There are quite a few kinds of grills to choose from, and, for the most part, it won’t make too much difference which one you choose. However, if you are a beginner, realize that you really don’t need anything too fancy. There are plenty of options to choose from, including: kettle grills, box grills, drum grills, etc. – and these can be purchased in many locations in the $30-$100.00 range.
Whichever type of grill you select, be certain that it has:
- Sturdy Legs (grilled foods that get seasoned with dirt will not make you the most popular griller around)!
- An adjustable cooking surface, so that when the fire gets too hot or too cool, you will be able to raise or lower the meat accordingly.
- Another nice feature to have is a grill that has an easy means of adding more charcoal if and when necessary (many grills require you to remove the meat in order to add additional charcoal).
- The grill should also have a lid with holes in the lid for ventilation. Also, if you have a fire that gets too out of control, the only way to extinguish that fire is by closing the vents in the lid.
- The bottom of the grill, where the charcoal is placed should also have adjustable holes in either the bottom, or in the sides, to allow controlling the amount of fresh air into the chamber when the lid is closed, so that the fire can continue to burn adequately.
TYPES OF CHARCOAL
There are three types of charcoal to choose from – briquettes and non-briquettes, or rough charcoal. Basically, the charcoal briquettes are more dense and will burn more evenly and longer, though they may not have all the flavor of the rough charcoal. Rough charcoal, on the other hand, will burn hotter, but for a shorter period of time. Choosing between the two mostly depends upon what type of cooking you want to do.
The third type is called lump charcoal, which is a very pure and clean-burning charcoal. Most people are unaware of this option and only use the more familiar charcoal briquettes found at the grocery store and garden centers. However, these briquettes are far from being pure charcoal. The manufacturers begin with charcoal, which is then ground up and combined with fillers and binders that make the charcoal “go further.” It may also have non-wood substances such as petroleum coal added to the mix prior to forming the briquettes. Just because burning briquettes may have a “light coat of gray ash” covering them, it does not mean that all impurities have burned out. In fact, the impurities will burn all the way through the briquettes –meaning these impurities will be released throughout the time you are cooking your meat.
One way to avoid this is to use lump charcoal, which has no foreign substances in it, and all the impurities found in natural wood have been eliminated during the process of turning it into charcoal. It also has the added advantage of burning much hotter and faster than the regular charcoal briquettes.
HOW TO PROPERLY LIGHT CHARCOAL
The number 1 rule is to NEVER EVER USE GASOLINE TO START ANY TYPE OF FIRE!
There are two tried and true methods for lighting a charcoal fire properly:
The first is by using a good lighter fluid – a petroleum based product. With this method, first lay the charcoal out in a flat manner so that all the charcoal can be well-coated with lighter fluid. Then stack the charcoal into a pyramid and coat with fluid once or twice more. After allowing about a minute for the fluid to penetrate the charcoal, light the bottom of the stack and allow it to burn for about 30 to 45 minutes. This will allow for the petroleum vapors and any petroleum by-products from the fluid to burn off, and for the charcoal to develop a light coating of gray ash on it – you will then have a sufficiently constant temperature to work with. Now you are ready to begin cooking.
With the second method, you build a FIRE CHIMNEY. This is easy, fast and eliminates the use of petroleum-based lighter fluid. The chimney is a round cylinder where you can place wadded up newspaper in the bottom and then the charcoal on top. Simply light the newspaper and let it go. In about 20 minutes – or even less, you will have the red hot, glowing charcoal from the chimney to work with. This method uses the draft from the bottom to fan the heat up the chimney. You can either use a large coffee can with both ends removed or buy one of these heavy duty chimneys with a handle which will last for many years. When the coals are ready, carefully pour them into the grill body and you should be ready to start cooking. You can handle the chimney with asbestos gloves or strong tongs, but at all times, use caution to avoid burns.
HOW DO I GET STARTED COOKING?
Plan your meals by deciding ahead of time what you want your menu to consist of. Season the meat and allow it to sit for at least an hour before cooking begins. “What” is to be cooked is not nearly as important as is “how” it is cooked. Remember, the required temperature of the grill will vary depending upon the selection of food to be cooked. Use the “Hand” method discussed above, if a thermometer is not available. For example, fish will need a medium fire of 350° F to 400 ° F, while a steak will need a hot fire of 700° F (+). Following are some suggestions for great meals:
Steaks – Steaks require a hot fire! You may want to select a smaller diameter, thicker (¾”) piece of meat that will allow for the proper charring of the outside of the meat, while still keeping the interior nice and juicy. If you choose to cook a thinner steak (½”), cool the steak down to where it is firm, but not frozen solid. This will allow for charring of the outside, while the inside is mostly thawing – resulting in a perfectly cooked outside and a nice juicy inside of your steaks.
Fish – Because fish cooks so quickly and easily, it is recommended that you use a medium fire whenever cooking fish. Your fish should be close to room temperature, and just before cooking, coat both sides of the fish with a light coating of olive oil – and turn the fish often during the cooking process. You can determine when fish is done by using a fork to break it apart in the thickest portion. It should flake easily. If not, continue cooking until it does flake easily.
Chicken – Cook chicken over a medium/hot fire. The chicken pieces should be close to room temperature and seasoned to taste before cooking. Place the seasoned chicken on the grill and allow it to brown lightly, first on one side and then on the other. If the fire is hot enough, the chicken will seize the cooking grate at first, and then release when it is ready to turn. Chicken is done and safe to eat once the internal temperature reaches 165° F.
Pork Chops – Pork and lamb are both cooked over a medium/hot fire. Pork and Lamb Chops should be close to room temperature, or a little cooler before cooking (both can be cooked similar to chicken). Pork is done when the internal temperature reaches 145° F. Don’t worry if there is still some pinkness remaining as any undesirable bacteria are killed once the temperature reaches 137° F. Note: Do not cook pork or lamb at over 155° F because these higher temperatures will result in dry, tough meat.
Regardless of the type of meat you are cooking, always use a good quality thermometer to determine when the meat has reached the desired doneness (internal temperature).
CLEANING YOUR GRILL
Prior to cleaning your grill, always allow the coals to die down to the point of touch before moving them to a safe, non-combustible container. Once the ashes are cold, they can be trashed or placed in the garden. It is important to remove old coals from your grill, because if allowed to remain in the grill, their corrosive nature will eat away at the metal and destroy it much earlier than otherwise.
To properly clean the grates (once the grill has cooled to the touch), you can either use a steel wire brush and vigorously brush/scrape all of the cooked on food from the surface of the grate and then use a paper towel to remove any remaining loose material. The other method is, prior to cooking the next time, heat your grill to high temperature to cook any previous food off, and then you can easily steel brush off any remaining food.
Thorough Cleaning of Grates – Occasionally, you may notice that the cooking grate is not getting cleaned, regardless of how much scrubbing, scraping and brushing is done. Then it is time to really get it clean by lighting a generous amount of charcoal and placing it all over the charcoal grate and even more so around the edges where any built-up grease may have accumulated. If the fire is hot enough (and it needs to be), the buildup of old cooking greases will catch fire and incinerate. Once the fire dies down, it will then be easy to brush down and thoroughly clean the grate.
Thorough Cleaning of Your Grill – Once or twice a year, you may want to give your barbecue or grill a thorough, top to bottom cleaning. You can do this by brushing on a paste of Tri-sodium Phosphate (washing soda). Note: this stuff is very corrosive, so be sure to wear gloves and eye protection. Spray your grill down with the hose and then paint on the Tri-sodium Phosphate; close the grill and keep it cool, allowing the compound time to dry. Then scrub it down and rinse it well with a mix of 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to a quart of water to neutralize the alkaline condition.
Preventing Rusted Out Grills – Remember the better care you take care of your equipment, the longer it will last. One of the best things you can do to keep your barbecue lasting longer is to always remove the ashes. When ashes get wet, they create a caustic base – “lye” – which has a strong ability to consume iron.
The best way to prevent this is to clean out all the ashes, hose it down real well and spray it with a mixture of 2-3 tablespoons of vinegar per gallon of water. Allow the grill to dry really well, then try to keep the moisture out as much as possible. If you use your barbecue several times 2-3 times a week, you shouldn’t have any problem with moisture build-up.