It’s hardly a topic we’re unfamiliar with. Grilling is a favorite way of cooking flesh and veggies. Something about it evokes a primordial desire in an otherwise starched-collared, iPad society of suburbanites. There is a flame (usually) to consider. Danger is lurking around the corner with any style of cooking, but once you strike a match, punch a Piezo igniter or pull the trigger on a safety lighter, there’s a feeling of “game on” as soon as you hear that familiar “woof.”
I’ve lost eyebrows and arm hairs but never suffered serious injury at the hands of a grill. Chalk it up to the law of averages, but I have sought first aid from far more accidents in the kitchen than I have cooking in the great outdoors. Maybe I’m on my toes, but grilling has proven the safest method for me to prepare food.
When it comes to grilling I’m truly an equal opportunist. I have an application for every type of grill. And though my gas grill recently lost its casters and gave in to a rusted out firebox (I am currently in the market), I’m covered as far as the grill types we’ll discuss today.
Pass the gas
Gas grills, both propane and natural gas, are much safer than most people expect. Sure, use caution, read directions carefully and make sure you open the lid before you turn on the gas. There is a quickness and ease of use with the gas grill. Not much preheating is required, and about $20 worth of propane lasts a good while.
The biggest advantages for cooking with gas are temperature control and cleanup. When I say temperature control, I’m speaking of being able to raise or lower the flame, of course, but more importantly, controlling indirect heat. A four-burner grill can keep hot and cooler zones for when you aren’t looking to scorch a roast.
Clean-up is a cinch in that you don’t have to deal with a bucket of ash. But many gas grills have cast-iron grates. I use a wire brush to remove the remnants, followed by a rag with vegetable oil to preserve the cast iron, much like I do with a skillet.
Charcoal is king
It is unbeatable. Aficionados will only cook with charcoal. They may be a bit close-minded but I can see their point. Charcoal flavor is worth going the extra mile. That smoky taste that can make even the cheapest hot dog taste like a million bucks earns charcoal the top spot for grilling. But keep the liquid starter away.
I despise a steak or burger that has that nose-hair-singeing lighter-fluid taste. Not only does this knock charcoal cooking down a flavor notch or three, it also ups the danger factor. Save the accelerant for your burn pile. For my charcoal, I use a chimney-style starter. This metallic tube has two chambers, a smaller for wadded up newspaper, and a larger, upper chamber for briquettes. Light the newsprint and in minutes you will have glowing orange coals.
Smoke ‘um if you got ‘um
Traditional smokers use a heat source such as wood chips and charcoal and employ the use of a water pan to aid in the cooking process. This is actually a form of indirect cooking that is partly smoking, partly steaming. For the smoking part, wood chips such as hickory or mesquite are soaked in water for 30 minutes to an hour and continuously added throughout the ordeal.
The water pan adds moisture to the meat and is rarely filled with just water. You hear of mixtures of barbecue sauce, wine and beer, but I tend to shy away from wasting such precious resources on a chicken or Boston butt. For my money, I like to supplement the water supply with apple juice and sliced apples.
Pay attention to the water pan as much as the fire. You’ll certainly have to add more, and whether it’s more juice or water, I heat it up in the microwave so as to not stifle the cooking. Cold water is a no-no. It puts the brakes on the smoke train.
They say Muddy Waters invented electricity
But it was George Foreman. The former and perpetual boxing
champ came out of retirement years ago with his first laughable George Foreman Grill. This low-tech hamburger smasher was a masterpiece of inefficiency. But I have a much larger third- or fourth-generation grill of this series and it has helped me out in more than a few pinches.
With a vent hood on full blast, the George Foreman electric grill can save your hide during a thunderstorm or when the December winds are biting. The even heat, convenience and easy cleanup earn it a spot in the cabinet above all the dishes with the Tupperware cake plate and other rarely used items.
It’s no good after the hurricane when the power is out, but it’s as good as you’ll get when the rains come. I’ve done steaks, burgers and chicken on the GF, with good results. The nonstick coating is so slick you just about wipe it clean, and the drip pan is dishwasher safe.
See, fellow grillers, we can all get along. Don’t turn your nose up at any cooking method until you try it. Remember: It’s not how you drive, it’s how you arrive.