Light a fire and cook dinner
Are you a traditionalist who eschews those newfangled gas grills? Or do you just prefer the taste of food cooked over charcoal rather than gas? While no studies have shown that one is healthier than the other, it is true that charcoal emits more carbon monoxide and soot into the atmosphere. If you grill a great deal, you might want to factor that into your grill choice. Charcoal grilling tends to be the preferred method from a taste perspective as it produces smokier, richer flavors. Cooking over coals and monitoring the temperature can be very tricky, however. Bon Appetit accurately describes a charcoal fire as one that goes ‘from lava hot to lukewarm in an hour.’ Here are some guidelines:
To increase temperature in a charcoal grill open the vent in the lid of your grill. This lets in more oxygen which makes the coals burn hotter.
To decrease temperature and slow down the cooking process, close the vents.
You can tell high heat when you can hold your hand over the coals about 5” away for only 2 – 4 seconds. This heat is great for charring vegetables and for cooking thinner cuts of meat like skirt steak, flank steak or tuna steak that need to be seared. High heat is 450° – 550°.
Medium heat will allow you to keep your hand above the coals for 5 – 7 seconds. That means the heat is 350° – 450°. This heat is appropriate to cook anything with a sugary marinade or rub: fish, burgers and sliced vegetables.
Low heat will allow you to hold your hand 5” above the coals for 8 – 10 seconds. The temperature is between 225° – 300°. This is considered slow cooking in grill terminology. It isn’t going to brown or char anything. It is good for bone-in grilling like legs of lamb that aren’t butterflied. Chicken would be burnt to a crisp over high or even medium heat. You might choose to barbecue on low heat and turn your grill into a smoker. Tough cuts of meats become moister.
If you like crunchy exteriors on your meats, sear initially over high heat, then finish over indirect heat. This can be done within one grill by banking the hot coals on one side and leaving the cooler side for the finishing. For thicker cuts of meat you might need to replenish the coals. Grilling meats over indirect heat keeps them moist.
Consider adding flavor to your foods waiting to be grilled by marinating or glazing them, or adding wet or dry rubs. The flavorings often create a delicious crust. Another flavoring method is to add some hardwood chunks or chips to your fire to create a smoky taste in your grilled foods.
Remember that food continues to cook after it is removed from the grill, so stop grilling food just before it has reached doneness. It is also good to let grilled foods ‘rest’ 3 – 15 minutes to let the juices redistribute. A few minutes for smaller items, longer for roasts.
Oiling your grill before using it will help your food not stick to the grate and make clean up easier.
Charcoal and water should not mix. Make sure you store your charcoal in a dry, cool place. If it stays dry, the shelf life of charcoal is indefinite. Using additive-free, natural charcoal is the safest for grilling. Conventional briquettes might contain sawdust, coal dust, sodium nitrate, borax, paraffin or lighter fluid. Natural charcoal is simply charred wood. The Thaan Thai-style natural charcoal below is a good resource.
Chef Andy Ricker sells these charcoal-esque logs, made from rambutan wood for $9.00 for 5 lbs. They are natural, Thai-style binchotan extruded log charcoal. “It is a long burning, clean and natural alternative to commercial charcoal briquettes. It is made sustainably from orchard grown rambutan fruit wood, which imparts a very mild flavor, letting your grilled food speak for itself. Thaan Charcoal’s consistent, even heat is easy to cook with, and is great for any style of solid fuel cooking.” This kind of charcoal briquette will burn longer at a steadier temperature than lump charcoal.
Two other pieces of equipment my husband swears by are a chimney grill starter. $14.99. pix
And, an instant read grill thermometer. $3.89. pix
Have you used a sizzle plate or platter before? They perform double duty because they can be a cooking surface, then used as a server on a wood platform. When brought to a hot temperature they can be used to finish the last few minutes of cooking then used to serve the food and keep it hot. Restaurants use them a great deal to complete individual orders by cooking for the last few minutes, then transferring food to a china plate and serving. Think of Fajitas. The sizzling cast iron dish they are served in is probably what the meat was cooked in. It will stay hot for quite a while. The sizzle plate is put on a wood board and served. Plates are inexpensive, about $5 – $11 each. Sizzle platters are a bit heavier and larger so are more expensive.
See this You Tube on the use of sizzle platters.
Finally, a new grilling cookbook called Smoke & Fire: Recipes and Menus for Entertaining Outdoors was just released two weeks ago. $50.00.
Here are more ASE barbeque suggestions;