Grilling Tips for the Season

What kind of cooking embodies summer more than grilling? It is, above all, a way to pay tribute to summer’s bounty: simple ingredients, fire and smoke, and a touch of salt are all you need to serve up exquisite meals. That said, we know there are a lot of lingering questions about how exactly to fire up your grill, how to best use it, how and if to clean it, and more. We’re here to help.

Gas or Charcoal?
The biggest question for many is, of course, which type of grill to get: gas or charcoal? From our perspective, there’s no definite answer; rather, it depends on what you are looking for.

Gas grills, modern and sleek, offer a certain amount of ease and control. They are easier to light, they come up to temperature quickly, and you can generally control that temperature with a simple dial. This makes them great for grilling at lower temperatures, such as when you want to cook larger cuts of meat, or fish or vegetables, without them charring all over. Plus, they are a breeze to maintain, without the need to remove ash.

Charcoal grills, on the other hand, are still touted by the purists. They will tell you that the smoky, primal flavor of cooked meat or vegetables simply can’t be achieved in the same way by gas grills. That’s because charcoal grills, while they take longer to heat up, can generally reach a higher temperature. That leads to the quintessential flavors of a bit of char, and that aroma of fat and juices dripping from the meat onto the hot coals. They can be a bit harder to clean, with the buildup of ash in the bottom of the grill overtime, and the price of charcoal is generally much more expensive than gas, but for those to whom the flavor is unmatched, neither of these things are issues.

First steps
Another common question that we are often asked is whether or not it is safe to oil the grates of a grill. The answer: yes, but you have to be prudent about how you do it.

The grates of a grill are a bit like a cast-iron pan: overtime, and with enough cooking, they’ll build up their own seasoning. However, just like a cast-iron, that requires proper maintenance, too. Oiling your grates is generally safe, but never do it over a live flame, or you risk starting a bigger fire. Before you start your grill, scrape off any remaining residue from the last time with a grill pad or brush with sturdy bristles before oiling with either a spray canister of oil or, better yet, a paper towel dipped lightly in oil pinched with tongs.

The other trick is to wait until your grill gets to a high heat until you put any food on it. Colder grates lead to a higher potential of food sticking. Have everything ready to go–something that in professional kitchens is called mise en place, or “everything in its place” – so you can take advantage of the heat cycle of a grill without having to waste time scrambling for additional tools or ingredients. If you’re worried about food sticking, especially foods with high water contents like vegetables or fish, you can always brush them with a small layer of oil before grilling, being careful there isn’t enough to drip off into the fire. Of course, make sure to salt everything before it goes on the grill, too.

The Cooking
Grilling is more than just steaks and burgers. Once you feel comfortable using your grill, you can cook a wide variety of foods, utilizing different temperatures and techniques to add to your arsenal of skills. While gas grills offer more control and precision, charcoal grills can also be quite versatile if you learn what parts of the grill get hottest and how to cook more slowly on the colder sections.

Over lower temperatures, try cooking tougher cuts of meat or fish that can withstand longer cooking times in foil packets with sauce and vegetables to make highly flavorful and tender proteins. Or try making the infamous beer can chicken, which can take up to an hour or two.

Over high heat, place a pizza stone over the grill until it’s very hot, then add an already topped crust and lower the lid of the grill to replicate a pizza oven. Additionally, try making the most of summer fruits like peach and plums by giving them a quick few minutes over a hot flame before serving with combinations like honey and thyme, or clotted cream or mascarpone and reduced balsamic. When high heat is applied to the fruit, it helps caramelize some of the exterior sugars, without making the interior too soft and mushy.

Basic Maintenance
Lastly, we are often asked about cleaning the grill – how often and how to do it. Here’s the good news: because of how the grill develops layers of seasoning over time, as we mentioned above, you’re generally better off not doing any thorough cleaning most of the time. Simply brushing off the grates each time you use it and giving the inside a brief scrub every once in a while should be enough to keep your grill in good shape, as long as you’re keeping it covered and out of the rain to avoid rust.

If you have a charcoal grill, you will, of course, need to get rid of the ash that builds up when cooking. That’s in large part because the ash can wick moisture away from the environment and turn solid overtime, becoming a cement-like layer that’s a hassle to remove. Keeping a bucket close to your grill and dumping out the ash into it once it has cooled down is an easy way to avoid this. If you’d like to make your life even easier, opt for lump charcoal over briquettes, as the amount of ash produced is significantly smaller (and the flavor benefits are wonderful).

It’s Grilling Time
Itching to fire up your grill yet? We’ve covered the basics, dug into the nitty-gritty, and hopefully provided you with some new inspiration for how and what to grill. With just a bit of logistical planning and some basic care and maintenance, grilling can become a regular ritual for you and your family as the weather warms. In fact, warmer days are right around the corner–why even wait until summer?