How to Become a Real Grill Master

Memorial Day marks the start of a serious grilling season, and there is no better weekend to solidify your master grill game. Luckily, honing your culinary skills outdoors is much easier than it sounds when you consider the right tools, a little preparation, and a few technique tips.

This post was originally published on May 23, 2008.

Get the right tools

  • Lump charcoal or briquettes? This is one of those endless debates where both sides believe what is right and wrong (sort of like Mac versus PC), but there are some pretty common points of contact. As The Virtual Weber Bullet writes:

    By all accounts, the lump tends to burn harder than the briquettes, but not for as long and not as consistently. Some lack of uniformity is to be expected given that the contents and sizes of parts vary within the same bag and between bags.

    Personally, I recommend briquettes to anyone new to grilling, as the clump can be picky about lighting. Of course, you can save a lot of energy and nerves by purchasing a chimney starter , which can also be used for quick cooking .

    Gas Grill Choices: Ignore BTUs and heat for the most part – unless you really have to cook a whole poultry or roast this weekend, most grills have your steaks and burgers covered. The Consumer Reports Blog recommends bringing a magnet with you to assess the quality of the steel used to contain heat. If the magnet sticks, it is most likely a cheaper grade that rusts more easily. Feel free to push and shake your test model as an unstable grill is a recipe for serious problems. Wirecutter has some good guidelines to get you started.

    Versatile Cookware: The three-tool grill kits you see in major stores have everything you need for basic grilling, with spatula, tongs and long-handled carving poker versions. Your next purchase will be a long-handled brush, followed by a grill basket and skewers as you start to fork. Make sure your tools are heavy and firm in your hands, as awkward handling creates barbecue stories that you don’t want to repeat .

To get more grill gear, our gadget-obsessed sibling site Gizmodo has 10 awesome grills you can buy for the perfect Memorial Day BBQ .

Get ready

  • Clean This Grill : If there is a black crust on the grill grates, you will need to remove it to ensure non-stick cooking and easy turning. You can use a grill brush or onions if they are particularly tough. The video above shows you how to do a deeper cleaning, and if you’ve neglected your grill for years, it may need some minor repairs that you can do yourself .
  • Make Your Own Sauce: Most of the bottled sauces you see on the grocery shelves are overly sweetened and none match the taste of homemade. Making your own is n’t that hard either. Use one of three BBQ Recipe Secret sauces as a starting point and bring your own flavor ideas to life. This will give you something to talk about while you wait for the ribs to run out. If you don’t want to start from scratch, you can even enhance the bottled sauce with a few homemade ingredients.

Hone your technique

  • Use the “zones” of your grill : not everything goes well due to the fire. Different meats (and vegetables) work best for different parts of the grill, depending on how much heat they need. Check out this infographic to see where things are going.
  • Use the cheat sheet: Experience is the best indicator for pinpointing when to remove food from the counter, but Real Simple offers a very useful cheat sheet that you can print and bring to this cooking test. Here’s a sample that covers the basics of red meat and sausages:

Do not forget about the palm test to determine the degree of doneness of the steak.

  • Chicken BBQ: How can attest to my fellow editor Adam, eHow technology for the preparation of the whole or part of the chicken on the grill produces a juicy bird. The basics: Grease a wire rack with butter, cook the chicken, uncovered, on a center heat, and, for Pete’s sake, don’t add any sauce until the last few minutes.
  • Perfect burgers: Our commentators don’t necessarily agree to make great burgers , but they have general considerations to share. For even cooking, use meat as close to room temperature as possible. Do not place them on the wire rack unless you want the meat to be dry. And the best “secret” to great burgers is buying good meat, preferably ground butchery, while you watch. And if you want them to cook evenly, a shallow notch in the middle will help you avoid the hockey puck.
  • Seriously Salt Your Steak: Have a filet mignon weekend dream but your budget is under a quarter of a pound? Buy a cheap piece of “select” meat, then salt, salt, and hell, salt just an hour before grilling, then blot dry. This way, your salt breaks down in the meat and weakens some of its protein strands, making it taste better and cut like a steak ad for your dream steakhouse. You can also freeze it for 30 minutes for a perfectly browned crust.
  • Hot Dogs with Maximum Filling : Spiral your hot dogs so they cook perfectly evenly , with more surface area for a delicious grill flavor and plenty of room for all your favorite toppings. You might even consider pickling them for a flavor boost that goes beyond the typical hot dogs that everyone is used to.
  • Give it a break: You will want to chop a tender steak or juicy chicken, but you will lose a lot of juicy flavor if you do. As culinary experts from Cook’s Illustrated note, slicing food immediately after grilling produces a significant amount of juice, which is absorbed again for added juiciness if you let it sit for a few minutes.

Recovering from the rain

All this planning, cleaning and shopping, and Mother Nature calls your perfect grill day sound? You are not finished yet. As New York Times food guru and cookbook author Mark Bittman points out , your broiler oven can be sub-in for a grill with a little prep work, with results almost as satisfying. Saute the meat in a skillet, roast or sauté it slowly, and then use the broiler to finish it. Check out his oven-baked pork ribs or brisket recipes for something convincing.

Document your success

When you’ve gone out of your way to create a great fire-cooked meal, you’ll need more than just compliments to remember it. Share your camera (or pass it on to a trusted friend) and try these tips for great grilled shots:

  • Tell a story : A BBQ lover named Nika notes that most fried food may look good to the human eye, but smoky crusts and perfect charring can look like an unattractively dark nonentity without good framing. Try to capture “dramatic moments,” such as when the meat is pulled out, or focus on the tools used to prepare the food to get a memorable shot.
  • Come Up Close : In the meantime, Flickr user Another Pint Please … aka Mike and who snapped the steak photo you saw at the top of this post recommends that you be bold and come up close and personal from your perspective. source – while maintaining safety with the lens, of course. You will have time to take wide-angle shots when the cooking is complete, but those sudden flashes and perfect shiny corners only happen once.

Happy Memorial Day and enjoy the BBQ!


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