10 Tips for Better Grilling

Learn how to determine how hot high the flame should be.By Clifford A. Wright

It's time to fire up the grill for the season, but before you slap dinner over those hot coals, check out our Top 10 tips for grilling everything from veggies to steak.

1. Best results are attained when food is at room temperature before being grilled. Let larger pieces of grilled or spit-roasted meats rest 10 minutes before serving so juices can settle (usually this will happen without planning for it). Lean meats, such as rabbit and chicken breasts, should be grilled close to the flame over very hot coals to sear the meat quickly and trap juices.

Related: Grilled asparagus goes great in a summer salad.

2. Chicken and duck with skin should be grilled farther from the flame or in the cool spot of the grill, covering, uncovering and moving the pieces as needed to avoid flare-ups. Place an aluminum drip pan filled with some water underneath the chicken or duck, letting the fat drip into them, with the coals on either side of the pan. When cooking chicken and duck you want to be careful not to grill it too quickly: It takes time, otherwise the skin will blacken before the inside is cooked.

Related: Grilled chicken wings taste great with a Vietnamese-style sauce.

3. Sausages should be over a low flame or by indirect heat. Grill them slowly, without flames, because of the possibility of flare-ups. Turn frequently. Par-boiling sausage slightly before grilling is essential to avoid their bursting from the intense heat of a grill.

4: Vegetables should be grilled slowly with a brushing of olive oil. After grilling, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, if desired.

Related: How about some grilled eggplant, Greek style?

5. Whole fish can be cooked on the grill, using a grill topper if the spaces between the grids of your grilling grate are too wide. The grilling grate or grill topper, or hinged fish grill, should be very hot and oiled. The fish should be oiled too so that it will not stick. Fish grills to doneness at 10 minutes per inch of thickness measured at the thickest part of the fish. Once the fish is on the grill, don't move; let it cook properly so its skin becomes crispy and removes easily from the grilling grate instead of sticking. Alternatively, place a flat cast-iron griddle on the grilling grate, let it heat for 15 minutes, then place the fish on top of it and use two offset spatulas to turn the fish.

Related: Get adventurous with Indian-style grilled lamb.

6. Grilling beef: The fire should be hot enough so you are not able to hold the palm of your hand 3 inches over the fire for more than three seconds. A 1-inch-thick steak is medium rare when poking the steak with your index finger feels identical to when you poke the flesh of your fist where the index finger meets the thumb. A ¾-inch thick sirloin steak takes five minutes a side on a high gas fire for very rare. I never grill prime beef more than medium rare -- you just lose taste that way. If you like your steaks well done, use less expensive, tougher, cuts of meat that benefit from longer cooking times. Cooking a tender steak, such as filet mignon, until well done simply makes it tougher and dryer, defeating the purpose of having bought a tender steak in the first place.

7. Because of the variety of grills and types of fires, I suggest that the look of the food, along with the cook's common sense, be given preference over cooking times in recipes.

Related: How to choose the right grill for you.

8. Leaving the cover on or hood down means the grill will provide a constant temperature, control flare-ups, and provide better results in cooler weather or with large pieces of meat.

Related: How to build a perfect fire and find the best grill gadgets.

9. Once the food is on the grill, be patient and don't fiddle with it unless instructed to by the recipe. Don't keep turning the food unless the recipe instructs you to do so. Every time you squeeze or poke food on the grill, you lose precious juices, especially from meats, and you lose the opportunity to develop attractive grid marks. Never use two-pronged forks with anything being grilled because all it does is puncture meat and let juices escape. Use long-handled grill tongs instead.

10. For doneness, don't cut open with a knife; learn to tell doneness by touch. You will learn this through experience. Learn to under-cook food so you still have the option of throwing it back on the grill. Overcooked food is just that. Because fires differ, I emphasize learning from experience for cooking times.

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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