Nothing is more tantalizing than the irresistible aroma of grilled food filling the air! As more and more people are grilling in all seasons, this once-summertime treat is being enjoyed any time of year. And grilling is so convenient with little cleanup. Outdoor grilling not only puts great-tasting food on the table, it also can turn a meal into a special event. Visiting with family, friends and neighbors while heating the grill and cooking the food makes mealtime a party. Here are some guidelines to make grilling fun and easy.
Fueling the Fire
-Charcoal is a porous compound made from burned hardwood that’s usually compacted and made into the very popular pillow-shaped briquettes or sold in small lumps. Henry Ford is credited with its invention in 1923. Single-use charcoal bags are a premeasured convenience because you light the entire bag.
-Keep your charcoal dry. Damp charcoal can take for-ever to start, and it burns unevenly. To keep charcoal from becoming damp, store it in a dry place. In humid climates, store charcoal in a tightly closed plastic bag.
-When lighting charcoal, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Most suggest lighting charcoal 30 to 45 minutes before you start to cook so the coals will be hot enough.
-Use enough briquettes to form a solid bed under the grilling area that is a little larger than the area the food will cover. Charcoal produces lots of heat, and a little goes a long way. About thirty briquettes are needed to grill 1 pound of meat. (Each pound of charcoal contains about fifteen to twenty briquettes.) Any food that grills longer than 1 hour will require about ten additional briquettes per hour. When adding extra briquettes, place them around the edges so that they touch the already burning coals, or give them a head start by lighting them separately (in a can or charcoal chimney starter) before adding them to the grill.
When Are Coals Ready?
When the coals are 80 percent ashy gray in daylight, they are ready for grilling. (After dark, coals are ready when they have an even red glow.) Bright red coals are too hot, black coals are too cool and a mix of red and black coals gives off uneven heat. Coals that are too cool can cause the food to have an off-flavor from charcoal lighter that has not vaporized.
Check the temperature of the coals by placing your hand, palm side down, near but not touching the cooking grill rack. If you can keep your hand there for 2 seconds (one-thousand one, one-thousand two), the temperature is high 3 seconds is medium-high 4 seconds is medium 5 seconds is low.
For a gas grill, follow the manufacturer’s directions for heating it for direct- or indirect-heat grilling. Gas grills usually heat up in 5 to 10 minutes.
Control the Heat
Keep the heat as even as possible throughout the grilling time. If the food does not sizzle as it cooks, the fire may be too cool.
Raise the heat by raking the coals closer together and knocking off a bit of the ash, lowering the cooking grill rack or opening the vents.
Lower the heat by doing the opposite: spread and separate the coals, raise the cooking grill rack or close the vents halfway.
Occasional flare-ups from the fat burning as it drips onto the coals are a normal part of grilling. Control flare-ups (which can cook your food unevenly) by spacing out the coals or covering the grill. Or keep a spray bottle filled with water handy for spraying take care not to soak the coals.
Adjust the heat control, reposition the grill rack or cover the grill.
Most gas grills have faster and slower cooking areas, which can be used effectively when grilling foods to different donenesses. Take the time to learn where these areas are on your grill.
Lava rock in a gas grill can be used over and over. When lava rock becomes extremely greasy, however, it contributes to flare-ups. Avoid flare-ups and lengthen the life of lava rock by turning the rock over every once in a while (between grilling times) to burn off the grease that accumulates from cooking meat with fat. If flare-ups occur, do not use water on a gas grill. Just close the hood and reduce the heat until it subsides.
Direct- and Indirect-Heat Grilling
Direct-Heat Grilling: Food is cooked on the grill rack directly over the heat source.
Indirect-Heat Grilling: Food is cooked on the grill rack away from the heat. This is the preferred method for longer-cooking foods, such as whole poultry, whole turkey breasts and roasts. Place a drip pan (to catch fats and liquids) directly under the grilling area, and arrange the coals around the edge of the grill. For a dual-burner grill, heat only one side and place food over the burner that is not lit. For a single-burner grill, place food in an aluminum-foil tray or on several layers of aluminum foil and use low heat.
Food Safety Tips for Grilling
-Trim visible fat from meat to avoid flare-ups.
-Always marinate foods in the refrigerator--never by leaving them on the kitchen counter--and use a nonmetal container.
-Use a long-handled brush for adding sauces or marinades to food before or during grilling. To prevent transferring any bacteria, do not use the same brush on raw meat that you use on cooked meat. Wash the brush in hot, soapy water, and dry thoroughly.
-Before using a marinade in which raw meat was placed as a sauce for the cooked meat, be sure to heat the marinade to boiling and then boil 1 minute, stirring constantly, before serving.
-Always serve grilled meat on a clean platter. Never serve cooked meat on the same unwashed platter on which raw meat was carried to the grill. For example, do not carry raw hamburgers to the grill on a platter and then serve the cooked hamburgers on the same unwashed platter. Dangerous bacteria can be transferred to the cooked meat from the juices of the raw meat.
-Consume perishable food within 2 hours 1 hour if the outside temperature is over 90°.
-In case of a flare-up, raise the grill cooking rack and spread the coals to lower the temperature. If using a charcoal grill, you also can spray water on the flare-up, remembering to first remove food from the cooking rack so that clumps of ash don’t fly onto the food.
-Open food packets of aluminum foil carefully and facing away from you to let out the steam. Steam burns can be painful!
Fire and Fuel Safety Tips
-Place the grill in a well-ventilated area, away from buildings, dry leaves or brush. The grill can become hot enough to ignite flammable materials.
-Grilling on a wooden deck requires extra precautions. Place a metal sheet or several sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil under the grill to catch any hot ashes that might fall through an open vent.
-Never add more liquid charcoal lighter after a charcoal fire has started the liquid can catch fire as you pour it and be extremely dangerous. If needing to add more charcoal to heated coals, start three or four more charcoal briquettes separately in a can or on a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and then add them using tongs.
-Extinguish coals completely after removing food and grilling is finished. Close the vents on a covered grill to cut off the supply of oxygen. If there is no cover, spread the coals or let them burn completely and then cool. Coals can be doused with a heavy layer of ash or water, but clean the grill as soon as it is cool if water was used so that the inside of the grill doesn’t rust. After partially used coals are completely dry, they can be reused.
-Dispose of ashes properly. A covered metal pail works best just in case there is one live coal.
-Don’t wear long-sleeved or loose-fitting clothing when grilling.
-Refillable gas tanks of fuel for gas grills have the potential to cause explosions and fires. Fill a portable gas tank to only 80-percent capacity for maximum efficiency and safety. Take care to secure the tank when transporting it so that it can’t tip over. Be careful not to tip the tank when it’s connected to the regulator. When attaching a refill tank, check the connection by rubbing it with a liquid detergent. If bubbles appear, there is a leak.
-Never store spare gas tanks under the grill or in the house.
How Weather Affects Grilling
Check the manufacturer’s use-and-care manual for your grill for tips and hints on grilling in different climates and weather conditions. These general tips may be helpful:
-Place the grill out of the wind. If in the wind, neither the grill nor the food will stay as hot as it should.
-Charcoal grilling times will be faster on hot, calm days and slower on chilly, windy ones. Grilling in cold weather requires more charcoal, a longer time to heat the coals and longer grilling times.
-Gas grilling will need slightly longer heating times as well as a higher heat setting to speed the cooking if the weather is cool or windy.
Backyard Grilling Secrets
All grills are not created equal! Read the use-and-care manual for your grill for the best tips and recommendations.
-Get to know your grill, including where any hot spots are and how long the grill takes to heat, especially in chilly or windy weather.
-Brush the grill rack with vegetable oil or spray with cooking spray to prevent food from sticking and make cleaning the grill easier. Always brush or spray before heating the grill, which is safer because the grill is not hot.
-Keep the heat as even as possible throughout the grilling time. For more even cooking, place thicker foods on the center of the grill rack and smaller pieces on the edges.
-Check the food and fire often. The type of grill, outdoor temperature and wind, position of food on the grill and temperature of the coals all can affect cooking times.
-If the food isn’t sizzling, the fire might not be hot enough. Increase the heat by raking the coals together, opening the vents, lowering the grill rack and/or adjusting the control on a gas or electric grill.
-If the food is browning too quickly on the outside but the middle is not cooked, the fire is too hot. Spread the coals, close the vents halfway, raise the grill rack and/or adjust the control on a gas or electric grill. Covering the grill also will help control the heat.
-Add a smoky flavor to grilled foods by adding wood chips or chunks to the coals. If you have a gas grill, check the owner’s manual or recipe booklet for how to use wood chips or chunks. Covering the grill allows the aroma to penetrate the food.
-Use long-handled barbecue tools to allow for a safe distance between you and the intense heat of the grill.
-Turn foods with tongs, instead of piercing them with a fork, to retain food juices.
-Brush sauces on foods during the last 15 to 20 minutes of cooking to prevent overbrowning or burning, especially sauces that contain tomato or sugar.
-Use stainless-steel, flat-bladed skewers because foods on rounded-bladed skewers tend to spin around on the skewers when they’re turned. Wooden skewers can be used, but they must be soaked in water at least 30 minutes before using to prevent burning.
From "Betty Crocker's Complete Cookbook, Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today, 9th Edition." Text Copyright 2000 General Mills, Inc. Used with permission of the publisher, Wiley Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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