Food and Cooking Encyclopedia: Grilling Tips
Heavy duty mitts as well as long-handled tongs, forks, basting brushes, and spatulas are essential for protection from the searing heat of your grill. Some utensils are coated with non-stick material for easy clean-up.
Barbecue baskets help keep certain foods, such as fragile fish fillets and small vegetables, from falling through the grill during cooking.
If you have a gas or electric grill, follow the manufacturer's instructions.
If you have a charcoal grill, spread coals in a singer layer to extend about 1 inch beyond your food. Add a few more coals if weather is humid or windy. Then, push the coals into a mound for lighting. Self-lighting briquettes do not require a fire-starter; simply light them with a match to start. To jump-start other types of coals, try an electric starter or a liquid, wax-type (solid), or jelly starter, following manufacturer's directions. Never add more starter after fire has started and never use gasoline or kerosene to start your coals!
Expect self-lighting coals to burn for 5 to 10 minutes before they are ready for grilling; standard briquettes take about 20 to 30 minutes. The coals will appear ash gray in daylight, or glowing red all over at night, when they are ready to use.
First, decide between direct and indirect cooking method (when the option is available).
Direct cooking means the food is placed on the grill rack directly over the coals. With long-handled tongs, spread the hot coals evenly in a single layer. Reduce flare-ups by spreading coals about 1/2-inch apart.
Indirect cooking means the coals will be arranged away from the food, so that juices from the food will not reach the coals, reducing flare-ups. Place a foil drip pan (large enough to cover the surface below the food) in the center of the fire-box and mound the coals all around the pan, using long-handled tongs.
For a gas or electric grill, follow manufacturer's directions on indirect cooking. Usually, for 2- or 3-burner units, after preheating, one burner is turned off and the food is placed over the unlit burner. For 1-burner unit, the burner is turned to LOW.
Hold your hand, palm side down, at the height where the food will be grilled. Count by saying "one thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc." for each second you hold your hand there.
You will need to remove your hand after 2 seconds if the coals are hot; 3 seconds f or medium-hot, 4 seconds for medium, 5 seconds for medium-slow, and 6 or more for a slow fire. Note that for indirect heat cooking, you will need hot coals to provide medium-hot heat, medium-hot coals for medium heat, and so forth. Add several fresh coals every 20 minutes or so to maintain the proper temperature.
Reduce flare-ups by lowering the heat. To accomplish this, raise the grill rack, cover the grill, spread the coals so there is more space between, or remove some coals. For excessive flare-ups, it may be necessary to remove the food from the grill and mist the flames with a water-spray bottle. Once the flames die down, you can resume grilling.
Our Test Kitchen recommends cooking many tender cuts of beef and lamb to medium rare, to maintain the most tender, juiciest quality of the meat. If you prefer medium or medium-well doneness, simply lengthen the cooking time following suggested timings. Check often to avoid overcooking the outside of the meat. (Less tender cuts, such as a beef rolled rump roast, require longer cooking to tenderize. Do not grill to only medium rare or it will not be tender.)
Use a meat thermometer to check the doneness of roasts, inserting it into the thickest portion of the meat: 145 degrees F. for medium rare, 160 degrees F. for medium, 170 degrees F. for well done.
For ground meat patties, cook until meat juices are no longer pink and no pink remains in the meat.
For pork, cook until juices run clear when meat is pierced with a fork. Roasts and chops from the loin or rib sections may be cooked to an internal temperature of 160° F. (slightly pink in the center); other pork cuts should be cooked to 170° F. (well-done; no pink remains).
Because fish is delicate and breaks apart easily, it helps to place the fish on foil or in a grill basket when grilling. Use a grill basket for direct grilling only (most grill basket handles cannot take the heat of indirect cooking on a covered grill). To keep the fish from sticking, lightly grease or brush the foil or basket with cooking oil before adding the fish.
You may have heard about the possible health risks associated with foods cooked over high heat. Barbecuing has been implicated. Nutritionists and food research scientists say that high-heat cooking methods, such as barbecuing, can produce minute amounts of harmful substances when fat from the meat drips onto hot coals, resulting in flare-ups (flames that come in contact with the food). However, they admit that the possible health risks are very low.
If you are concerned about grilling foods for health reasons, the Barbecue Industry Association recommends using indirect heat for grilling. The fat then drips into the drip pan, and not onto the hot coals, preventing flare-ups.