Gas grilling can be quite a bit different from charcoal and wood grilling because gas, unlike charcoal and wood provides its heat source from propane, butane or natural gas, though most home gas grills utilize propane.
Gas Grills offer several unique advantages not available to users of regular charcoal/wood grills or smokers – they are easily started, reach cooking temperatures quickly, maintain constant temperatures, and are easy to shut down when grilling is completed.
In contrast to charcoal grilling, a gas grill offers convenience above everything else. The user can simply turn on the fuel near the bottle, raise the lid, turn on the gas valve on the grill and either light a match or push an igniter button and be ready to start cooking!
CHOICES OF GRILLS
There are many types of gas grills from which to choose, though, for the most part, there are only two basic styles. It is recommended that beginners concentrate on performance over convenience. As a result, one’s primary choices should center around the size of the grill, its construction and its performance.
Size – Select a grill that will be large enough to cook for a decent-sized party, because once you get the hang of outdoor cooking, you are going to want to invite your friends. A nice feature of most gas grills is that they have multiple burners and as a result, are always capable of cooking smaller quantities just nicely.
Construction – Gas Grills are available in several different types of materials, including stainless steel, solid steel and cast aluminum. The most often recommended options are stainless steel and cast aluminum as both of these materials resist rust, corrosion and general deterioration. Both provide for long life and superior performance.
Performance – Look for a grill offering a minimum of two to three gas burners which will allow for greater control of the heat -and be sure to select a grill capable of generating at least 35,000 Btu’s of heat. With two or more burners, you can utilize indirect heating by using a gas burner on one end of the grill and placing the meat on the other end. You can also add a water pan directly beneath the meat so it can perform similar to a water smoker/grill. If your grill is unable to generate enough heat, you will find it sorely lacking in performance.
The portability of the grill is also important, as it will allow you to move the grill in the event of inclement weather. Lava rocks, flavored briquettes and metal deflectors all serve the same purpose – that of preventing fat dripping from the meat reaching the flames and creating flare-ups that torch the meat.
Prices on today’s gas grills can vary from $200-$1000 and more, though a good quality grill that will last 10 to 15 years, with proper maintenance and care, can be purchased for $300 to $400.
Propane vs Natural Gas – Propane gas grills (those with gas bottles as the source of gas) and natural gas grills (those with gas being delivered from the local natural gas company) are the two most common types of gas grills, though propane grills have become much more popular today. Propane is under a higher pressure and uses smaller orifices on the burner jets. Natural gas is under much lower pressure and a larger orifice is necessary to obtain the needed gas flow to heat the grill. Though some grills have adjustable orifices, most do not. However, most gas grill manufacturers offer replacement orifices to convert from propane to natural gas. Contact your manufacturer should you decide to convert from one type of gas to the other.
LIGHTING GAS GRILLS
RULE # 1 – ALWAYS keep the lid raised when lighting the grill!
RULE # 2 – Follow the instructions in your user’s manual.
The reason the grill lid should remain open is because there can be a huge build-up of explosive gas under a closed lid. Also, never light or use a gas grill in an enclosed area!
The correct procedure is to:
Raise the lid of the gas grill before turning on the gas at the propane tank.
Turn on one of the gas burners on the grill.
Press the auto light button if your grill has one, or, if there are holes in the bottom of your unit, you can use a match placed near the burner from that position. If not, then use a long match from above the burners, and, if that is not realistic, you can throw a match in near the burners. Once the initial burner has been lit, then you can turn on the other burner(s).
Allow the entire grill to burn for about 5-10 minutes on high to burn off any remaining food and/or grease that may have accumulated on the diffusers below from previous cooking. Once the smoke subsides and the flames appear to be burning smoother and cleaner, then you can turn the burners down to low and get ready to cook.
COOKING ON A GAS GRILL
“What” is to be cooked is not nearly as important as is “how” it is cooked, i.e., a nice juicy hamburger is way better than an over-charred steak!
The actual cooking on a gas grill is not that much different than with a charcoal grill – with one exception – gas grills can easily become too hot. This problem is best alleviated in one of two ways: first, since with many grills you won’t be able to turn the flame down any lower, you should try turning down the amount of gas coming from the propane tank itself (you should be able to get it quite low). The only other real option is to keep the lid open until enough of the excess heat has escaped.
This leads to another popular question: “Do I cook with the lid open or closed?” Actually, the answer depends upon what you are cooking. For the most part, when the lid is closed, you will be able to cook a little faster than you could with the lid open. A closed lid retains the heat and thus allows higher temperatures to accumulate. If the meat you are cooking is a bit thicker than normal (like a thick steak, a whole chicken or even a pork shoulder), then the best way to cook would be with the lid closed (remember you can always hold the lid open, as necessary, to adjust the heat levels you are working with).
Though most users of gas grills have the tendency to keep the lid closed when grilling, if you observe those grilling at restaurants and outdoor fairs, it is rare to see cooking done with the lid closed. That is because the majority of those cooks like to keep the lid open while they stand there turning the meat as it cooks, letting both sides of the meat experience the flame. Thus, with the possible exception of delicate meats and fish, it is generally recommended that you do your grilling with the lid open. This allows the meat to be grilled on each side the exact amount of time you desire while keeping the meat from being cooked too fast, with temperatures that are too hot.
For those in-between sizes of meats – such as whole turkey breasts and chicken quarters, you can experiment cooking both ways and see what works best for you – just remember, you are grilling with hotter temperatures and not barbecuing. What is most important is to take proper care to prevent over-cooking and/or cooking too rapidly.
CLEANING YOUR GAS GRILL
Cleaning a gas grill is quite easy – simply turn the burners on high and allow them ample time to burn the excess grease and food from the grates (usually if turned on high, the burners will remove most food particles within 5-10 minutes). You can then take a wire brush and brush the steel grates so that they are clean (if your gas grill has ceramic grates, then follow the manufactures’ recommendations). If all else fails, you can always use a damp cloth to wipe ceramic grates clean.
BASIC FEATURES to LOOK FOR in a GAS GRILL
Gas Grills require a diffusing material between the meat and the direct heat produced by the gas. This material, in addition to diffusing the heat, will contribute to the amount of smoke generated and also protect the burner elements. Common substances used may consist of lava rocks (less common), compressed pumice rocks (or briquettes), metal plates or ceramic diffusers. The build-up of grease on any of these diffusing elements presents a potential flare-up hazard!
What is the Difference Between Ceramic and Metal Diffusers? – Ceramic Diffusers can come in all shapes; usually your grill will have a bag of material such as this to spread on the lower grate to help prevent flare-ups.
There are several types of Metal Diffusers:
Cross-Bar Diffusers – These diffusers are perpendicular v-shaped bars (^) which eliminate much of the grease and drippings reaching the flames.
Stainless Steel Diffusers – These diffusers block some of the grease and drippings which can lead up to flare-ups, though the large square holes can still allow some drippings through.
Stainless Diffuser Pan – This pan covers the entire cooking surface, below the grates and does not allow any grease or drippings to reach the fire. Another nice feature of this design is that it allows for easy cleanup as well as a place to put the wood chips when you want to add some “smoky flavor” to your food.
Food Grids – The real action when cooking on a gas grill occurs with the Food Grid. This grid covers the entire cooking area above the diffusing materials and burners, and is where the entree is actually cooked. The food grid is usually constructed of:
Round stainless steel bars.
Stainless steel plates.
Stainless plates or bars that have been covered with ceramic material.
Cast iron that has been covered with ceramic material.
The better grills also provide one or two secondary grids that either rest on top of the primary grid or are attached to the hood. You can use the secondary grids for potatoes or other items where direct heat may be a concern. Make sure secondary grids are removable in order to accommodate larger pieces of meat, such as a turkey or a large brisket.
Heat Control Valves – Gas Grills utilize heat control valves for regulating the inside cooking temperature. The most preferred method is to have one control per burner. Typically, the “HIGH” setting would be for burning old food and grease from the rack and the lava or pumice rocks. The “MEDIUM” is used for most types of cooking, while the “LOW” setting is most often used for warming foods. Regulate the temperature of your gas grill through the use of the heat control valves, as reflected by the thermometer.
GAS GRILL OPTIONS/FEATURES
Gas ignition buttons – Today, most gas grills are equipped with an ignition button for ease and safety of lighting the fire. Over time, most ignition buttons will require replacement parts for the sparking mechanism – be sure that the manufacturer has the necessary replacement parts necessary to repair your igniter. The most common ignition button is the “Top Ignition Plunger” –a long button which when pressed down produces a spark near the burners for ignition.
Viewing window – To many, the feature of a viewing window is a matter of personal preference for viewing inside the grill without the necessity of opening the hood. However to others, it is more of a “pain” than it is worth because the inside of the grill is usually smoky, and grease has a tendency to splatter on all surfaces of the grill, including this window. If you select this option and really want to use it, be prepared to clean it regularly, or you won’t be able to see through it for very long. The alternative to a viewing window is to lift the lid to view and care for your food as needed. Remember, gas grills will quite quickly reheat to the desired temperatures.
Outside shelving – Additional shelf space provides great convenience for holding the food, sauce and utensils you use while cooking. There are times when the additional shelf space to work on can be of immeasurable value! Once you have it, you will be happy every time you have a cookout.
Side burners – Some of the better, larger grills provide side burners as an additional cooking surface for items such as beans, chili, corn or anything else that can be cooked indoors. This feature allows most of the cooking to be done outdoors, rather than heating up the house with the kitchen stove in the warmer weather. Some side burners have lids so the side burner area may still act as a shelf when not in use.
Rotisseries – A rotisserie will cook the meat evenly, over or in front of the heat source, and also has a tendency to self-baste the meat. Rather than the juices dropping below, with a rotisserie, they will coat the meat as it is being turned, basting it.
Built-in thermometers – A built-in thermometer is really not an option if you want to be kept aware of how hot the inside of your grill is. The temperature needs to be carefully controlled to insure tender, moist foods. Always cook as slow as you possibly can and still have the meat ready when everyone sits down to eat. Also, don’t forget to use your instant reading meat thermometer to determine when the food is done.
Gas grill covers – Most good gas grills will come with a vinyl cover that will protect your grill from the elements. You may want to check with your manufacturer to see if there is a heat-resistant cover to fit your grill – this type of material allows for covering the grill while the grill is still warm so you won’t have to remember to come back and cover the grill after it has cooled sufficiently.