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Eight Pitfalls to Avoid at the Grill

Eight Pitfalls to Avoid at the Grill


With a little know-how, you can have perfect grilled food every time!


By FamilyTime

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Fire up the grill! Let’s get cooking! Come on over for some burgers and dogs! We’re grilling tonight!

Ahhhh…summer! When backyard grills from coast to coast get good, almost-daily workouts. The grills may be fueled by propane gas or charcoal, they may be massive cooktops next to shimmering pools or small hibachis on apartment balconies—or something in between.

Whether you are an enthusiast or a “sometimes” grill cook, there are traps lurking amid the glowing coals. Here are eight ways to make your grilling experience better than ever.

  1. Start with a clean grill: The heat of the coals or heating elements burns off most residues on the grilling grate, but it’s always a good idea to brush the grate with a metal brush between uses. If the grill looks like it needs it, take the grate off the grill and clean it with oven cleaner. (You should always do this at the beginning of every season.) Finally, before you fire up the grill, spray the grate lightly with flavorless vegetable oil; this prevents sticking.
  2. Let the coals burn down: If you use charcoal to fire your grill, start the coals in plenty of time so that they can burn down to the right temperature. We are often too impatient when we grill and start cooking while the coals are very hot, which burns the food. If you use natural charcoal (rather than compressed briquettes or any impregnated with lighter fluid), you may have to toss a few extra coals on the fire when you start cooking but this is only a good way to keep the fire going as long as it’s needed. Natural charcoal burns faster than others—but gives the food a cleaner, better flavor.
  3. Learn the difference between direct and indirect grilling: Just as you turn the heat up or down on the stovetop, so can you adjust the heat when grilling. The difference is that you move the food around the grill, rather than moving the flame up or down. With a charcoal grill, you can pile the coals to one side or leave an empty space in the center of the fire box. With gas grills, ignite only one side of the grill. This way, you can sear the meat over the hottest part of the grill and then move it to the cooler part for “indirect heat” cooking. Using heats of varying intensity allows you to cook more foods most efficiently.
  4. Don’t misuse marinade: We love the idea of marinating meat, poultry and other foods and it does add nice flavor. When you lift the food from the marinade, let the marinade drip back into the dish and then lightly pat the food dry with paper towels. You can brush the meat or fish with the marinade while it cooks, but only do so during the first half of cooking. The marinade has been in contact with raw food and therefore any contaminants need time to “cook” off during the final minutes of cooking. For the same reason, never, never serve the marinade as a sauce without boiling it first for about five minutes.
  5. Don’t press the burgers: Want juicy burgers? Leave them alone! It’s so tempting to press on the meat with the flat of the spatula while it cooks, but this only forces yummy juices from the patties and leaves them dry. Cook the burgers for two to three minutes without touching them and then turn them to finish cooking on the other side. (Times will vary depending on the kind of meat and the thickness of the burgers.)
  6. Use an instant-read thermometer: It’s tempting to cut into a steak or chicken breast to determine if it’s done, but please don’t! Juices will flow from the incision and leave the meat drier than it needs to be. As you become more adept, you will be able to gauge doneness simply by pressing on the meat, but until that day, use an instant-read thermometer. These little devices make only small pricks in the meat and within a few seconds will tell you the internal temperature of the meat or poultry.
  7. Know when to cover the grill: When you cover the grill you essentially are mimicking an oven. You would not sear a steak in the oven but you might finish cooking it there after searing it on top of the stove. The same holds true for grilling. Sear the steak or other meat over the hot coals and then move it to a cooler part of the grill (depending on what you are cooking) and cover the grill to finish cooking. For most grilling, a covered grill does a good job once the food is seared. The cover raises the temperature of the cooking environment, although you can control it by opening and closing the vents (open vents allow more air and the coals burn hotter).
  8. Use the right tools: Long-handled tongs and basting brushes are musts when you grill. The same is true for oven mitts with extra-long cuffs. All protect you from burns. A hinged basket with a long handle is convenient, too, for cooking delicate items such as vegetables and fish. Some grill masters like to cook burgers in these baskets.


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