Barbecue & Grilling

According to the experts barbecuing & grilling are not the same. Grilling uses direct heat that browns the meat, fish or veggies. Whereas, barbecuing uses indirect heat at a very low heat to slowly cook with a combination of heat & smoke. Barbecue is usually used for larger cuts of meat like briskets & racks of ribs. In the south, closed pit is the way to go, in the north, open pit is the norm. Barbecue is possible on a grill as long as you keep the meat on one side of the grill and keep the coals on the other side for indirect heat. Or if using a gas grill, turn on only half the burners to low and cook the meat on the side that isn’t on. Sometimes it only takes a one burner on.

To get a smoky flavor on a gas grill, an aluminum pan filled with wet wood chips on the burner will do the trick. You can even put the chips on hot coals for a smoky flavor in a charcoal grill.

Charcoal, Gas or Wood?

  • Charcoal – has a low price for portable grills and flavor is better than gas because you are actually burning a briquet made of a composite of hardwood or coal & a binder. First the material is converted to charcoal and then ground & formed. Each type burns differently. Takes some time to light & burn down the coals before they are ready to use.
  • Gas – top of the list for convenience, but price for gas grills can be high. Since you are actually cooking with the flame from a metal burner, there is no flavor to be infused into the meat.
  • Wood – my personal favorite, everything tastes better on a wood fire! (except coffee, hate camp coffee). Unfortunately, it’s not convenient and you have to wait for the wood to burn down to coals before using. Cost can be pricey for the construction of a firepit or hearth to contain the fire. And some cities do not allow open fires in the backyard.

Whichever you chose, it’s better than cooking inside when it’s a beautiful day and a lot more fun! Let’s look at each one separately.

Charcoal

Equipment needed

  • Portable grill – come in many sizes from the tabletop hibachi, a ceramic Mexican braseros, the bowl shaped brazier, to the covered barbecue on wheels.
  • Fuel – charcoal briquets but you can add hardwood chips to add more flavor, experiment with different brands as they are not made of the same stuff.
  • Starter – coals need help to burn such as: 1. Electric starter- a resistance coil gets placed into the bed of coals & plugged in, coals are ready in 20 minutes. 2. Chimney starter- a scoop like contraption that creates a draft thru the coals that are in it. Add a couple sheets of wadded newspaper or coals soaked in starting fuel & ignite. Coals are ready in 20 minutes. 3. Starter fluid- a nasty smelling flammable liquid that gets doused over charcoal bed, wait a few minutes, ignite.
  • Tongs – long handled for arranging & moving coals
  • Spray bottle filled with water.
  • Cooking utensils (listed below)

What to Do

  1. Prepare the firebed – remove the grate, line your grill with foil, shiny side up for easy cleanup. Also, a layer of sand or gravel will protects the metal from overheating, extending the life of the firebed.
  2. Make a bed of coals – you only need 25-30 coals for an average grill, pile up in the center with all briquets touching & layered.
  3. Start the coals by the method of your choice.
  4. When coals are covered with ash, spread out with tongs to area that will cover the entire area needed for the food. Add wood chips that have been soaking in water for 15 minutes at this time for smoke flavor.
  5. Put grate back on grill. After heated up, clean grate with a wire brush &/or a wad of aluminum foil or wet old towel.
  6. Oil your grate with spray oil or wet old towel dipped in oil. (careful with flare-ups)
  7. You are ready to grill.

Gas

Equipment needed

  • Gas grill – prices range from $150-thousands, make sure it has vents.
  • Fuel – propane tank(best to have 2 in cast it runs out in the middle of grilling)
  • Starter – better grills have an electric starter built in, if not, use long handled lighter inserted at opening in the bottom.
  • Spray bottle filled with water for flare-ups.
  • Cooking utensils (listed below)

What to Do

  1. Open lid, open propane tank, turn burner knob to high.
  2. Push igniter button or light with long handled lighter.
  3. If it doesn’t light and you begin to smell propane, turn off & let air out before trying again.
  4. Turn on rest of burners as needed. ( you can turn on all of them to heat up)
  5. Close lid & let heat up a few minutes.
  6. Open lid clean grate with wire brush or wet old towel rolled up.
  7. Adjust flame to desired heat, oil with spray or wet old towel dipped in oil.
  8. You are ready to grill.

Wood

Equipment needed

  • Firepit with sides at least 1.5ft high to put grate on it.
  • Grate – use camping grate with side extensions that will reach across pit to rest on stones or pavers that make up the firepit.
  • Fuel – hardwood only, spilt or size of your wrist is best. Softwood like pine will give off resinous smoke & it burns too fast. Be careful using trimmings from the shrubs in the yard, some may be poisonous!
  • Tinder – to start the fire (such as pencil thin twigs, pine cones & bark) & newspaper.
  • Starter – long handled lighter is best.
  • Tongs & pokers for moving wood around to keep going.
  • Spray bottle of water for flare-ups.
  • Cooking utensils (listed below).

What to do

  1. Remove grate from firepit.
  2. Wad up at least 5-8 sheets of newspaper loosely.
  3. Layer on twigs in a teepee fashion or in a layered style crisscrossing each new layer. Object here is to have air pockets all around to keep fire going.
  4. Start your fire with the lighter, blow on it slowly to get it going.
  5. After twigs are sufficiently burning, layer on split and wristwood in same teepee or layered style. Again leaving air all around but wood must be touching. Put on enough so that you don’t need to add more while cooking. Coals will be much less in volume then the pile you started with.
  6. Let burn down to coals or almost. Takes about 30-40 minutes depending on how big you make it.
  7. Spread out the coals, keeping them touching to cover cooking area under grate.
  8. Put grate back on firepit, coals should be about 10 inches below grate.
  9. After heated up, clean grate with wire brush & oil it.
  10. If during the cooking process more heat is needed, you can add “flyers” (pencil thin twigs) to get the fire hotter.
  11. You are ready to grill.

Cooking method is the same for whatever equipment you use.

Here are Some Tips

  • Straight grill cooking is good for quickly cooked foods such as steaks, chops, hamburgers, fish, veggies.
  • For quick cooking foods, ONLY TURN ONCE, for those great grill marks.
  • Although tricky, open flame is a great way to cook super fast foods like fish filets & fish, otherwise it’s cooked before you have those wonderful grill marks.
  • Larger pieces of meat and whole or stuffed fish should be done by browning first to seal in the juices, then move heat to a ring around the outer edges of the food to finish with indirect heat. Food should be covered by the grill lid or tent of foil.
  • Lean foods should be basted with oil before putting on the grill.
  • For stronger flavor on foods, marinate them first, & baste with marinade while grilling. Boiling & reducing leftover marinade makes it usable as a sauce on the cooked food.
  • Sauces & bases made with sugar burn easy so use them over a low heat or baste food near the end of the cooking.
  • Add soaked woody herbs to the coals for infusing fragrance & flavor. Good ones are rosemary, sage, thyme, marjoram & oregano.
  • Except for very fatty meats, use tongs to move food about, as forks pierce the food allowing juices to escape.
  • Use a cast iron roasting pan, dutch oven or skillet to cook roasts or whole chickens with indirect heat. The lid of a grill or dutch oven will act like an oven and surround the food with heat to brown all around.
  • If food gets too dark before it’s cooked through, place some foil under it & use indirect heat to finish.
  • Don’t have a thermometer? Hold your palm down near the grate, if you have to remove it in 3 seconds, it’s about 350 to 400 degrees. Perfect for quick cooking!

Grilling Tools

  • Long-handled tongs – one pair for moving coals, another pair for moving the food.
  • Long handled meat fork – for moving fatty meats or for moving large pieces or roasts with help of tongs.
  • Basting Brush – for basting marinade or sauce while cooking. Baste the food, not the grate or you will burn the bristles!
  • Spray bottle – filled with water for flare-ups
  • Thermometer – for fussy chefs
  • Cotton mop – for serious basting
  • Hot mitts – for reaching over the hot fire to turn meat
  • Long handled spatula – for flipping burgers & fish and veggies
  • Skewers – great for small pieces of meat, shrimp or veggies.
  • Wire brush – for cleaning grate, A MUST HAVE.