How to Grill

Grilling in Style
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Cooking over an open fire is the oldest cooking technique known to humanity and it's still one of the most universal.

Grilling is a popular style of cooking; with smoky flavors and mouthwatering aromas, grilling offers endless opportunities to create a world of satisfying and delicious meals -- from savory Mexican recipes like carne asada to Indian recipes like tandoori chicken.

Grilling works for all kinds of foods -- from grilled shrimp scampi to baby back ribs. And it's a perfect solution for everyone -- the cooking impaired who need easy recipes; dieters looking for low carb recipes; and backyard BBQ chefs celebrating the 4th of July. Grilling does it all.

In this article, we'll show you how to conquer the grilling basics and teach you everything you need to know to grill like a pro.

  • Grilling Equipment and Tools

    The biggest purchase you're going to want to make in order to barbecue your favorite steak is the grill itself. We'll define what a hibachi is and discuss the differences between charcoal grills, covered cookers, and gas grills to help you buy the right grill for you.

    We'll also talk about some of the different grilling tools and accessories that will help you whether you're flipping burgers, grilling shrimp, or figuring out how to get that corn on the cob to stay on the grill.

  • Fire and Heat

    Getting that mouth-watering fish steak just right is part of the art of grilling. Most recipes won't help you figure out the combination of grilling temperature, grilling time, and proximity. This section will light your way about everything fire and heat. We'll teach you how to light that fire, grill safely, use direct and indirect heat, and check the temperature on your grill.

  • Smoke and Marinade Rubs

    The delicious smoky flavor of grilled dishes comes as much from the cooking process as it does from the recipe. If you're using a charcoal grill, you have to be more creative about how to get that smoked taste. We'll show you different ways to create flavored smoke to add flavor to your favorite grilled recipes.

    Rubs, marinades, bastes, and sauces are the perfect complement to grilled recipes. These simple ways of popping a recipe from good to delicious are easy to learn and fun to try. We'll teach you about the differences between dry rubs, paste rubs, flavoring marinades, tenderizing marinades, and basting and dipping sauces. The best part is that we'll also teach you how to use them well.

  • Grilling Tips

    This final section will give you the must-know tips in order to have the perfect barbecue. We'll give you a list of do's and don'ts to remember when you set your favorite foods on your brand new barbecue grill.

This review of the basics and our special how-to advice are all you need to grill like a pro. Continue to the next section and we'll help you figure out which grill you'll want to fire up to begin your grilling adventures.


Grilling Equipment and Tools

Try It!
Here are some grilling recipes from our collection:
  • Bodacious Grilled Ribs
  • Grilled Lobster, Shrimp and Calamari Seviche

Grilling is a great form of cooking because, in addition to its great-tasting food, it's a fairly uncomplicated process. You don't need a lot of special equipment, high-voltage power outlets, or high-end pots and pans to get started.

In this section, we'll talk about the grilling equipment and grilling tools you'll want to begin.

The first piece of equipment that you'll need is the grill.

The Grill

If you don't already own a grill, you'll want to take the answers to the following questions into consideration before you buy:

  • Where you will be grilling?

  • What kinds and quantities of food will you be cooking?

  • Do you plan to grill year-round?

  • What's your budget?

You'll also want to be clear on your taste preferences, namely where you stand on the smoky (charcoal-grilled) vs. subtle (gas-grilled) flavor debate. We can't offer any advice on this issue -- it's strictly between you and your tastebuds. We can tell you that even if you choose a gas grill, you can still accent your recipes with smoky rubs.

Hibachi grill is a type of portable charcoal grill.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This tiny hibachi is a
single's training grill.

Small, portable charcoal grills like hibachis or small picnic grills are probably fine for occasional grilling, smaller cuts of meat, and fewer mouths to feed.

For larger cuts of meat, bigger groups of people, and year-round grilling, a large covered grill is worth the expense. There are two basic types: covered cookers (charcoal) and gas grills.

Covered cookers are those familiar kettle-shaped or rectangular grills that you see everywhere from city balconies to country porches. This versatile covered grill lets you roast, steam, smoke, or cook whole meals in any season of the year. Draft controls on the lid and in the base help control the temperature. Closing the dampers reduces the heat; opening them increases it.

When the grill is covered, heat is reflected off the inside. It cooks the food evenly and keeps it moist. When grilling without the cover, the coals are hotter since added circulation promotes their burning.

Gas grills are a popular method for grilling.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Gas grills are becoming more
sophisticated and more popular.

Gas grills are becoming more popular and more sophisticated and can do all the things a covered charcoal grill can -- except burn charcoal. This type of covered grill offers more convenience -- fast starts, accurate heat control, even cooking, easy year-round use, and less labor-intensive and messy clean up.

Gas flames heat a bed of lava rock or ceramic coals -- no charcoal is required -- to provide the cooking power. Fat from the meat drips onto the lava rocks or coals and produces smoke for a grilled flavor. Hickory or fruitwood chips can be used to create more of the smoky taste associated with charcoal grilling.

Once you choose the grill that's right for you, you'll want to make sure that you have the basic tools and accessories to get out there and start grilling.

Tools & Accessories

Apart from the grill, there are very few tools used in the grilling process. But there are a few essentials that keep barbecuing safe and the results more consistent.

Long-handled utensils, such as tongs, basting brushes, and spatulas, are necessary for getting foods on and off the hot grill rack, for basting and turning. Actually, two sets of tongs are a good idea, so you can use one for food and the other for moving the hot coals around. Buy them with loops or hooks so you can hang them within reach.

Meat thermometers are helpful when grilling.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
For safety, use a meat thermometer
to test for doneness.

Grilling tongs are a great grilling tool.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Long-handled tools make grilling
safer and more convenient.

Meat thermometers are the safest way to judge the doneness of grilled meats and poultry. Some may be inserted prior to grilling. Most are instant-read. They give an accurate reading within seconds of insertion, but they are not heatproof and can't be left in the meat during grilling.

Heavy-duty mitts safeguard your hands and forearms and prevent burns. Never grill without them.

Metal or disposable foil drip pans placed beneath grilling meats prevent flare-ups. The pan should be 1-1/2 inches deep and extend about 3 inches beyond either end of the meat. The juices that collect in the drip pan may be used for a sauce or gravy. Always bring drippings to a boil before using.

Water spritzers, household plastic spray bottles filled with water, or water pistols come in handy for quenching flare-ups when grilling with charcoal. Do not use water with a gas grill.

Hinged wire baskets help when grilling vegetables or grilling seafood.
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Hinged wire baskets are great for
seafood and vegetables.

Disposable foil drip pans help alter flare-ups.
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Disposable foil drip pans help keep
flare-ups and clean up under control.

Hinged wire baskets, made specifically for use on the grill, are designed to hold delicate foods like fish, shellfish, and mushrooms, which can stick and break when turned with a spatula. The hinged basket protects them and really speeds up the process of turning small foods individually.

Grill toppers are perforated metal plates you can put on top of the grid to cook vegetables and other small pieces of food that might fall through the grid. Always spray toppers with nonstick cooking spray and preheat before adding the food. Grill woks and grill skillets are similar products made with sides so you can toss and stir-fry on the grill.

Rib racks help provide extra space when grilling.
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Rib racks maximize grilling area.

Grill toppers help keep small food like grilled vegetables from falling into the grill.
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Toppers like this vegetable grate keep
small foods from falling through the grid.

Rib racks increase the grill's cooking capacity by standing slabs of ribs at an angle to the heat source.

Bamboo skewers are good for seafood kabobs or vegetable kabobs when grilling.
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Soak bamboo skewers to prevent burning.

Skewers are indispensable for kabobs and come in either metal or bamboo and in a variety of lengths. Bamboo skewers must be soaked in water at least 20 minutes before grilling to prevent them from burning.

Aluminum foil is the grill cook's best friend. Vegetables can be enclosed in aluminum foil packed before placing them directly on the coals or on the grid to cook. To ensure even cooking without any leakage, use the Drugstore Wrap technique.

The Drugstore Wrap Technique

Place the food in the center of an oblong piece of heavy-duty foil, leaving at least a 2-inch border around the food.

Bring the 2 long sides together above the food; fold down in a series of locked folds, allowing for heat circulation and expansion. Fold the short ends up and over again. Crimp closed to seal.

Aluminum foil helps food cook on the grill.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Fold the short ends and crimp to seal.

Aluminum foil helps food cook on the grill.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
First fold the 2 long sides together.

Grill brushes are the tools you will use more than once at every grilling session, so don't skimp on the quality. It is the most effective utensil for cleaning the grid and removing burned on, stuck-on food.

Grill brushes help you keep your grill clean.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Clean the grid with a wire brush.

There are many styles available, but most feature a long wooden handle and a brush made of brass bristles. They usually have a scraper at the end, as well.

Check your owner's manual for specific cleaning instructions for your grill.

Once your gear is ready, you're ready to learn a few grilling techniques. Let us show you how to grill safely. Next, we're going to cover everything you'd want to know about fire and heat.

Whether it's checking the temperature, or lighting your fire, click to the next section to find out all the right grilling moves.


Fire and Heat

The essence of great grilling is creating the perfect combination of time, proximity, and temperature for each food.

Sometimes a recipe will tell you exactly how to do that. More often than not, however, you are making judgments and adjustments as you go along.

Here are a few rules of thumb to guide you when it comes to the elements of fire and heat for grilling.

Lighting The Grilling Fire

No need to build a roaring fire that reaches above the roofline. Take a safer, more controlled approach to lighting the grill.

To light a grilling fire on a charcoal grill, build the charcoal in a pyramid.

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Arrange charcoal in a pyramid.

Lighting a Charcoal Grill

For safety's sake, make sure the grill is located on a solid surface, set away from shrubbery, grass, and overhangs. Before starting the fire, also make sure the grill vents are open and not clogged with ashes.

TIP: The number of coals required for grilling depends on the size and type of grill and the amount of food to be prepared. Weather conditions also have an effect; strong winds, very cold temperatures, or highly humid conditions increase the number of coals needed for a good fire. As a general rule, it takes about 30 coals to grill one pound of meat under optimum conditions.

To light a charcoal fire, arrange the coals in a pyramid shape about 20 to 30 minutes prior to cooking. The pyramid shape provides enough ventilation for the coals to catch.

Grill Safely!
Important guidelines to remember to ensure a safe barbecue:
  • NEVER use gasoline or kerosene as an accelerant.
  • NEVER add lighter fluid directly to coals that are already burning, even if the fire is sluggish or almost out. Instead, place two or three additional coals in a small metal can and add lighter fluid. Then stack them on the previously burning coals using long-handled tongs and light them with a match. These coals will restart the fire.

To start the fire with lighter fluid, first read and follow the instructions on the package. Typically, the instructions direct you to pile the coals in a pyramid, douse them with about 1/2 cup fluid, and wait 1 minute to allow the fluid to soak into the coals before lighting with a long-handled match or wand-type butane lighter.

To start the fire with an electric starter, nestle the starter in the center of the coals. Plug the starter into a heavy-duty extension cord, then plug the cord into an outlet. After 8 to 10 minutes, when ash begins to form on the coals, unplug the starter and remove it. The electric starter will be very hot and should cool in a safe, heatproof place.

To start the fire with a chimney starter, remove the grid from the grill; place the chimney starter in the base of the grill. Crumble a few sheets of newspaper; place in the bottom portion of the chimney starter. Fill the top portion with coals. Light the newspaper. Do not disturb the starter; the coals will be ready in 20 to 30 minutes. Be sure to wear fireproof mitts when pouring the hot coals from the chimney into the base of the grill. This method is essentially failure-proof since it does not use starter fluid.


Chimney starts are an easy way to start a fire on the grill.

© Publications International, Ltd.
Chimney starters are practically
foolproof, but require patience.
Use an electric starter to a light a fire for the grill.

© Publications International, Ltd.
Electric starters take some
of the guesswork out of starting a fire.

When the coals are ready, they will be about 80% ash gray during daylight. They will glow, if grilling at night. Spread the coals into a single layer with long-handled tongs.

Lighting a Gas Grill

Make sure the knobs are off before turning on a gas grill.
© Publications International, Ltd.
Be sure all knobs are turned
off before you turn on the gas.

First, open the lid. Failure to do this before lighting could allow a dangerous buildup of gas inside the grill. Make sure all the burner knobs are turned to off, and then turn on the gas at the source. Read the owner's manual and follow instructions for lighting the burners.

If your grill has an automatic ignition, you probably need to turn on one particular burner before you press the ignition switch. You should be able to hear the whoosh of the gas lighting.

If the automatic ignition does not work, you can usually light the grill manually through an ignition hole located in the front or side of the grill. If the grill is still not on after 1 minute, shut off the burner and wait a few minutes for the gas to dissipate before trying again.

Gas grills generally need to preheat for 10 to 15 minutes with the burners on high and cover closed.

Different foods require different grilling methods. Be sure to build your fire or prepare your gas grill accordingly.

Direct or Indirect Heat

The best way to grill a steak probably isn't the best way to grill a whole turkey. The type of food, the size, and the desired results all affect the grilling process. Many recipes will indicate either direct cooking or indirect cooking. What's the difference?

Direct cooking on a grill is pretty straightforward. Just light the fire and preheat the grill. Food is placed on the grid directly over the heat source. For charcoal grills, make sure there is enough charcoal in a single layer to extend 1 to 2 inches beyond the area of the food on the grill.

With gas grills, the burners may be left at the "high" setting to sear the food, and then reduced immediately to "medium." Direct cooking is the method of choice for quick-cooking foods, such as hamburgers, steaks, and fish.

Place coals to the side for indirect cooking while grilling.

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Arrange coals on one or both sides
of a drip pan for indirect cooking.

Spread coals for direct cooking on the grill.

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Spread the coals and place food directly
above them for direct cooking.

For indirect grilling, the grill cover is closed and foods cook for a longer time at lower temperatures. You need to leave a space under the food that is flame-free. With a charcoal grill, food is placed on the grid over a drip pan with the coals banked either to one side or on both sides of the pan.

With a gas grill, preheat as usual and simply turn off the center burner under the food and set the side burners to medium. If you want to sear the food first, place it over a side burner, then move it to the center. If you need a drip pan, consult your owner's manual for exact instructions.

Once you've determined the cooking method, fired up the grill, and assembled everything you need to make your top secret recipe for grilled shrimp scampi, the are only a few variables left -- especially temperature and talent. You're responsible for the last one, but there are tricks to understanding the first one.

Checking the Temperature

Obviously, maintaining the appropriate temperature is important for getting great grilling results. So, keep these general rules in mind. The longer the food needs to cook, the lower the temperature needs to be. Raising or lowering the lid changes temperatures inside drastically.

Controlling the temperature on gas grills is simply a matter of adjusting the knob settings. It's a bit trickier when cooking with charcoal. A grill thermometer can be a really good investment, but there are some simple -- though less reliable -- techniques that grill chefs have been using for centuries.

One quick, easy way to estimate the temperature of the coals is to cautiously hold your hand, palm-side down, about 4 inches above the hot coals. Count the number of seconds you can hold your hand in that position before the heat forces you to pull it away.

Seconds Coal Temperature
2 Hot, 375°F or more
3 Medium-hot, 350° to 375°F
4 Medium, 300° to 350°F
5 Low, 200° to 300°F

To lower the cooking temperature, spread the coals further apart or raise the grid. To raise the cooking temperature, either lower the grid or move the coals closer together and tap off the ash.

That about does it for the basics of barbeque grilling. But most grillers aren't content to simply throw on a steak or make plain grilled salmon. There are many different ways to enhance the flavor of foods prepared on the grill. The next section explains the secrets of flavored smoke and the different rubs and marinades for your favorite grilled recipes.


Smoke and Rubs

The distinctive flavor of grilled foods comes from the cooking as well as the recipe. Charcoal lovers wouldn't think of giving up that smoky taste.

Try It!
Here are some grilling recipes from our collection:
  • Lemon-Garlic Shish Kabobs
  • Mesquite-Grilled Salmon Fillets

Although that smoky flavor is missing on a gas grill, wood chips and chunks can be used to boost the smokiness. Most manufacturers advise against putting this directly on the lava rocks or ceramic coals, since ash can clog the gas lines.

Instead, soak the chips or chunks for 20 minutes, drain and place in a metal or disposable foil drip pan. Poke several holes in the bottom of the pan and place it directly on the lava rocks or coals. Preheat it with the grill.

Many other interesting alternatives exist for those who use a charcoal grill. Flavored smoke, a combination of heady aromas from hardwoods and fresh or dried herbs, imparts a special flavored to barbecued foods.

A little usually goes a long way. Use just enough to complement, but not overpower the food's natural taste. Always soak flavorings, such as wood chunks or chips, in water at least 20 minutes before adding to the coals so that they smolder and smoke, not burn.

Small bunches of fresh or dried herbs soaked in water can also add fragrant flavor when sprinkled over hot coals. Rosemary, oregano, and tarragon, for example, can be teamed with wood chips or simply used all by themselves for a new taste.

For a different effect, try soaking wood chips and herbs in wine, rather than water. For poultry and seafood, use white wine with basil, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, or dill. For beef and pork, use red wine with thyme, marjoram, or bay leaves.

Many diverse woods are available for use on the grill. You can find them in supermarkets, hardware stores, and specialty stores. Only hardwoods and fruitwoods, such as hickory, oak, mesquite, pear, or apple should be used to produce aromatic smoke. If you chip your own wood, never use softwoods, such as cedar, pine, or spruce; these emit resins that can give food an unpleasant taste.

Flavored smoke is just one way to enhance the taste of grilled foods. Rubs, marinades, basting liquids, and dipping sauces are all part of the grilling tradition.

Rubs, Marinades, Bastes & Sauces

It's only natural, given the ease of grilling, that there should be simple ways to add extra flavor and excitement to grilled meats, poultry, and seafood. Rubs and marinades take two different approaches to achieving this goal.

Rubs add flavor, and in some cases, seal in juices to form a delicious crust. They can be applied just before cooking, or the rubs can be applied to the food and refrigerated for several hours for a more pronounced flavor.

Dry rubs are seasoning blends that are rubbed onto foods before grilling and often include coarsely ground black or white pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. Sometimes mustard powder, brown sugar, and ground red pepper are used. Crushed herbs, such as sage, basil, thyme, and oregano are other good choices.

Paste rubs are dry seasonings held together with small amounts of wet ingredients, such as oil, crushed garlic, prepared mustard, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or horseradish.

Marinades add flavor and also moisten the surface of the meat to prevent it from drying out over the hot coals.

Flavoring marinades are used for fish, boneless/skinless chicken breast halves, vegetables, and already tender cuts of meat. These foods are only marinated for a short period of time -- 15 minutes to 2 hours.

Tenderizing marinades include an acidic ingredient such as wine, vinegar, yogurt, tomatoes, lemon juice, and lime juice, combined with herbs, seasonings, and oil. Some fruits also contain tenderizing enzymes. These include, pineapple, papaya, kiwi, and figs. Beef, pork, lamb, and bone-in chicken pieces should be marinated in a tenderizing marinade for a few hours or overnight.

Turn marinating foods occasionally to let the flavor infuse evenly.

Marinating with a tenderizing marinade should be done in a glass, ceramic, or stainless steel container. The acid can cause a chemical reaction if an aluminum pan is used. Resealable plastic food storage bags are also great to hold foods as they marinate.

Basting and dipping sauces can add another boost to grilled foods. You can prepare a separate recipe. Or, you can simply reserve some of the marinade before adding the meat and use it to make a dipping sauce or to baste the meat while it is cooking.

Only use marinade drained from the meat as a basting sauce if the meat will cook on the grill for at least 5 minutes after the last application of the marinade.

If you want to use marinade drained from the meat to make a dipping sauce, you must follow food safety practices. Place the marinade in a small saucepan. Bring it to a full boil and boil for at least 1 minute. These precautions are necessary to prevent the cooked food from becoming contaminated with bacteria from the raw meat.

Safety Tips
To prevent contamination:
  • Always marinate foods in the refrigerator.

  • Never save and reuse a marinade.

Now that you know the mechanics of making delicious grilled foods, all you need are some quick tips to make sure you're off to the right start. We give you some great grilling tips in the next section.


Grilling Tips

You're just about ready to grill like a pro, but before you fire up the barbie, here is a quick list of dos and don'ts that will keep you, your friends, and family fired up about your grilling talents.

Try It!
Here are some grilling recipes from our collection:
  • Ginger Beef and Carrot Kabobs

  1. Store charcoal in a dry place. Charcoal absorbs moisture readily and won't burn well if it is damp.

  2. Open top and bottom vents before starting a charcoal grill and while cooking. Close the vents when cooking is finished to extinguish the coals.

  3. For proper airflow in a charcoal grill, remove accumulated ashes from the bottom before starting fire. Since charcoal requires oxygen to burn, anything blocking the vents will reduce the heat generated by the coals.

  4. Always use tongs or a spatula when handling meat. Piercing meat with a fork allows delicious juices to escape and makes the meat less moist.

  5. If you partially cook food in the microwave or on the range, immediately finish cooking the food on the grill. Do not refrigerate or let stand at room temperature before cooking on the grill.

  6. Make sure the grilling surface is clean and preheated. Scrub the grid with a dry brass-bristled grill brush after every grilling session and again once the grill is preheated.

  7. Lubricate the grid or the food (or both) with vegetable oil. Do this right before you begin cooking or the oil will burn off before you start. It's also a good idea to drain most of the marinade from food before placing it on the grill.

  8. Don't try to turn or move food too soon. It takes about 10 minutes over high heat for the surface of a steak or piece of fish to cook enough so it will hold together and release easily.

  9. Watch foods carefully during grilling. Total cooking time will vary with the type of food, position on the grill, weather, temperature of the coals, and the degree of doneness that you desire.

  10. Set a timer to remind you when it's time to check the food on the grill.

  11. Never brush on barbecue sauce until the food is almost cooked through. It contains sugar, which burns easily.

  12. Always serve cooked food from the grill on a clean plate, not one that held raw foods.

  13. In hot weather, food should never sit out for over one hour. Remember to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

  14. Wash all utensils, cutting boards, and containers with hot, soapy water after they have been in contact with uncooked meat.

  15. Extend the life of your charcoal grill by thoroughly cleaning it once a year. Discard accumulated ashes and remove the grid and charcoal grates. Spray the porcelain surface with oven cleaner and let stand until the accumulated grease is softened. Wipe out with paper towels. Wash with a mild detergent and water; rinse and wipe dry.
Now that we've sparked your imagination, get out there and grill. Read our article on how to grill food for a comprehensive guide to grilling the most popular barbecue dishes. You've got all the know-how you need to do it like a pro.

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