Grilling is the ultimate high-flavor, low-fat cooking methodnot to mention the quintessential taste of summer. The high, dry heat of the fire melts away fat, even as it imparts an inimitable, rich, smoky flavor. Grilled vegetables taste sweeter; grilled meats and seafood stay more succulent; and even fruit, like fresh pineapple, acquires a haunting smoke flavor when grilled. I'm of the school that, whatever you're serving (with the possible exception of ice cream), it probably tastes better grilled.
Before you fire up your grill, you need to know about two distinct cooking methods: direct and indirect grilling. Direct grilling is done directly over the fire at a high heat for a short time. This is the way to grill small or thin pieces of food, such as chicken breasts, fish fillets, steaks, vegetables, tofu, bread slices, pizza, etc.
Indirect grilling is done next to, not over the fire, and is used for large or tough cuts of meat, like whole chickens, turkeys, and briskets. To indirect on a charcoal grill, you rake the lit coals into 2 piles at opposite sides of the grill, or place them in your grill's side baskets. Place a drip pan in the center under the grate to catch the fat. In indirect grilling, you always cover the grill, which turns your grill into a sort of outdoor oven. There's another advantage to indirect grillingit eliminates burning meat fata suspected source of carcinogens.
The Great Gas vs. Charcoal Debate:
So what's better, gas or charcoal? It's really a matter of your temperament. If you're a result oriented person who likes push-button convenience and a reliable, easy-to-control heat source, you'll be happier with gas. If you enjoy the process of building a fire, messing around the coals, and waltzing the food from hot spots to cool spots, a charcoal grill is your ticket. Gas grillers are destination oriented; charcoal grillers like the journey.
Come on Baby, Light My Fire:
If you opt for charcoal grilling, buy natural lump charcoal (sometimes called charwood), which is made from kiln baked logs or trees. (One good brand is Nature's Own, sold by People's Woods, 1-800-729-5800.) Commonplace charcoal briquettes can contain coal dust, petroleum binders and other ingredients you wouldn't necessarily want to cook over.
You should also invest in a chimney starter, a large, upright metal cylinder with a partition in the center. The charcoal goes in the top; a crumpled piece of newspaper in the bottom. You light the paper and in 15 minutes you have evenly lit coals without having to use a petroleum-based lighter fluid.
When I grill, I build a three zone fire. I pile the coals in a double layer on one side of the grill, in a single layer in the center, and leave the other side of the grill without coals. This gives you a hot zone to sear over, a moderate zone to cook over, and a cool zone, where you can move the food if it starts to burn.
Heat control is a snap on a gas grill: simply adjust the burner knobs.
Where There's Smoke:
One of the unique advantages of grilling (besides its low fat health benefits) is that it allows you to give foods an old-fashioned smoke flavor. To smoke on a charcoal grill, soak a couple of cups of hardwood chips (like oak or hickory) in cold water for 1 hour, drain well, then toss them on the coals. To smoke on a gas grill, place the soaked chips in the smoker box (if your grill has one), or wrap them in heavy duty foil, make a few holes in the resulting package, and place it under the grate, directly over one of the burners. When you see wisps of smoke, start grilling.
Try Steven Raichlen's Recipes:
Catalan Tomato Bread
Plus, try these FoodFit Original recipes for grilling:
Grilled Tuna with Corn and Avocado Relish
Grilled Rosemary Flank Steak
Grilled Honey Mustard Chicken Breasts
Grilled Scallops with Ham and Basil
The Ten Commandments of Grilling (adapted from the Barbecue Bible):
- Be organized. Have everything you needthe food, marinade, basting sauce, seasonings, and equipmenton hand and at grill side before you start grilling.
- Gauge your fuel. There's nothing worse than running out of charcoal or gas in the middle of grilling. When using charcoal, light enough to form a bed of glowing coals 3 inches larger on all sides than the surface area of the food you're planning to cook. When using a gas grill, start with at least 1/3 of a tank of gas.
- Direct grilling is a high heat cooking method. Use the "3 second" test to gauge the temperature: Place your hand about six inches above the grate. You should be able to hold it over a properly hot fire for 3 seconds.
- Keep it clean. There's nothing less appetizing than grilling on dirty, old bits of burnt food stuck to the grate. Get a long-handled, stiff wire brush and use it to clean the grate. Brush after you've preheated the grill, but the food goes on. Brush again, when you've finished grilling.
- Keep it lubricated. Always oil the grate before placing the food on it. Dip a folded paper towel in oil, grab it with tongs, and rub it over the bars of the grate. Or grease the grate with a piece of bacon. (The flavor is great; the amount of fat negligible.) A well-greased grate keeps food from sticking and gives you handsome grill marks.
- Turn, don't stab. The proper way to turn meats on a grill is with tongs or a spatula. Never stab the meat with a carving forkunless you want to drain the flavor-rich juices onto the coals.
- Know when to baste.Oil- and vinegar-, citrus-, soy-, or yogurt-based bastes and marinades can be brushed on the meat throughout the cooking. (But not the last 5 minutes.) Brush on sweet barbecue sauces at the very end, so the sugar won't burn.
- Keep it covered. When cooking larger cuts of meat, such as a whole chicken, leg of lamb, or prime rib, use the indirect grilling method. Keep the grill covered and resist the temptation to peek.
- Give it a rest. Beef, steak, chickenalmost anything you grillwill taste better and be juicier if you let it stand on the cutting board for a few minutes before serving.
- Never desert your post. Grilling is an easy cooking method, but it demands constant attention. Once you put something on the grill (especially when using the direct method), stay with it until it's cooked. Most of all, have fun.
Remember that grilling isn't brain surgery. And that's the gospel!
For more great chicken recipes and ideas, click here.