Your barbecue grill can be your best friend, or your worst enemy if you don't know how to use it properly. Grilling has come a long way since the first humans cooked hunks of meat over an open fire. From charcoal, to gas, to electric, grills come in all different sizes and colors to cater to individual tastes. And grilling can be done almost any time of the year, provided you use good judgment. By learning some basic outdoor grilling techniques, you can cook most of your meals outside without burning your steaks — or the house!
Outdoor Grilling Techniques and Safety Tips
Always grill in well ventilated areas, and always start and end with a clean grill. Special cleaning brushes, scrapers and other gadgets make this chore easy. Long handled grilling tools — tongs, barbecue forks and skewers, knives, spatulas and basting brushes — are must haves to flip and turn food and to keep hot flames away from your fingers.
To prevent the spread of food-borne illnesses, wash your hands often. Marinate your meats in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter. Always use a clean plate to serve cooked foods to prevent contamination from raw meat that could otherwise transfer bacteria to cooked food. Refrigerate leftovers, and discard anything — especially dairy products and meats — that has been left at room temperature for more than two hours.
Gas-fueled grills are extremely popular because they're convenient and easy to use. Forget the lighter fuel and matches, because they instantly light up and shut off with the flip of a switch. You don't have to build a fire and tend to it as with a charcoal grill. Most gas grills have temperature or heat settings to accurately control the heat, and there are no briquettes to burn out. Pizzas turn out great on a gas grill!
Charcoal grill aficionados often boast that there's nothing like a charbroiled steak to satisfy primal urges. Although charcoal grills are often less expensive than gas and electric grills, it does take some skill to get the fire just right for the perfect heat. There is no switch or knob to control the heat. You have to build your fire first, adjust the vents and the lid and then wait until the coals are perfect before you begin grilling your beer can chicken. This could take up to 20 minutes, so patience is a must. You also have to be careful when you're finished grilling because searing coals can stay hot for up to 24 hours.
An electric grill is as easy as its sounds. Plug it in and you're ready to grill! Though your meats won't have that hickory smoke flavor, an electric infrared grill has a benefit that may outweigh other grills — no open flames. Many apartment buildings and condominiums favor electric grills over gas and charcoal grills on balconies and decks, and some electric grills can even be used indoors.
Direct Grilling vs. Indirect Grilling
Depending on your recipe, you'll want to choose the right grilling method to cook your food. Direct cooking is simply grilling directly over the heat, whichever type you're using. If you close the grill lid, your food will cook even faster, although you'll want to flip your meat at some point to grill evenly. For indirect grilling, push all the coals to one side (you may have to rearrange them to get the best heat), and cook on the opposite side. For gas grills, use only one burner and grill on the other side. This method is better for thicker cuts of meat that would normally take longer to cook through.
Minimum Internal Temperatures
Use a probe thermometer in the thickest part of the meat to determine its temperature. The minimum internal temperature depends on the type of food:
- Most steaks and roasts: 145°F (rare), 165°F (medium), 170°F (well done)
- Ground meat: 160°F
- Pork: 160°F
- Poultry: 165°F
- Fish: 145°F
Once you master outdoor grilling techniques, you'll be dying to invite everyone over to show off your grilling skills. Remember to observe proper fire safety and food handling practices for delicious grilling year round.
Photo credit: Donna Diegel