Thrill of the Grill
Heed the experts’ advice before breaking out the briquettes at your next barbeque adventure.
In our family, grilling is the last male bastion, which is why, as a matter of protocol, I have never commented on the little black chars my husband produces during the summer months. Orderly rows of beautiful—nubile!—chicken parts go out on a foil-covered cookie sheet; piles of wizened, soot-crusted bones come in, and we eat them. Kind of like the Flintstones.
So when I had the chance to investigate the grilling scene in Dallas, my attitude was one of detachment, figuring it would be interesting, certainly, but like bee-keeping or, I suppose, tatting, a story with no real take-home value.
Well, move over, Fred.
After a few minutes talking to Kevin Kraft, aka Grill Daddy (no joke) at
Anyone who is the least bit interested can take grilling to the next level. It was a Gloria Steinem moment, and with that pronouncement, I officially became a student of the grill. Here, for other novices, are some great tips for grilling tonight.
Lesson No. 1: Those little briquette things have got to go. I was always suspicious of briquettes, but I had no idea that they’re a combination of sawdust and sand, bonded by a petroleum product. “The biggest difference you can make in the taste of your food is to use hardwoods,” Kraft says. Hardwood charcoal has inherently good flavor, lights quicker, burns hotter, and produces less ash, so it also has a longer life than briquettes. For additional flavor, Kraft suggests soaking hardwoods. “I cooked a duck on some tea-flavored hardwoods the other night, and the neighbors thought I had a hookah going,” he says. Crazy stuff!
Lesson No. 2: Make sure you use a clean grill. Please tell me the little chars my family has been eating for decades are not the result of a dirty grill. “You’d be amazed how many people get impatient and slap expensive grades of meat down on top of five years of grease buildup,” Kraft says. The grill does not need to be spic-and-span clean, but it does need to be clear of debris. And it’s easy. Preheat a gas grill for 8 to 10 minutes (10-15 minutes for charcoal) and then scrape it, or clean it right after you cook.
Lesson No. 3: Easy on the salt. Dry rubs with a little salt in them are fine but—heads up, teriyaki lovers—avoid soaking your meat and poultry in an overly salty marinade; it will leech juices from the meat as it cooks. A plastic bag that seals works best: it’s easy to move the meat around, and if you want to brush some of the marinade on the meat during the cooking process, all you have to do is make a tiny snip in one corner for easy pouring.
Lesson No. 4: Use your finger or a thermometer to test for doneness. “I cringe when I see people cook a beautiful tenderloin filet and then make a big ole incision right in the middle to see if it’s cooked. You lose half of the juices,” Kraft says. The best tool in the kitchen is your finger, he says; the longer it cooks, the firmer to the touch the meat becomes, as the juices run to the center. Remember that even after the meat comes off the grill, it will continue cooking, as much as 8 to 10 degrees more for a roast, and 5 to 7 degrees more for a thinner cut.
Lesson No. 5: Simple seasoning is the best. For the one-minute gourmet, seasoned butter is a great option. Kraft’s method is foolproof: mix room temperature butter with a little wine, shallots, garlic, Worcestershire—anything you like—and roll it up in plastic wrap about the size and shape of a roll of quarters. Let it harden in the refrigerator (15-20 minutes) and then cut into quarter-sized pieces. Dab the seasoned butter on about a minute before taking your meat off the grill. “It’s an amazing flavor enhancement,” says Kraft.
Buying a New Grill
A grill is no longer, simply, a grill. Like television shopping (Plasma? Flat-screen? High-definition?), there are myriad choices and considerations, and you can spend anywhere from $400 for a Weber gas grill up to $5,000 for a DCS gas grill.
There are, of course, two kinds of grill-daddies in the world, those who believe in charcoal and everyone else. The everyone-else crowd buys gas. Gas lights faster and is totally controllable, thus a beginner can produce excellent results. On the other hand, if you know how to manage the heat on a charcoal grill, you’ll without question produce meat, poultry, and fish with better flavor. It is essentially a matter of budget, cooking experience, and convenience.
If you do go the gas route, heat potential is a concern. People who cook chicken and fish almost exclusively can get away with lower heat capacity. For searing steaks, you’ll need at least 40,000 BTUs (British Thermal Units—basically, heat output) for a medium-sized, two-burner grill.
A final concern is your energy source: gas grills are fueled by both natural gas and propane. If you have natural gas at the house, you may want to tap into it, eliminating the nuisance of filling a propane tank periodically. Propane-fueled grills are completely mobile. Natural gas grills can now be equipped with a 12-foot hose, for at least some mobility.
You Go Grill
Whether you get a charge from charcoal or sizzle with gas, these backyard beauties will take you from rare to done in no time.
<< Viking 41-inch stainless outdoor cooker, $3,291, with cart, $1,521, at Ed Kellum & Son, 4533 Cole Ave. 214-526-1717.
It’s all about the accessories…
<< Grill scrubber, $15, at
Stainless steel grill kit, $100, at
<< Cool silicone trivets, $7 each, at Sur La Table,