Grilling is not in my "portfolio": I leave it to my husband, who is quite the expert. Back in the day, I would have been ashamed of our division of labor. I would have built pitiful fires and burned out dinners, trying desparately to prove that it's not a skill on the Y chromosome.
I'm beyond that feeling now. When grilled food is on the menu, I stick to salad, sides and desserts. I can prepare marinades and even provide the proper serving dishes, but I don't interrupt the master. I don't offer suggestions and I don't get in the way. It's OK with me, because he can grill anything to perfection – chicken, steak, vegetables, fish and other seafood, and fruit. He has even cooked a whole turkey in the barbecue. Plus, he has many techniques – straight on the grill and wrapped in packets mixed in the coals, with sauce or with barely anything on the grilled food.
Although I leave grilling to the master, I watch him as he moves through the stages, from preparing the fire to taking food off the grill. Here are some of his tips for making awesome grilled food. I hope you find them useful. Even if you’re not grilling this Labor Day weekend, keep them in mind because there is no reason to stop firing up the grill just because the fashion etiquette guru told us to put our summer whites away for another year.
10 Tips for Great Grilling
- Use charcoal – If you use a gas grill, skip to tip #7. As much as I respect folks who use gas grills, I consider them misguided. Gas grills are simple to start, but even the gas grillers I know will admit that gas-grilled food does not taste nearly as good as food cooked on a charcoal grill. Our ancient Weber kettle works just fine. The results are worth the few extra minutes it takes to start it up.
- Do not use lighter fluid in a can or lighter fluid-soaked charcoal. You don’t really want to cook your food in chemicals do you?
- Use a charcoal chimney – It’s one of the niftiest gadgets I’ve ever bought, does a great job, and costs less than $20. You can even reuse half-spent charcoal in it, as long as you put the new charcoal on the bottom and top it off with the old stuff.
- Use only 1 piece of paper in the charcoal chimney. When the instructions say fill top with charcoal and put 1 piece of newspaper in the bottom section, then start – they’re serious about the amount of paper. Trust me – 2 pieces do not work twice as well; they create a serious bonfire effect that doesn’t do wonders for you or your grill.
- Let the charcoal at the bottom of the chimney get red hot before you dump the charcoal into the grill. It takes 10-15 minutes. Remember that the fire needs air above and below to get started. It’s best to place the chimney inside the grill on the lower grill rack while the lit newspaper is starting the charcoal.
- Vents/air - For a Weber kettle or similar “tub” grill, close the bottom vents most of the way before you start the fire with the chimney, then close them all the way just before you dump the charcoal at the bottom of the grill.
- Cleaning - Don’t worry about cleaning the grill – burn it clean.
- Keep the fire hot and low - don’t let it flare up. It's best to keep the grill covered with a well-fitting top with vents open whenever you are not checking or moving the food. If your grill doesn't have a cover, consider getting one.
- Cook evenly - Check food on the grill and move it around for even cooking. Do not turn thin fish filets (e.g. salmon) over - just keep the grill tightly covered with the vents open.
- Prevent over-cooking - When food is just about done, move it away from the direct heat. If you don't remove it immediately, move it to the edges of the grill will keep it warm.
If you’re making burgers, check out these tips too.
For chicken, try this shish kebab recipe.
And for salads to go with your Labor Day barbecue, check out the ones listed here:
Happy Labor Day and Happy Grilling!