There's no better or more pleasurable cooking technique than charcoal grilling. Good-quality charcoal briquettes should be fired up and ready for grilling in about 20 minutes. To shave off another 5 minutes of time, you can use no-fuss Kingsford's Match Light instant lighting charcoal, which takes just 15 minutes.
Groom the Grill: Use a wire grill brush to loosen stuck-on food particles, then spray the grate with oven cleaner and rinse thoroughly, or wash with hot soapy water. When you're ready to grill, rub the grid with canola oil or spray with non-stick cooking spray to prevent food from sticking.
Stock up on Charcoal: You want to be ready when the grilling mood strikes so be sure to have enough charcoal on hand. You will want to store briquettes in a cool, dry area. When charcoal absorbs moisture, it can be harder to light.
Have the Proper Tools: Tongs, especially long-handled ones, and a spatula are essential to help you turn food over without piercing, so you don't lose any delicious juices. And flame retardant mitts are nice to have. You might also want a vegetable grilling basket or a fish-grilling basket. The vegetable basket keeps smaller foods from falling into the grill. The fish basket makes it easier to turn delicate fish filets.
Grilling Steps: Arrange charcoal briquettes in a pyramid at the bottom of the grill. Add approximately 2 1/2 ounces of lighter fluid to briquettes and carefully light with a match.
When coals are ready for cooking, spread in a single layer or bank them, set grilling grid in place and put on the food.
The Right Heat: When you roast or bake, you know when to add the food, based on the oven temperature.
When you grill, you can estimate the temperature, too. Hold your hand, palm side down, about six inches from the coals. Count "one thousand one, one thousand two," etc., until the heat is uncomfortable and you have to pull your hand away. If you can keep your hand in place for:
2 seconds -- it's hot, about 375 F or more
3 seconds -- it's medium-hot, about 350 to 375 F
4 seconds -- it's medium, about 300 to 350 F
5 seconds -- it's low, about 200 to 300 F
Choosing Gas Or Charcoal
Choosing a grill comes down to charcoal or gas, so pick the one that suits your style.
Gas grills fire up much faster than charcoal. Gas grills provide strong, even heat, are far easier to light (just turn on) and offer excellent temperature control—but they are expensive. Look for a gas grill that's sturdy and heats quickly. Porcelain-coated grates help prevent sticking, and extra features, such as side burners or rotisseries, are interesting options. "I prefer gas grills," says Les Kincaid. "My feeling is, now that we have the technology, we might as well use it—but that's strictly personal."
Purists, on the other hand, swear by the distinctive flavor of a charcoal grill, as well as the backyard barbecue ritual—piling on the charcoal, laying the fire, lighting it and moving food from hotter to cooler cooking. Look for a charcoal grill with a cover and large grilling surface and, if possible, an adjustable grate and firebox.
To light a charcoal grill, skip the lighter fluid, because "who wants to taste the fumes? Instead, get a chimney—a cylindrical, metal apparatus that holds briquettes in a tight pile so they heat quickly.
Cooking: Charcoal Grill vs. Gas Grill
Experts, aficionados, and enthusiasts alike have all weighed in with an opinion on the frequently asked barbecuing and grilling question: Which is the better choice, a charcoal or a gas grill? Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer; what may be better for one cook differs significantly from the best choice for another, and both types of grill have benefits and disadvantages.
It’s difficult to regulate the heat with a charcoal grill, and setting it up and taking it down can be time-consuming and messy, but it imparts a flavor that can’t be duplicated with a gas grill. Gas grills are quicker and more convenient, and it’s far easier to regulate the heat with them. However, both are perfectly suitable for either grilling, which uses high heat to cook food quickly, or barbecuing—a low-heat, indirect slow-cooking method.
Whether you opt for gas or charcoal, there are certain features the grill should offer. A charcoal grill should rest on sturdy, non-wobbly legs; have a solid cooking grate and a tight-fitting lid with a heatproof handle, and vents for regulating heat and controlling smoke. Some models offer rotating grates, which make adjusting food for direct or indirect cooking far easier; and many come with ash catchers underneath.
A gas grill, too, should be sturdily constructed, with a thick firebox and a tight-fitting lid. Look for an easy-to-read propane gauge, which helps to avoid the unpleasant surprise of running out of fuel at a crucial moment. A good gas grill also comes with push-button ignition; separate heating zones, and adjustable controls for each zone. Some of the more elaborate grills offer a number of features for greater convenience, such as two levels for direct or indirect cooking, a sturdy side table to hold tools or basting sauces, and a built-in thermometer.
Place your grill in a cleared area, away from buildings and trees and out of the wind. This will insure both fire safety and a more even temperature for cooking the food.
To avoid bacterial contamination, marinate foods in the refrigerator and always serve grilled meat on a clean platter. Never place cooked meat on a plate that was used to carry raw meat.
To prevent flare-ups that can be dangerous to you and your food, remove as much fat as possible from meats and arrange the coals above a drip pan placed a few inches below the rack.
Use long-handled tongs and brushes to avoid burning your hands.
Never add liquid fire-starter to lit coals—the fuel can ignite as it pours and cause serious burns. Instead, start new coals in a separate can or on heavy-duty aluminum foil, and then use tongs to add them one at a time. When added in intervals as needed, new hot coals will maintain the grill's temperature for long cooking times.
"The whole idea of grilling is to be casual and festive, so keep it simple." Common sense and boldness are essential for successful grilling as well. "Grilling is really logical," Les Kincaid says. "Don't be afraid to experiment and take some chances." Here are some tips for stress-free grilling:
Feel the Heat
Light coals about 30 minutes in advance.
To determine when the coals are ready, hold your palm five inches over the fire. If you can hold it there for two to three seconds, the fire is hot; if you can stand four to five seconds, the fire is medium; and tolerating a full six seconds means the fire is low.
Stop the Stick
Use high heat—and patience—to prevent food from sticking to the grill. "A lot of guys think that grilling means turning everything 40 times," says Les. "I use really high heat, turn it once and let a nice crust form. It sears in the flavor and keeps food from sticking." Repeated turning cools the meat so that it steams instead of searing.
Partially pre-cook chicken, spare ribs, potatoes, carrots and other slow-cooking food in the oven or microwave to speed up grilling time
When using skewers, cut food into chunks that are too large to fall through the grate. Or grill foods whole, then cut them.
Give Up the Gadgets
"Forget the bells and whistles and keep your equipment simple." All that's required are a strong pair of tongs, a sturdy spatula, some heavy-duty potholders or mitts and a strong wire scraper.
If you need more than one cooking temperature, mound some coals on one side to create a hot section and spread coals out on the other side for a cooler section. Other ways to control heat are to raise and lower the grill rack. The closer the rack is to the fire, the hotter it will be. And opening vents will raise heat, while closing them will lower it.
Avoid Over Grilling
Brush the foods you are grilling with sauces during the last 20 minutes of cooking to prevent over browning or burning.
Before you shut your grill off, brush it when it's still hot and all the crusts will come away and burn in the coals. Les recommends a good quality grill brush with metal bristles to scrape the grate clean.
This flavoring method slowly imparts meats with a smoky flavor. A covered grill captures and surrounds raw meat in smoke for hours, infusing it with flavor. Most meats are suitable for smoking, but chicken would be a good place to start. Remember that meats still need to be cooked after smoking.
This technique involves cooking food over indirect heat by wrapping it in aluminum foil, which seals in moisture and juices.
Steaming is a great way to cook delicate fish and vegetables. Use light marinades of fresh herbs, oils and citrus juices, since strong flavors might overwhelm the food.
Many gas grills now come with rotisseries to cook meat on a spit above the flames. When cooking on a rotisserie, use strong marinades and large cuts—such as leg of lamb, whole chicken or duck.
Aromatic Wood Chips
Wood chips impart smoky, distinctive flavors to grilled foods. Soak chips in water for an hour so they don't burn, then put them over the coals. Favorites include earthy mesquite, spicy hickory and sweet cherry wood. You can also soak and drain dried or fresh herbs (such as rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme or bay leaves) or fruitwood cuttings, then sprinkle on hot coals immediately before cooking.