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Most of us love to grill with good reason: It’s an easy way to cook, we’re in charge and in the great outdoors, and the heat from the grill brings unique flavor to all your food. Here are some ChowGuys tips, techniques and easy recipes for great grilling.
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A propane-fired gas grill gives a more even, adjustable source of heat and can be fired up fairly quickly, but is generally more expensive and doesn’t give your food the same smoky taste as a charcoal grill. If you’re using a charcoal grill, you can buy composite briquettes from a national brand, or natural lump charcoal which we generally prefer. Either way, invest the $15 or $20 in a “chimney” that will get the charcoal fired up in 10 minutes or so by lighting a few crumpled pieces of paper at the bottom of the funnel. Try to avoid starter fluids at all coats because this stuff is chemically made and will affect the taste of your food.
Whichever grill you use, clean the rack surface right after cooking, and give it a quick once over just before your next cook-out. A wire brush with a scraper works best. If you’re using a gas grill, you’ll want to change the pan that catches the fat dripping from the surface every couple of weeks. With a charcoal grill, it’s a good idea to remove some of the used coal ash when you have more than an inch or two at the bottom of the grill. These steps will reduce the chance of having messy flame-ups while you’re grilling.
You’ll want to allow about 10 minutes for a gas grill to heat up, and 15-20 minutes for charcoal to catch on fire and produce the ash-like coals that are perfect for grilling. A good test of heat is to put your hand palm down about 4 inches above the rack. If you can keep your hand there for 3-5 seconds your coals are about right for cooking. Now you can oil the rack so your meat or fish doesn’t stick to the metal surface and tear off when you turn it. A paint brush with olive oil or vegetable oil will do the job nicely. To sear you meat or fish, place it in the center of the rack where the fire is hottest. Char your food for about 2 minutes per side, then move it away from the center so it cooks a little more slowly, or close the top of the grill to tamp down the hot coals and cook your food more evenly throughout. You’ll quickly get the hang of the time needed to cook to the doneness you like. Fish generally cooks faster than meat, and a thicker cut of meat or fish will take more time than a thinner one.
One of the great things about grilling is that you can often do the whole meal on the grill in one fell swoop. While the meat or fish is cooking near the center, you can grill your veggies around the outside. We love to grill zucchini squash and eggplant, as well as thick slices of red or Bermuda onion and bell peppers. You can find a simple recipe for grilling these vegetables by clicking here. (link to Vegetable Kabobs) We also like to grill citrus fruit which is great paired with fish or chicken. Just slice lemons, limes or oranges in half, brush with olive oil and grill on both sides for a few minutes until lightly charred. The juice develops a smoky flavor and grilled fruit also makes an impressive garnish for a platter of grilled meats or fish.
Marinades will help tenderize and add flavor to grilled food. You’ll want to marinate meat and chicken for at least 15 minutes but an hour or more is even better if you can plan ahead. Fish generally shouldn’t sit is a marinade for more than 20 minutes or it will get mushy. Click here for some simple marinades that you can make quickly and easily.
Metal skewers will last forever but if you’re using wood skewers, which you can find in packets at the grocery store, soak them in water for a few minutes so the tips don’t burn. With a little marinade, you can quickly make kabobs with fish, meat or chicken, or mix them with vegetables. Kabobs are a fun way to grill, and when you cook marinated foods pressed together the taste is even better. You’ll find a few kabob recipes for grilling and we’ll be adding more every week.