The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer, and the veggies in your garden are about to pop, which means it’s almost grilling season. If you’re having friends over for a party or just making dinner for the family, here are a few tips from a grill master to get you ready for the grilling season.
Real fire is best. You can take the easy way out and get a gas grill, or you can go old-school and use charcoal. There is definitely something to be said for the near-instant heat of a gas grill, but nothing gives you the satisfaction of real fire. Charcoal grills impart a smoky flavor that you just don’t get from gas, plus there’s the primordial man-taming-fire element that is unmistakably awesome.
If you’re using real charcoal, stay away from lighter fluid. It’s awful stuff and will give everything you cook the smell of a roadside gas station. Buy a “chimney,” a vented steel tube you can get at just about any big-box store. Put newspaper in the bottom with a little cooking oil sprayed on it, then load the main chamber with charcoal. Light the newspaper, grab a beer and watch it burn.
When it catches ablaze, let the coals burn until they’re all white-hot and ashy. It should take about 20 minutes, or essentially one beer. Pro tip: Put a stick of wood or small branch in the middle of the chimney and surround it with the coals. It will help the coals light faster.
You should make much more than burgers. The quintessential grilling foods are of course hamburgers, hot dogs, and steak, and I’m a huge fan of all three, but there is much more out there for you to grill. Some of my favorites: lamb, salmon, okra, asparagus, corn, artichokes, carrots, peaches, lemons, and cherries.
Experiment with some of your favorite meats, veggies, or fruits and find what works best for you. A giant plate of grilled veggies, with some cheeses and a bottle of chilled white wine, make a perfect warm-weather, the-kids-are-with-grandma feast.
There is grilling and then there is barbecue. Don’t confuse making burgers in your backyard on a Weber with what it takes to make a luscious, juicy, smoked brisket. Real barbecue requires a smoker, not a typical grill. I live in Texas, home of the best barbecued meats on the whole of planet Earth, so I leave the brisket, ribs, and smoked sausage to the experts.
Quality ingredients make quality food. If you want to give your family or guests the best steaks, fish, or veggies from your grill, buy quality foods to start. In this day and age it’s easier than ever to find good produce and proteins at your local grocer of choice or farmer’s market. Buy wisely, and you can get better-quality ingredients at a reasonable price.
Cook at the right temperature. Steak should be done on a grill that is as hot as you can make it. Hot and fast, with just a couple minutes on each side will get you a juicy, medium-rare steak. Cook burgers over high heat, but not blazing hot like you would a steak. If you’re topping your meat with cheese, do it toward the end of the second side. If you cover the grill, the cheese will melt better.
If you’re cooking fish like salmon, don’t rush it. It’s really easy to overdo fish. Keep it on a medium heat and let it cook with the grill top on. Pro tip: Leave the skin of the fish on, and cook it skin side down. It will crisp up the skin and keep your fish moist. Also, crispy fish skin is a great dog treat.
Grills aren’t just for dinner. One of my favorite things in the world is grilled peaches. When you’re at the peak of peach season, grab some fresh peaches, cut them in half, remove the pit, and brush with clarified butter. Throw them on a medium-heat grill and cook them until they’re soft, juicy, and “grill marked.” It’s best to do these with indirect heat so the butter doesn’t cause the fire to flare up and scorch your peaches. Then bring them inside and top with crème fraiche. It’s the perfect dessert! Grilled pineapple and other fruits also work well.
So there you are, a few tips to get you started as we approach the grilling season. Always be sure to stay hydrated if you’re grilling in the heat outside on a hot summer day—you know, with beer! I have plenty of tips on good beers. Bon appetit!