GRILLING LIKELY TOPS THE LIST OF activities first indulged in by proud homeowners who have just built or renovated their deck or patio, and are ready for spring’s move from indoor to outdoor living.
Scientific evidence suggests grilling goes back to the time of Peking and Java man, and surprisingly, in this technological age, the ritual has changed very little. Sure, there are fancy gas and electric grills with lava rocks, range-style side burners, an ignition system, and flame-up safety features, but it still comes down to basics: food seared with intense heat, flavored with smoke wafting up from the coals or burners.
So just what kind of grill should you buy? That depends on how you want to cook. “Gas is for convenience, for people on the go, ” says Steve Herndon, a manager at Jackson’s, a home center on Lemmon Avenue. The beauty of gas and electric grills is that they only take about a minute to ignite and about 15 minutes to get the lava rocks hot enough to begin cooking.
But some cooks prefer charcoal grills, even though the coals can take up to an hour to heat, because smoke from burning wood and briquettes smells good and gives food a unique flavor. If you opt for charcoal, avoid briquettes made from sawdust and scrap wood; they don’t get as hot as other fuels nor last as long. Many brands are laced with chemicals that make them easier to light, but can also give food a funny taste if not burned off completely.
Preferable is higher-grade charcoal made from hardwoods, such as hickory, mesquite, and alder; you can also simply burn hardwood chunks. Of all the fuels, hardwood will burn the hottest and can be used a second and third time. Wood chips (which you must soak in water before using) can also be put in smoker boxes or on top of briquettes to get that smoky flavor.
Gas and electric grills have lava rocks and “flavorized bars” that turn the dripping grease into smoke to flavor the meat; smoker boxes for wood chips can be placed over the burners of gas grills to obtain the smoky flavor,
Though they can cost more up front, gas and electric grills cost less to use. A cost comparison made by Barbeques Galore, an Australian company that recently opened a store on Lovers Lane and in Piano, showed the cost per cookout was $1.68 for charcoal, 16 cents for propane, and seven cents for natural gas.
Keep in mind that flavor intensity depends on how you grill. Direct grilling means the food is seared-the grilling surface is placed close to a hot, open fire, so that the food gets a crisp, brown exterior that seals in the juices. Indirect cooking, such as barbecuing or smoking, means the food is cooked at a distance of at least six inches over a medium or low heat fire with the grill cover closed to trap the smoke, retain moisture, and cook food evenly. Whatever method you use, be sure to fill a water bottle and keep it handy to control flare-ups.