Monday, April 9, 2012

Grilling 101

9 April 2012

I prefer BBQin’ with wood and charcoal. I have used gas grills but for me, using a gas grill is nothing more than moving your oven outside. No offense to those that use gas. But for me, the art of outdoor cookery includes the fire making and the fire maintaining. It’s a big part of what makes the food great and what makes the cooking fun. What man doesn’t love to make a fire!!!!!

This time of year especially, I am stocking up on my charcoal and wood supplies! I use the basic Kingsford charcoal. I do not use the “quick light” as they impart a noticeable fuel flavor to your food. Same with the hickory or other wood “infused” charcoals. You get that flavor but it is overpowering and artificial. If you are using charcoal the best you can use is plain old everyday take-forever-to-light charcoal. Charcoal is made from wood so you get that good flavor naturally anyway. When grilling or BBQing, I use a mix of the charcoal with a small amount of whatever wood chunks I’m using. Generally on the grill I’m using mesquite and/or oak.  

When lighting the coals, I do not use lighter fluid. The old method of piling your coals in the grill, soaking them down with copious amounts of lighter fluid and then igniting them is effective. It’s also a great way to feed your guests lighter fluid flavored food. I use a method that take a little time, requires some planning but is just as effective. I use a chimney. A chimney is the metal can contraption that you can fill with your charcoal and start your fire that way. It gives your charcoal a good enclosed space that allows the briquettes to adequately ignite. I start with a few briquettes in the bottom, then I wad some shredded paper, not much and add a little vegetable oil to the paper and briquettes, no more than a teaspoon. Light the paper then once it catches, add more briquettes, paper and oil, allowing space and air for the fire to breathe and spread. Once the fire gets going and some of the briquettes have ignited (turning white along the edges), top off the chimney with more briquettes and let it simmer until the coals have turned white. This process takes 30 minutes tops. Once the coals are sufficiently whitened, or lit, I then pour the chimney coals into my grill or smoker fire pit. Important note here is that before you place your lit briquettes into the grill, make sure you allow for air flow coming into the grill by setting your air flow ducts accordingly. I usually set them about half open to allow for air to feed into the fire area of my grill. You may notice that I haven’t mentioned wood chips. Well I don’t really use them however, they would make great kindling for the chimney. If you do use them for grilling, remember that soaking them, just like wood chucks, is needed in order to bring out the “smoke” effect. Also remember that when you place a bit of soaked wood chips onto your lit briquettes, you are going to cause a massive fluctuation in your cooking temperature and your fire may need more time, and fuel, to get back to temperature.

Today I am talking about grilling. When you put your coals into the grill, you do not want to start cooking immediately. You want to arrange your coals in the grill in a way that you can manipulate the heat and not burn your food. I keep my coals on half the grill space, that way I have “hot” and “cold” spots on my grill rack and can regulate the cooking speed by where I place the food on the rack. Once arraigned, I give the coals a minute or so to warm up the grill and the rack. I’ll give the rack a little brush of vegetable oil before I place the food on the rack. This helps in giving your food those grill marks that everyone raves about but serve no other real purpose.  If I am cooking for a large group of people, I make sure I am using a large enough grill to accommodate that. I love any opportunity I get to obtain a new and bigger grill!! I use a 22 inch Weber “One Touch” Kettle grill for my grilling. It provides more than adequate grilling space for most of my grilling needs and it’s a Weber who, in my humble opinion, makes THE best grills.

Grilling is a very easy process really. Put the meat on your grill over the coals to get a good sear on both sides, brush the rack with oil before you flip the food over and once that sear is in place, put your food in the “cold” spot to finish cooking at a decent rate. The trick is watching the heat and keeping the flames away. When the coals get too hot or if the juices from your meat come in contact with the coals, they will flame. Inexperienced cooks will pour beer or spray water onto the fire to extinguish it. This is a classic rookie mistake which will cause your food to be covered in ash and soot as well as causes fluctuations in the cooking temperature of your coals. If you are grilling for an extended period you want your coals to last and you want to maintain an even, nonflucuating, temperature.  The best way to extinguish the flames is simply move the food from the fire onto the cooler area and place the lid on the kettle. The lack of air will temper your coals and not kill them. Just remember your food will cook better and more evenly if the temperature in your grill is as constant as possible. Cooking too fast and especially too hot makes it tough, dry and mostly burnt. Getting that good initial sear and then letting it finish on the cooler side makes for food that is much more satisfying, juicier and much tastier.  Some grill chefs will place the lid on their grills to let the food simmer and soak in that good grill flavor. If you do this, make sure you have your air ducts on the bottom of the grill and top of the grill lid opened so as to allow for adequate air flow! You don’t need to do a lot of flipping once your food is in the cooler area of your grill but you may want to open the lid occasionally so as to give your fire a breath of air.

A little bit about rubs, marinades and sauces. Rubs are usually dry herbs and spices that are “rubbed” onto your meats surface prior to cooking. Most good chefs have several of their own recipes and there is no set rule, use what you like. You apply your rub to the meat and let it set on your meat for a few hours in the fridge or overnight. Most chefs completely cover the meat so that a crust forms over the meat, sealing in the juices. A marinade is a liquid. You simply place your meat in a marinade, preferably overnight but at a minimum 4 hours and its ready for cooking. Be sure that when you prepare marinades that if you use any kind of acidic liquid, like lemon juice or vinegars, that they will begin to “cook” your food and therefore you will want to adjust your cooking time. Sauces are typically applied after the food is cooked or in its final stages. Remember that most sauces contain sugars and sugars burn quickly. Keep that in mind when preparing your rubs and marinades as well. As a rule, I don’t use any sugar based substances in my food prep because I hate burnt food.  There’s other ways to prepare your food as well. Brining your food, especially poultry, is a good tip to add juiciness to your meats. I won’t go into it much here and urge you to check out my “related links” section to get more information on that. When I grill, I use a dry rub and that’s it. I haven’t had any complaints!

Yesterday, I grilled some chicken quarters for my wife and I and our son and daughter-in-law. I used the methods above and within 45 minutes of my placing the meat on the grill, I had produced four succulent, well-cooked entrees. I had put a little dry rub on mine that consisted of salt, pepper, garlic powder and ground cumin. On everyone else’s chicken I used a rub of Morton’s seasoning salt. I applied the rubs to the raw meat by hand and made sure that every bit of the meat was covered. I don’t cover the meats I cook completely with a thick layer of the rubs. I don’t aim for the meat to be coated with the rub but rather to accentuate the flavor of the meat along with the fire itself. Everyone loved the chicken I grilled!!

Grilling is not a set in stone process and you will develop your own methods and procedures. You will develop your own recipes for rubs and marinades and that is all part of the great joy that is barbequing. I do not claim to be the “know all, end all” source expert on grilling or barbequing but I do know that I love doing it. It brings me joy and peace to take a piece of meat or fish and make something amazing with it. I hope that my writings on this subject bring something of value for you and that you too have as much fun as I do when you fire up your grill!!! The next post in this series will cover smoking meat and then some recipes and other “how to’s”. Happy BBQing’!!!!!

Have a Blessed Day Ya’ll!!!

Today’s “Did Ya Know?” Today there are two really cool observances! It is “National Name Yourself” Day! Today if you want to be called “T-Bone”, “Big Shooter” or “Butter Flanks” then by golly you can have it your way today!!!!! So think of something really cool and demand that all of your friends and family address you as “Big Unit”!!!!! Today is also “Winston Churchill Day” and we honored him in 1963 by making him an honorary American citizen. He led the British during World War II as their Prime Minister and he smoked a mean cigar!!! There were many great leaders during those times and he was one of the better ones!

Related Links:

Weber Grills official website:’s Blog on all things Barbequing:

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