For a long time I thought there was something mysterious and hard about grilling- the process of hauling out, cleaning, and lighting the grill just seemed so complicated, not to mention actually cooking food on it. Then I met my husband's grill-obsessed family, who cheerily grill year round, even through frigid New England winters. They showed me that grilling was such a perfect way to be outside, hang out, and get a meal on the table, all at the same time.
I was quickly converted after learning the ropes, so here's a guide to the basics of grilling so that you work your grill like a pro!
1. Prepare the Grill
Whether you have a gas or charcoal grill, you need to make sure your grill is clean and in good shape. Now I know that preparing the grill doesn't sound like fun, but it just has to be done once at the beginning of grilling season, not every time you're cooking.
For those with gas grills, that means checking the hose, fuel tank, and starter to make sure your grill will light properly. Charcoal grills need to be cleaned of ash, scraped of old buildup, and checked for rust. Here are some step-by-step guides for preparing and cleaning your grill:
2. Start the Grill
Now comes the fun part: fire! Gas grills are easy to light with just a flick of a switch, but remember to keep the gas on high and the cover closed so that it heats up quickly and evenly.
Charcoal grillers have more work to do on this front since you have to build the fire yourself, which takes a bit of time and patience. Avoid lighter fluid, which will make your food taste like, well, lighter fluid, and invest in an inexpensive chimney starter instead. A chimney starter will hold a pile of charcoal in place and protect it from the wind so that the coals can be lit easily:
3. Time to Actually Grill
Think you're ready to actually put food on the grill now? If you're not sure, check out this guide on how to tell if your grill is hot enough:
Good grilling technique means you don't just crowd everything on the grill at the same time. Quick-cooking foods like steaks and cut vegetables cook best on high heat. Stick with medium heat for chicken and thick cuts of pork - because you want these meats cooked through but not charred on the outside, think of your grill as an outdoor roaster and keep the cover down to create a closed environment to trap in the heat and evenly cook the food:
Grilling outdoors is a different experience than cooking indoors. Gusts of wind can cool down your grill and things will take longer to cook, and, especially for charcoal grills, there will be hot spots on the cooking surface. Take the time to get to you know your grill just like you would your stove and figure out its strengths and weaknesses. Then you can be smart and do things like placing quick-cooking foods up front, where the grill is cooler.
Listen to your cooking instincts when grilling - if something looks like it's about to burn, move it to a cooler spot or take it off the grill for a few minutes if the fire is flaring up. A recipe won't tell you to do these things, but use common sense and keep a close eye on what's going on.
Are you ready to conquer the grill now? It's time to take the kitchen outdoors this summer!
(Image credits: Kesu/Shutterstock; Flickr user Michael Dietsch under the Creative Commons license)