Are you ready for grilling season? Steven Raichlen shares his top tips
Grilling guru Steven Raichlen's best-selling cookbooks have been teaching readers how to get the most out of barbecue for years. In Planet Barbecue! (read our review here) he travels around the world to learn how other countries hone their grilling skills. Here he shares a few extra tips to get you on the right track.
Tune up your grill
Charcoal grill owners will want to scrape out any old ash and spray the vents with WD-40. Gas grill owners should make sure the burner tubes are free of cobwebs and spiders. Replace the igniter batteries if the grill won’t light. If you smell gas, brush the hoses and couplings with a leak detection liquid (made of equal parts water and dish soap)—bubbles will show any leaks.
Buy a second grill
Gas grills are convenient, but when it comes to smoking, you can’t beat charcoal. Join the more than 30 percent of Americans who own more than one grill. Use the gas grill on busy weeknights and fire up the charcoal grill on the weekends, when there is plenty of time to smoke low and slow.
Load up on fuel
Always keep an extra bag of charcoal or an extra tank of propane on hand. To take if up a notch, if you normally grill with charcoal briquettes, try natural lump charcoal because it burns cleaner. If you normally use natural lump charcoal, graduate up to wood (like oak or hickory) for a richer smoke flavor.
Ready your rubs
Prepare a few extra batches of Raichlen’s Basic Barbecue “Four Four” Rub (equal parts salt, pepper, paprika, and brown sugar) at the start of the season, so you always have some on hand for an impromptu grill session.
Gather your tools
Make sure you have the three essential tools: a long-handled grill brush; spring-loaded tongs; and an instant-read meat thermometer. Other more specialized cool tools that come in handy include a wood chip soaker, rib rack, cedar grilling planks, beer can chicken roaster, and a set of flat skewers for authentic shish kebabs.
• Grilling means to cook small, tender, and quick cooking foods directly over a hot fire.
• Barbecue is cooked next to, not directly over, the fire, at a low temperature for a long time in fragrant clouds of wood smoke.
• Indirect grilling is also done next to, not directly over, the fire, with or without wood smoke, at a higher temperature.
• Spit-roasting is what you do on the rotisserie.
Review the basics
• The surest way to burn or undercook food on the grill is to overcrowd the grate. Remember to leave 1 inch between each item and leave 1/3 of your grate [or grilling space] open. That way, if flare-ups occur, there is a safety zone to move the food to and dodge the flames.
• Steaks, chops, chicken, pork shoulders, and briskets will taste best if they rest for a few minutes before serving. This allows the meat to “relax,” which makes it more tender and succulent. Loosely tent with foil to hold in the heat.
Barbecuing on a budget? Try these tips:
• Stay home and fire up your grill. Simply commit to grilling at home and automatically save money—especially when entertaining a group. Grilling at home is also healthier for you and more fun.
• True barbecue is the original budget food. The low, slow heat of the smoker breaks down tough meat, making cheap cuts like brisket and ribs supernaturally flavorful.
• Save leftover charcoal for next time. If there is charcoal left over, cover the grill, closing the top and bottom vents to put out the fire. Use the remaining charcoal for a future grill session.
• Inexpensive steaks, like skirt and hanger, have a lot more flavor than costlier cuts, like filet mignon. Tenderize these cuts by flash grilling over high heat and slicing the meat thinly across the grain.
• Choose the less-expensive dark meat pieces of a chicken. Dark meat, like thighs and legs, are better marbled, richer tasting, and less prone to drying out when exposed to the high, dry heat of the fire than pricier white meat pieces. 95 percent of the world’s grill masters prefer dark meat.
• Expensive sirloin and kobe may have the prestige, but chuck delivers more flavor when making a burger. Choose chuck that is at least 15 percent fat and your burgers will be jucier. And try making an inside-cheeseburger by grating sharp cheddar, pepper jack, or blue cheese directly into ground meat; it melts as the meat cooks, producing an exceptionally moist burger.
• Grill dark oily fish like sardines, Spanish mackerel, or kingfish as an inexpensive seafood alternative. The omega-3 fatty fish oils are great for your health and keep the fish from drying out on the grill.
• Smoke whole briskets, beef clods (shoulders), pork shoulders, whole turkeys, and racks of spareribs. This yields more meat for the money, much less work is required, and everyone loves the primal pleasure of cutting into a communal size roast.
• Cook the whole meal on the grill. appetizer, main course, vegetable side dishes, and even dessert. It saves on fuel, clean-up, and wear and tear in the kitchen. And don’t forget, if something tastes good baked, fried, or sautéed, it probably tastes better grilled!