Grilling Methods and Techniques
Most backyard grills are either charcoal or gas, and the particular technique you use to grill may depend a little on which type you own. Each has its advantages:
Charcoal grills provide a more distinctive "grilled" flavor and backyard smell, and it's easy to combine woodchips or other natural ingredients with the coals for additional flavor. However, charcoal is messy and sometimes difficult to ignite, and once lit it takes a little while to reach the desired temperature. (Hint: To avoid lighter fluid and the chemical taste it may impart, try using a starter cone or chimney starter.)
Gas grills ignite easily and maintain an even temperature from start to finish, but they are more expensive than charcoal grills, they do not provide a smoky flavor, and they are not suited for burning wood chips.
Using gas or charcoal, there are three basic methods for outdoor cooking:
The most commonly used is grilling with direct heat, which means positioning foods on the grill directly above the flames or coals, usually with temperatures exceeding 500°F. Use this method for foods that take less than 25 minutes to cook such as: kabobs, tempeh, tofu, vegetables, sausages, steaks, hamburgers and most seafood.
Grilling with indirect heat involves cooking the food on the grill adjacent to the fire or coals but not directly over them, then closing the lid to create an oven-like cooking environment. Temperatures should range from approximately 350°F to 400°F and wood chips may be used on a charcoal grill if a smoky flavor is desired. The indirect method is best for larger pieces of meat like whole chickens or turkeys, ribs, roasts or leg of lamb. To cook indirectly: When using a gas grill, leave one burner off and place the meat on the grate directly over the cool burner. When using a charcoal grill, pile all the coals along the sides of the grill, and place the food in the center away from the hot coals. Many experts recommend placing a metal drip pan beneath the grate where the food will sit (to collect juices as it cooks).
Although we often use the terms "grilling" and "barbecuing" interchangeably, technically there is a difference. Barbecuing involves cooking foods slowly at a much lower temperature using indirect heat and "smoking" it. Authentic barbecue is traditionally cooked in a pit (prefabricated smoker or fire pit, raised brick or stone fire pit, or even a hole in the ground). This method provides a delicious, smoky flavor and exceptional tenderness, but it takes time—usually hours or sometimes all day. Barbecuing works best for large cuts of meat such as whole pigs or turkeys and for tougher cuts like brisket or spareribs that benefit from long slow cooking.
Quick Tip: Don't let bad weather put a damper on grilling adventures. Use a cast-iron stovetop grill pan or an electric countertop grill and simply follow the same guidelines you would on a "real" grill for any type of food. Use a meat thermometer to gauge the proper temperature.
Tips for Prepping and Heating the Grill
Clean your grill, especially the rack, before each use.
Oil the rack prior to heating to prevent sticking. Keep a spray bottle filled with canola oil handy in case of unexpected sticking.
The area of the fire needs to be wider than the area of the food you're grilling. If you are cooking a variety of items using charcoal, pile coals at different levels to achieve the right level of heat for each item.
Preheat your charcoal grill and don't skimp on the charcoal. Light the coals at least 30 minutes before you plan to begin cooking. Do not put foods on the grill until the fire dies down to glowing coals. (Real hardwood charcoal will always have a small flame, even when ready.)
Even gas grills need to preheat. Turn on the flame at least 15 minutes before putting food over the fire. This will help to warm up the grate and stabilize the temperature of the grill environment.