To get the perfect sizzle with that steak, you need to choose the right grill.By Clifford A. Wright
The grilling season is upon us, and we'll be flabbergasted, yet again, as we witness some blockhead attempt, with the usual undeserved confidence and bravado, to get the grill started.
Your grill is obviously the most important piece of equipment for grilling.
If you're in the market for a new grill this season, remember, man has been grilling forever, and man never worried about his grill until 1955. There are a lot of grill possibilities such as in-ground stone-lined pit barbecues, braziers, hibachis, in-door fireplace grills (Tuscan grills), uncovered grill carts, wagon grills, spit-roasting grills and some others.
Tip #1: Look for heavy, solid construction. You want a solidly built grill that has a burner box made of heavy-duty cast aluminum.
Tip #2: For gas grills, avoid paying a lot of money for useless bells and whistles. Features you can skip include windows, timers, fuel gauges (just keep a spare tank handy) and temperature gauges.
For years I derided the gas grill. It was a bit snobbish of me. I argued that you couldn't possibly make real grilled food with a gas grill, that only a charcoal fire gave you that real grilled taste. Then I rented a house on Cape Cod one summer and it was equipped with a gas grill, which I lamented upon seeing. Two weeks later, after grilling with ease and to my heart's content, I became a convert and will extol the not-inconsiderable virtues of a gas grill: They're easy to fire up, you barely have to clean them, they only take 15 minutes to preheat -- versus 30 minutes to get a fire going -- and there are no ashes to remove.
But with grilling, food is the key thing. The reason food tastes good when grilled is not because of your fuel source but because fat drips down on hot coals or lava rocks and returns in the form of smoke to flavor the food. If there is a drawback to gas grills, it is that they can't get as hot as a charcoal or wood fire.
Gas grillers complain that charcoal grills require lighter fuel that gives the food a gasoline taste. But this isn't true unless you put food on before the fuel has burned off, or if you are not using fuel at all and are using a fire chimney instead.
Tip #3: For safety reasons, read all the manufacturer's instructions before using gas grills. Remember that you are using fire, so use common sense too. Remember both gas and charcoal grills produce carbon monoxide, so always grill outdoors, and not in an enclosed area, not even the garage with the door open. Keep the grill more than a foot away from combustible materials. Store your spare LP gas (propane) tank away from the grill outdoors. When you are finished grilling, remember to turn off the grill control knobs first, then the valve of the propane tank.
Tip #4: When you're working with a charcoal grill, you'll want a grill that has a cover. This is because you can control your fire better, you can grill a greater variety of foods, and you can grill differently flavored foods. For example, you can grill smokier food or a more aromatic food. Food grills quicker with a cover down and tastes more flavorful because the smoke is swirling around underneath.
The most common charcoal grill is a covered kettle grill of the type Weber makes. The cover and the firebox both have adjustable vent holes to control the heat. Because neither the coals in the firebox nor the grilling grid are movable, (meaning the food is always about 5 inches away from the heat source), the only way to control heat is by using the vents and cover and building indirect heat fires.
Tip #5: Don't sweat the scrubbing. I sometimes see people scrubbing their grilling grates unmercilessly with a wire brush before grilling. I laugh, because it's totally unnecessary. Grilling grates can be cleaned using the same principal as a self-cleaning oven. One carbonizes food particles through very high temperatures. Once your food comes off the grill, let the fire burn off whatever is on the grate. The next time you use the grill it will again be subjected to high temperatures before grilling as you fire up the grill. Give the grate a quick brushing with a wire brush only to remove the carbon powder or scrape with the edge of a grill spatula. It is important that the grates be clean, but remember that the grates will clean while the grill is cooling down and preheating.
The reason true grillers love hardwood charcoal is because it burns hotter and can be extinguished quicker than briquettes, leaving you a nice chunk of charcoal for your next grill. Years ago, hardwood charcoal was hard to find; nowadays not so much. Charcoal briquettes are popular because they are sold everywhere and can be poured from the bag. Gas is popular because it's easy to use, but you then need to pay attention to spare tanks and propane refilling.
There are differences, of course, between gas and charcoal, and someone will prefer one over the other, but in the end, the equipment and fuel is not as important as the food being grilled with the love of the cook.
Clifford A. Wright won the James Beard/ KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year award and the James Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food in 2000 for "A Mediterranean Feast."
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