Grilling 101 – The Basics

Summer, to many, means lazy afternoons spent at the lake enjoying good food and warm weather or large  gatherings of friends and family for a summer evening barbeque. But if you don’t know your way around a grill, these summer pastimes can be overwhelming. Before you head out to grill, here are some things for you to consider.

Charcoal vs. Gas vs. Electric Grills

The big grill debate. Do you use a charcoal or gas or electric grill? Ask anyone and they will have their own preferences and their own reasons why. And that is what it ultimately comes down to – your own taste and preferences. There are a number of things to consider when trying to decide which kind is the best for you: practicality, convenience, cost and how authentic of a flavor you want.

Gas Grill

A gas grill (Credit: Patrick Fitzgerald)

The more convenient the grill, the less smoke flavor it is likely to produce. Electric, while easy and safe to use, doesn’t impart that authentic smoke flavor to your food. It is easy to clean up and works well in scenarios with limited space. Plug it in and cook away.

Charcoal Grill

A charcoal grill (Credit: Nathan Forget)

Gas grills, offer the convenience of electric grills, with the added benefit of some flavor, but not as much as charcoal. You will need to use it in an open area away from anything that could be set on fire from stray sparks.

Charcoal grills produce foods full of flavor, but is not as convenient as its electric and gas counterparts. These grills require a large amount of cleanup and preparation. While the grill itself is inexpensive, the cost of charcoal over time can add up.

There is no right or wrong type of grill to use. Pick one that is the best fit for you.

Direct vs. Indirect Grilling

There are two methods of grilling and which one you use depends on what you’re cooking. Direct grilling involves cooking the food directly over the heat and flipping for even cooking. You can get a nice sear on the food for extra flavor. You can also cover your grill for faster cooking times. This method is great for steaks, vegetables, and fish.

You would use indirect grilling methods when you’re trying to cook anything that will burn on the surface before it can get cooked through. The food is placed next to and no directly over the heat. By closing the lid, you essentially turn your grill into an oven. This method is used best for ribs, briskets, roasts and other large pieces of food.

Check out this handy guide for cooking tips for charcoal grills which uses both direct and indirect grilling methods.

Tools of the Trade

BBQ Tools

(Credit: Beck)

To get the perfect sear and cook on your food, you will need to invest in some proper tools.

Grill brush – Use this to give the grill a good scrub after the grill is preheated and when you’re done with your grill session. Food comes off a lot easier when the grill is still warm. It should be something sturdy with metal bristles and a long handle to really scrub down the grill and ensure all food bits are off the grill.

Tongs – From flipping food to oiling the grill (in combination with a paper towel dipped in oil), it is your go to tool for everything on the grill. Tongs allow you to move food without having to pierce them and risk losing its precious juices.

Metal spatula – For everything that the tongs can’t handle, you have the spatula. It is handy for flipping burgers, turning fish steaks and anything delicate that may break if handled by tongs.

Meat Thermometer – Yes, you can check your meat of doneness by feeling it, but to eliminate the possibility of getting either yourself or a guest ill, a good meat thermometer is a must. Cook chicken to 165 degrees, pork to at least 160 degrees, fish to 158 degrees, and ground meats to 160 degrees. For more, check the Health Canada website.

Those are the basics, but if you want to get fancy, you can invest in some barbecue gloves, to protect yourself from sparks and flames, or a basting brush, to keep food moist during the cooking process. If you’re using a charcoal grill, a chimney starter can ease frustrations with trying to start up the grill – no more lighter fluid!

For a few more bits of wisdom you can go here and here.

What is your favorite method of grilling? What tools do you use?

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