As we reach the summer time, nothing beats a backyard bbq, whether for yourself or socially distanced with family and friends. With bbq-ing and smoking as my avocation, I thought I’d offer some of my tips.
a. Don’t be afraid of charcoal. I dare say most people here use a gas grill. Turn the propane on, hit a button and hopefully the grill lights. Most people complain that charcoal is messy, or mostly it takes too long. Using a chimney style starter, which is essentially a big can with a handle, can get the charcoal burning hot in 10 minutes, without the need for smelly or foul-tasting lighter fluid. These are available at every big box store or on your favorite on-line retailer;
b. Use natural hardwood lump charcoal or briquettes. Kingsford is the big player in charcoal, but you get a nicer, smoke-wood flavor, by using natural lump, which is just real wood burned down to coals. The pieces are irregular, but burn hot and long, and impart a delightful smoke flavor. If you want consistent shape, there are some brands that make natural hardwood briquettes. Some of the more popular brands of natural lump are Cowboy, or Royal Oak, both of which are usually available at local big-box retailers. These start easily in a chimney starter without lighter fluid;
c. Make sure you start with a clean, hot grill. I always pre-heat my gas grill for 10 minutes, then I scrape any residue off, and I lightly oil the grates with a paper towel with some canola oil on it. If I’m using my charcoal grill, I do the same, and let the charcoal get the grates really hot;
d. Learn fire management. Whether on the gas grill or a charcoal grill, have different heat zones. I have a big pile of burning coals on one side, and a lot less on the other. This allows me to move the food away from the fire if there are flare-ups or cooking too fast. Same in a gas grill, where you can have one side hot, and the other off, or on low, giving you a place to move the food;
e. Use the grill like an oven. I love the flavor from the bbq. In the nice weather, and sometimes not so nice, I love cooking whole meals on the grill. Many gas grills have multiple burners, so you can create a convection oven at a specific temp by turning on a couple of burners and placing food over the “off” burners. This allows for indirect cooking with hot air circulating around the food…I cook holiday prime rib roasts this way, which imparts a slight flavor of grilling, and leaves the mess outside;
f. Season. Many people complain that their food is burned after grilling. The secret to prevent that-avoid saucing until the end. Most commercially prepared sauces, especially bbq sauce, have very high sugar contents. Sugar burns easily and will burn long before the food is done. The secret is to sprinkle spices liberally on the meat, called “rubs”, cook, and sauce them at the very end, and let it set for a couple of minutes on the grill…just to add a little glaze. If you watch carefully, you’ll get great results without the burnt meat;
g. Try “smoking”. Everyone has seen the bbq shows on TV that are becoming so popular. For a real treat, people should try smoking. If you have a kettle grill, you can smoke by building a fire on one side, getting some wood chucks, like oak, maple or hickory (available at big box retailers) and placing them on the smoldering fire. Chicken will only take a couple of hours, and while longer than regular grilling, will be well worth the wait. If you want to engage in the hobby in the more serious way, purchase a Weber Smokey Mountain (“WSM”), the best entry-level vertical smoker. The Smokey Mountain has a very dedicated following, and there are several fan websites including the Virtual Weber Bullet, with everything you need to know about the WSM-check it out here;
h. Don’t forget your veggies. Vegetables grilled are a fantastic treat. I toss peppers, baby carrots, mushrooms and onions in a little olive oil and salt and pepper and throw them on a disposable perforated grill pan (to make sure things don’t fall through the grates) for a while. You can also do potatoes, but I usually steam or microwave them for a while before grilling, to make sure they get cooked through;
i. Grill your fruit! Pineapple, banana, apples…slice, sprinkle with brown sugar and grill for a few short minutes. Surprising delicious!
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