1. Be organized. Have everything you need for grilling-the food, marinade, basting sauce, seasonings, and equipment-on hand and at grillside before you start grilling.
2. Gauge your fuel. There’s nothing worse than running out of charcoal or gas in the middle of grilling. When using charcoal, light enough to form a bed of glowing coals 3 inches larger on all sides than the surface area of the food you’re planning to cook. (A 22 1/2-inch grill needs one chimney’s worth of coals.) When cooking on a gas grill, make sure the tank is at least one-third full.
3. Preheat the grilL To THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE. Remember: Grilling is a high-heat cooking method. In order to achieve the seared crust, charcoal flavor, and handsome grill marks associated with masterpiece grillmanship, you must cook over a high heat. How high? At least 500°F. Although I detail this elsewhere, it is worth repeating: When using charcoal, let it burn until it is covered with a thin coat of gray ash. Hold your hand about 6 inches above the grate. After 3 seconds, the force of the heat should force you to snatch your hand away. When using a gas grill, preheat to high (at least 500°F) this takes 10 to 15 minutes. When indirect grilling, preheat the grill to 350°F.
4. Keep it clean. There’s nothing less appetizing than grilling on dirty old burnt bits of food stuck to the grate. Besides, the food will stick to a dirty grate. Clean the grate twice: once after you’ve preheated the grill and again when you’ve finished cooking. The first cleaning will remove any bits of food you may have missed after your last grilling session. Use the edge of a metal spatula to scrape off large bits of food, a stiff wire brush to finish scrubbing the grate.
5. Keep it lubricated. Oil the grate just before placing the food on top, if necessary (some foods don’t require that the grates be oiled). Spray it with oil (away from the flames-see page 13), use a folded paper towel soaked in oil, or rub it with a piece of fatty bacon, beef fat, or chicken skin.
6. Turn, don’t stab. The proper way to turn meat on a grill is with tongs or a spatula. Never stab the meat with a carving fork-unless you want to drain the flavor-rich juices onto the coals.
7. Know when to baste. Oil-and-vinegar-, citrus-, and yogurt-based bastes and marinades can be brushed on the meat throughout the cooking time. (If you baste with a marinade that you used for raw meat or seafood, do not apply it during the last 3 minutes of cooking.) When using a sugar-based barbecue sauce, apply it toward the end of the cooking time. The sugar in these sauces burns easily and should not be exposed to prolonged heat.
8. Keep it covered. When cooking larger cuts of meat and poultry, such as a whole chicken, leg of lamb, or prime rib, use the indirect method of grilling or barbecuing. Keep the grill tightly covered and resist the temptation to peek. Every time you lift the lid, you add 5 to 10 minutes to the cooking time.
9. Give it a rest. Beef, steak, chicken-almost anything you grill-will taste better if you let it stand on the cutting board for a few minutes before serving. This allows the meat juices, which have been driven to the center of a roast or steak by the searing heat, to return to the surface. The result is a juicier, tastier piece of meat.
10. Never desert your post. Grilling is an easy cooking method, but it demands constant attention. Once you put something on the grill (especially when using the direct method), stay with it until it’s cooked. This is not the time to answer the phone, make the salad dressing, or mix up a batch of your famous mojitos.
Above all, have fun. Remember that grilling isn’t brain surgery. And that’s the gospel!
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