Most grilling experts would probably agree that there is an art and science to becoming a true grilling guru. While some decisions – like whether to use a charcoal or gas grill – are a matter of personal preference, understanding the finer points of food preparation over open flames comes only from education. Getting to know the grill itself, as well as learning how to manipulate the heat and create a variety of flavors, will make this grilling season the most enjoyable yet. Below are a few key points to help you make the heated decision between using a charcoal or gas grill, and noted why it’s important to consider the benefits of each.
Tools of the Trade – Charcoal vs. Gas Grills
In its simplest form, this debate is a matter of taste and convenience. The primary benefit of a charcoal grill is that it enables the food being grilled to take on a more authentic, smoky taste, while a gas grill saves time with the ease of simply flipping a switch to ignite the fire. Consider the following factors before you gear up to grill:
Where – A small patio or covered area is not conducive to a large charcoal grill. Charcoal grills are best used on a large outdoor deck or in a backyard. Without available space, a gas grill is a better option.
When – If weekend afternoons are dedicated to grilling, then charcoal is the way to go. Set aside extra time to assemble the coals, light the fire and wait for the coals to heat. However, if you are short on time or looking for a quick way to cook a weeknight meal, then the quick start of a gas grill will better suit your needs.
What – When grilling small cuts or smaller quantities of meat, consider using a gas grill to provide fast and efficient direct heat. If you are grilling large pieces of meat, or larger portions, a charcoal grill will help create a slow-cooked, smoky taste using indirect heat.
Method to the Madness – Grilling Techniques
Once you are equipped with a grill, learning about direct and indirect heat – the two main methods of grilling – will help you make informed decisions when preparing grilled foods. These methods have less to do with the type of grill being used, than with the thickness and volume of the meat being grilled.
Direct heat – the most common method – is grilling the food directly over the hottest point of the heat source. Grill pork chops, burgers, kabobs and anything less than 2 inches in thickness, over direct heat. Follow these simple tips when grilling using direct heat:
* For charcoal grilling, arrange coals evenly throughout the grill.
* When using a gas grill, turn on all the burners to the desired temperature.
* Flip food once to ensure even cooking.
* Use the following descriptions of coals to check cooking temperature when using charcoal:
— Low - Ash coat is thick, red glow less visible
– Medium – Coals covered with light-gray ash
— High - Red glow visible through ash coating
Indirect heat requires the “fire,” or heat source, to be built off to the side, or around the area where the cooking takes place. Follow these meat grilling strategies to grill larger cuts of meat, like ribs and roasts, using indirect heat with either a charcoal or gas grill.
* Arrange the coals along the perimeter of the fire grate, or bank on one side.
* Place an aluminum foil drip pan in the center of the fire grate, or to the side opposite the coals.
* Add the grill grate and place the pork in the center.
* To adjust the temperature, partially open the vents on the bottom of the grill.
* Cooking time will vary depending on the cut of meat and the quantity of food being grilled, but plan for about an hour for a 2-pound loin roast and 1½ to 2 hours for a slab of ribs.
* For a two-burner grill, preheat only one burner. For a three- or four-burner grill, light only the outside burners and place the meat in the center.
* When hot, place the meat over the unlit burner and close the lid to trap the heat inside.
* Most gas grills come equipped with a catch pan, or grease collector, so there is no need for a drip pan.
The Smoldering Effect – Adding Smoke for Flavor
For both charcoal and gas grilling, adding smoke to the meat is a fantastic way to create an authentic barbecue flavor. The most ancient and time-honored method for enhancing the flavor of grilled food – smoking – can be achieved by following these simple steps:
When using a gas grill, put presoaked wood chips in a cast-iron smoker box or wrap them in aluminum foil and punch small holes in the foil to release the smoke. Do not put wood directly on burners or it will burn too quickly and leave ash in the grill.
When using a charcoal grill, place wood chips directly on heated coals after the flames have subsided and the coals are gray in color, or place wood chips in a smoker box.
Start with small amounts, especially if experimenting. The recommended amount is 1/4 cup of wood chips.
Always add the wood chips when you are ready to start cooking, and not before you place the food on the grill