Grilling 101 Revisited
by Kate Heyhoe
Do your kids call your barbecued ribs "Crispy Critters"? Do your grilled chicken pieces resemble tree bark on the outside and open-heart surgery on the inside? Is your life's goal to burn perfect grill marks into your steaks and veggies?
Cooking on a live fire seems easy enough, but direct-flame cooking can be tricky stuff. Unlike an oven which heats foods evenly, the outdoor grill is subject to all sorts of variations in heat levels— hot spots, cool spots, wind gusts, grill height and air temperature all make outdoor cooking a practiced art.
As soon as the weather permits, I start grilling almost all my meals outdoors. But even after years of experience, I still spend the first week getting back into the rhythm— tweaking my fire and repeatedly tending the food until I've regained my sixth BBQ sense.
A few years ago I wrote a column called Grilling: Top Ten Tips & Techniques —it's a handy guide to the basics of grilling.
Yet, every year I think about ways to improve these tips. So I've added a few pointers below for making grilled foods more appealing, tastier, and fool-proof. And, in addition to our special Hot Grills and Big Chills area, I've added some Vegetable Grilling Recipes at the end of this column.
More Basic Grilling Tips:
Sear in Grill Marks: Before grilling, decide which side of the food you plan to serve face up. Grill that side first by putting it face down on a very hot grill (be sure the grill was oiled before heating to prevent the food from sticking). Halfway through cooking, rotate the food 90 degrees on the grill to create a crossmark pattern. Turn the food over onto another hot area of the grill and repeat the grill-mark process on the other side. Tip: If your grill is only mildly hot, you won't get the crisp, dark seared grill lines you desire. After the grill marks are made, you can move the food to a less hot area to cook indirectly if the interior is not yet done.
Make Points by Scoring: No, I'm not talking about finding a sexy date. I 'm talking about cutting shallow slits in steaks and poultry pieces. Scoring increases flavor, adds tasty browned edges, and helps thick or uneven cuts (like chicken breasts) cook more evenly. Use a sharp knife to cut parallel slits about 1/8-inch deep and 1/2 to 1 inch apart in one direction. Rotate the meat or poultry 45 degrees and do the same thing, so you end up with a diamond pattern. Do this on both sides of boneless steaks and boneless chicken breasts, and on the meaty side of a bone-in chicken breasts. Scoring also helps marinades penetrate the meat more fully.
Be Fussy with Fish: Fish can be a real bear on the grill. The delicate flesh can stick to the grill, or quickly overcook and dry out. Follow these tips:
- Oil the grill before heating; make sure the grill is impeccably clean so fish flesh doesn't stick to remnant food particles.
- Oil the fish before grilling. Coat with an oil-based marinade, a thin film of oil or spray with vegetable oil (don't drench it: you don't want flare-ups).
- Use thick pieces, about 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick, to prevent drying out.
- Cook fish with skin, placing the skin-side (oiled) directly on the grill. Cook over medium heat, and for thick pieces, use a closed lid so the inside flesh cooks through, while the skin gets deliciously crisp and brown. Even if some of the skin sticks to the grill, you won't lose the flesh.
- Place fish on a perforated oiled sheet of heavy foil. You won't get charred grill marks, but you can get intense flavor by gently smoking the fish with aromatic wood chips or a sprinkling of dried herbs on the coals.
Flavor Foods with Better Basters: Add extra flavor to foods by basting with herb sprigs or aromatics. Use fresh, sturdy herbs, such as rosemary or bay leaf sprigs— and you can even use them to skewer foods, as in Italian Potatoes on Rosemary Sticks. Another flavor tip is to baste with a green onion (flatten the end to release more flavor) or with a cut half of an onion speared on the end of a fork.
Grill Vegetables for Concentrated Flavor: Grilling brings out the natural sugars in peppers, potatoes, mushrooms, eggplant, corn, tomatoes and other vegetables. Brush vegetables with oil, salad dressing or a marinade before grilling, to prevent them from sticking. Marinate for a short time only (generally as long as it takes to heat up the grill), as other than mushrooms and eggplant, most vegetables don't deeply absorb the marinade. Grill vegetables over medium-hot heat to cook them through but still get grill marks (don't overcook). The more natural sugar in the vegetables, or in the marinade, the quicker they will darken.
Whatever foods you grill, remember that you want them golden and slightly crispy on the edges. Cut the pieces so they'll be just cooked though in the center, without overcooking the outsides. Blackened foods are not the goal— they taste bitter and unpleasant, and sugars burn quickly, so calculate your grilling time accordingly. As with all the best things in life, grilling practice makes perfect.
For more summer recipes, visit Hot Grills and Big Chills
Kate's Global Kitchen for August, 2000:
Copyright © 2000, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created August 2000
This page modified August 2007