.  Enhance the flavor of the entrée by serving the additional enhancement to make your guests think you are the greatest cook in the world.

Gas Grills vs. Charcoal Grills vs. Smokers

While there are those that will tell you that grilling on a gas barbecue is not REALLY a barbecue, this cookbook will refer to it as barbecue.  I realize there are those in Texas, the Deep South and Kansas City that take whole pigs, small calves, huge roasts, etc. and cook them for days or hours with their special sauces that are jealously guarded secrets.  There are no whole pigs buried in the ground or anything of that sort in this cookbook.  This is strictly an outdoor grilling cookbook that addresses the needs of the backyard barbecue cookery. 

 You may use a fancy gas or propane barbecue with a side burner, a warming rack and a lid.  This is the kind that I use because it has a large grilling area and the closed lid allows me to add wood chips or fresh herbs to smoke into the meat.  However, if you have an RV, the small portable tabletop propane grills work nicely for a small family.  There is also a larger barbecue that will fit into those motorhomes with large basements where you can store one that collapses almost flat to the depth of the hood.  Then, of course, there are the hibachis, charcoal wagon grills and the kettle cookers.  These are good for the person who swears by charcoal grilling.  Buy the type of barbecue that you feel comfortable using and if it includes a rotisserie, great.  If not, raise the rack and turn the meat or poultry often.

If you are grilling something that will drip lots of fat and moisture that has a tendency to flair up, try one of the following suggestions.

Charcoal:  Buy a disposable pan or make one out of heavy-duty aluminum foil.  Bank the charcoal on both sides of the barbecue.  Place the pan in the center between the banks of charcoal.  The meat should be placed above the pan so the juices flow into the pan as opposed to the charcoal where it will flair up and burn the meat.

Gas Grill: Use the same disposable pan or foil pan.  Place it either on one side of a 2-burner grill or in the center of a 3-burner grill.  Turn off the burner that has the pan on it. 

This method is excellent for your Thanksgiving turkey. This is called indirect heat grilling.

If you are a charcoal user, you will not find a lot of instructions for the correct number of briquettes.  I don't use charcoal.  I did for many years, but found it messy and time consuming for my taste.  I do suggest you use an electric fire starter as opposed to a liquid fire starter.  The latter leaves a taste of the product as well as an ugly smell.

To test the temperature of your grill, estimate by holding your hand, palm down, about 4 inches above hot coals.  Count the seconds you can hold that position.  Figure 2 seconds for HOT; 3 seconds for MEDIUM-HOT and 4 seconds for MEDIUM.  Use the usual count of "one thousand one, one thousand two," etc.

Smokers:

Smoking is essentially grilling and can be done on charcoal or gas grills. However, if you're all about the smoke, then you may consider buying a smoker. There are two basic types of smokers:

Vertical water smokers

Horizontal dry or pit smokers.

Vertical Water Smoker Components:

Cylindrical barrel 2½ to 3½ feet high and about 18 inches in diameter

Base of barrel is heat source -- charcoal, gas, or electric

Wood chips or chunks are placed on heat source to enhance desired smoky flavor

Water pan is placed above heat source
One or more grill racks are above the water pan

Benefits of Vertical Water Smoker:

Water adds moisture to smoking process

Substantially less expensive than pit smokers

How Horizontal Dry Smokers Cook

Horizontal smokers cook food by indirect grilling. These smokers have two chambers; one large one where food is placed, and a smaller offset fire chamber where the fuel source heats the food chamber indirectly.

Benefits of Horizontal Dry Smokers

Volume of food that can be smoked at one time is substantial

What to Look for in Vertical and Horizontal Smokers:

Heavy-gauge metal, usually steel

Smooth porcelain enamel inside and out for durability

Tight-fitting lid to hold in smoke and heat

Built-in temperature gauge to monitor heat inside

Access to lower half of barrel for ease of adding wood, water, or charcoal as needed

Trays for catching and disposing of ashes

Sufficient vents to help regulate heat and smoke

Whatever type of barbecue or grill or smoker you prefer to use be sure to read the manufacturer's instructions carefully and follow their suggestions.

 

Happy Grilling