Memorial Day marks the official beginning of grilling season - except of course, for those of us in the South who grill all year round. (Hey, don’t be a hater!)
Although many consider grilling to be an activity reserved solely for men, I beg to differ. I believe in equal grilling opportunities for both men and women! I will even go one step further and claim that women may be even better at grilling than men. Why would I say that?
Women are generally better at multi-tasking, so are more likely to keep meats and veggies from over-cooking and are likely to take the cooking more seriously than the men who might approach it as a beer-drinking activity.
If you have not tried your hand at grilling, you might be surprised to know that as long as you follow some basic guidelines and use tried-and-true recipes, your results will most likely be amazing! Lucky for you, both are right here!
Gas or charcoal?
People do have their preferences, but generally speaking, there is not much of a difference between cooking with gas or charcoal. The temperature is certainly easier to control on a gas grill, but many consider charcoal to impart a better flavor. Regardless of which heat source you use, always apply a light coating of olive oil or cooking oil to the grilling rack before you place meat on it to prevent the meat from sticking.
Since charcoal requires a tad more skill, here are some things to consider.
How much charcoal is needed?
Charcoal burns at a high heat of 450-550°F. High heat means you are able to hold your hand about five inches above the cooking grate for two to four seconds. When a recipe calls for medium heat, you will be able to hold your hand for 4-6 seconds.
Whether you are cooking for 4 people or 10, it's important to start with enough charcoal to maintain that temp throughout the time it takes to cook the food. On a charcoal grill, the coals should be spread in a solid layer that extends about 1 to 2 inches beyond the edges of the food. As a rule of thumb, a minimum of about 100+ charcoal briquettes is necessary to start.
Mound the charcoal in a pile onto the bottom grate of your grill. You can also use a "chimney stack" to light them and then pour it onto the grill. The top grill that you will place your food on should be about 4 to 6 inches from the source of the heat.
Direct vs. Indirect Heat
Once the charcoal is uniformly ash grey, move the layer over to one side or split the pile between the two sides with empty space in the middle. This will create two compartments with different temperatures. Most meats will require a combination of direct and indirect heat in order to completely cook.
Direct grilling means that the food is placed on the grill directly over the charcoal. Most of the time, meats are placed over the coals first until the outside is cooked with the proper amount of grill marks on each side. After the meat is properly seared, it is moved away from the coals (indirect heat) and the lid is closed until the meat has finished cooking. You don't need to flip the meat during this indirect grilling stage. Using a meat thermometer takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process. It is a good idea to take the meat off as soon as the internal temperature reaches the proper temperature because meat will continue to cook for a short time after it is removed. To ensure even cooking, always remove meat from the refrigerator and let it reach room temperature (around 30 minutes), before placing on the grill. Boneless chicken thighs are a great choice for beginner grillers because it is hard to overcook them and if you do burn a couple, it won't be a total disaster because chicken thighs are one of the cheaper cuts of meat! Here is an easy recipe for Grilled Chicken Thighs that will have your family fighting over the leftovers.
Tip: Always let meat sit for 5 minutes or so after removing it from the grill to allow the juices to redistribute evenly. Cutting into a steak immediately will drain excess juice and result in dry meat!
Indirect heat can also be used to grill large cuts of meat, whole birds, ribs, or large roasts. Adding water-soaked hickory chips or even fresh herbs like fresh sprigs of rosemary to the drip pan can add additional flavor to the meat.
As meats cook, melted fat will drip onto the coals and ignite, causing flare-ups. The higher the fat content of the meat (such as chicken thighs, higher fat hamburger, sausage or marbled steaks) the more likely the flare-ups.
Uncontrolled flare-ups can result in an inedible charred outside with undercooked inside. Finishing the cooking process over indirect heat can limit flare-ups.
Other ways to reduce flare-ups include:
- Keep the lid closed as much as possible to limit the oxygen feeding the fire.
- Use heavy-duty aluminum foil to create a "drip pan" to place in the indirect cooking space between the coal beds to catch drips as the meat cooks.
- Use leaner cuts of meat or trim excess fat.
Tip: Hamburger with higher fat content or steaks with a band of fat around the edges can cause the patty or steak to curl as the fat melts away. To keep this from happening, poke a hole in the center of each hamburger patty with your finger prior to cooking or cut small slashes in the strip of fat around the edges of the steak. Doing this before placing it on the grill will help cooked meats remain flat.
Grilled Fish is Delish!
Fish is also very easy to cook on the grill and does not need a temperature as high as poultry, pork and beef. More delicate fish can be grilled in a grilling basket (made for that purpose) or placed on greased aluminum foil (It helps to cut small holes in the foil to allow juices to drain through). Fish with a denser, meatier texture like swordfish fillets or fish with skin still on one side like salmon can be placed directly on the grill rack.
Tip: When grilling salmon with the skin on, leave it on the grill skin-side down until the skin is crisp. The fish will pull away from the skin when you turn it. Try this delicious Grilled Tarragon Salmon recipe using Tastefully Simple's Shallot Tarragon Compound Butter Mix. Yum!
Grilling dinner on the back patio can keep your kitchen cooler, save electricity and lower your utility bill, plus grilling provides your family with healthier, flavorful options to mix up drab dinner routines. Using Tastefully Simple’s grilling recipes will draw your family back to the dinner table! Enjoy!