From Maryland to Texas, grilling out is a Southern summertime ritual.
I love to grill. Rain, shine, or black of night, I always prefer to cook out. My affinity for grilling probably came from my father. Growing up in West Virginia, I still remember him bundling up in his coat--flashlight in hand--to check on the coals. Many of us are not that dedicated, but no one can argue with this fact: Summer is grill time.
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Charcoal vs. Gas
Charcoal is the traditional grilling method. Needless to say, it's my father's first choice. He tried gas but quickly reverted back to charcoal, because, he says, gas doesn't provide the smoky flavor he prefers. I love charcoal for the ritual of lighting the coals and the challenge of cooking over an open flame.
Charcoal has certain advantages too. You have lighter and often less expensive equipment. It allows you to smoke your meat by adding water to the coals. Also, wood chips, such as hickory or apple, can be tossed into the fire to enrich the flavor.
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There are three basic methods for lighting a charcoal grill. You have lighter fluid, which can leave a gaslike taste to food. Then there's the electric starter, but it requires an electrical outlet nearby. The method I prefer is the charcoal chimney. With the chimney, you pour charcoal in the top and place crumpled newspaper in the bottom. Light the newspaper, and in about 15 minutes you have hot coals.
Now gas grills have eclipsed the popularity of charcoal. Why? Well, gas does have its advantages. It gives you more control over your heat. Just as in cooking inside, the temperature can be turned up or down. A gas grill is easier to light and takes less time to be ready for action, so for many busy families, it's the only choice. Some utility companies will even connect your grill directly to the gas line, which ensures you'll always be prepared. Finally, gas is essentially clean burning and environmentally friendly.
- Before cooking, simply heat the grill, and scrub the grate with a wire bristle brush. You can easily remove charred marinade and other dirt when the grill is hot.
- After lighting, spread charcoal out to cover entire grilling area. Let flames burn down for the most even heat. If the grill gets too hot, your meat will stick and cook too quickly.
- For $30 you should be able to find a good set of grill utensils. The set should include a fork, spatula, and tongs. The longer the handle, the better.
- Forks with built-in thermometers offer an easy way to tell when something's done. They work well with thicker cuts of meat but aren't as accurate with a thinner cut or hamburger.
- Invest in a grill topper. It will prevent small items such as shrimp or veggies from falling through the cracks.
- Use the palm of your hand to determine meat doneness. Press on the fatty part of your palm and feel its firmness. Then, with your middle and index fingers, press on the meat in question. If it is as firm as your palm, it should be ready (medium-rare to medium). The firmer, the more done. Try it--it works.
Never place a charcoal grill in an enclosed area, such as a screened porch or balcony. Also, be careful when using a charcoal grill on a wood deck; embers from the grill can scar the wood and might even cause a fire. To avoid this, look for a grill pad, which costs less than $40 at grill specialty or home-improvement stores. When placed under a grill, it protects the flooring from embers, grease, and spills.
A gas grill gives you more options. You can place this type in a covered area, but don't try to use it on a screened porch. Make sure you have at least a 9-foot ceiling--the higher, the better. Place the grill on an outside wall, and look for a spot with the best cross breeze to vent smoke. Finally, don't push the grill right up against the house--the heat can mar an adjacent surface or cause a fire.
If you're grilling on a screened porch, add a motorized vent and hood. It's expensive, but you'll be happier in the long run. A vent will pull smoke out of the room and keep the ceiling from becoming sooty black. You don't need an expensive built-in grill to use a hood; simply roll your current gas grill up underneath it. A mechanical contractor can help you determine what you need and how much it will cost.
When it comes to grilling, there are many different ways and a variety of equipment, but whichever method you choose, there's nothing like the taste of a steak hot off the grill.