Undoubtedly, one of the greatest things about our extended summers here in Florida is having the ability to cook outdoors - namely, grilling! Not only does cooking on a grill impart that unique, smoke-and-char essence to food, but it's also considered to be one of the healthiest and most versatile cooking methods out there. From steaks and roasts, to whole poultry, to seafood, tofu, or fresh produce, there's really not a whole lot of food that can't go on your grill. Grilling doesn't heat up the house like a stove or an oven can, either. Whether it's a 4th of July picnic, a family gathering, or just a Wednesday night, nothing beats throwing down a juicy hamburger, some BBQ chicken, or even some delicious veggies. And the best part? No pots and pans to wash up afterwards!
Like cooking indoors, grilling is a craft, and it does take a little know-how to master cooking over an open flame. Practice makes perfect, though, so take advantage of Florida living and grill up some good eats for you and your family to enjoy! Here are some tips to help take your grilling to the next level!
- Choosing a Grill: Grills come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and price points these days. Choose something that works for you and your family. A gas grill can sometimes be more convenient and less messy in terms of lighting and maintenance, but charcoal enthusiasts swear by the flavor that coal produces. Get recommendations from your family, friends, and neighbors, and be sure to do your own research before investing in any grill.
- Basic Equipment: Just like cooking indoors, you'll need tools for your grill as well! Long-handled tongs, forks, spatulas, and brushes are often helpful when cooking on a grill. Be sure you also have heat-resistant mitts or gloves on hand, too.
- Safety First: Whenever you grill, be sure to keep your lid close in case of flareups, especially those caused by oil or meat drippings. It is safer to cut off the oxygen that fuels flames than to use water, which could potentially spread the flames instead of eliminating them. A small fire extinguisher is also recommended in case of emergencies.
- Food Safety: The rules of food safety still apply, too! Be sure to keep tools, cutting boards, or platters that touch raw meat separate from those that are for cooked meat or produce in order to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
- Keep It Clean: The easiest way to clean your grill grate is while it's hot. Lots people do this while the grill heats in preparation of food. You could also do this after your food comes off the grill and before you extinguish the flame or allow the coals to cool. For many years, a wire-bristled brush was the tool of choice to scrub charred food remnants from the grate. However, in recent years, experts are starting to recommend other tools, as there are an alarming number of cases surfacing in which people have either found wire bristles in their food before consumption, or have actually swallowed bristles without realizing their presence. An alternative method to using a traditional wire brush would be to tightly crumple a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil into a ball (the size of an orange or grapefruit) and use tongs to scrub the foil ball across the grate, removing food particles without depositing bristles.
- Oil Up: A great way to prevent food from sticking to the grill in the first place is to make sure that you oil the grate before firing up the grill. Use a long handled brush dipped in oil, or you can even dip a small wad of paper towels in some oil and use tongs to gently lube up the grate. There are also many commercial aerosol oil sprays available for grilling - just remember to spray the grate before you turn on the grill!
- Prep Smart: Unlike cooking indoors, you can't really stop the cooking process in grill to start a side dish or a sauce. Be sure to prep your tools and food in advance so that everything is ready to go once you fire up that grill!
- Temperature and Grilling: There are two ways you can use heat with a grill, direct heat (cooking food right over the hottest part of the grill) and indirect heat (cooking food on cooler areas of the grill, and allowing the lower heat to gently cook it). As a good rule of thumb, anything that can be cooked in 20-30 minutes or less should be cooked over direct heat, like steaks, burgers, or seafood. Anything that takes longer than 20-30 minutes should be cooked low and slow over indirect heat, like ribs, whole poultry, or large cuts of meat like roasts. You can set up heat zones within your grill to control the heat and know where to place food for best results and even cooking. On a gas grill, keep one burner higher and one lower, and in a charcoal grill, simply pile the coals higher in the area you want more heat (most people keep the coal piled in the center, but you could use the left or right side of the grill as well).
- Add Smoke: Adding smoke via hardwood chips, pieces, planks or logs can bring an entirely new dimension of flavor to your grilled food. Hickory and oak are great choices for almost any dish; apple wood is great with pork and seafood; mesquite is a powerful flavor and should be used wisely. Soak your wood chips for at least an hour before adding them to the grill. Make sure your chips/chunks/pieces are food grade, meant for smoking, and not lumber wood or scraps, which can produce toxic fumes when burned due to chemicals used to treat lumber. For charcoal grills, simply add them in directly with the coals. For a gas grill, wrap the chips in an aluminum foil packet, or use an aluminum baking pan tightly wrapped with foil. Be sure to ventilate the foil pack or foil over the pan with a few holes so the smoke can escape and flavor the food.
- Catch Your Drips: Whenever cooking meat or anything marinated in oil or fat directly over the flames, be sure to use a drip pan. This will catch the oil or fat drippings and prevent dreaded flareups that cause uneven cooking, or worse - fire hazards.
- Use a Grill Pan: I know, I know - I said no pots or pans to wash before! But if you're cooking a delicate fish, or chopped veggies that could fall through the grate, sometimes it's best to utilize a grill pan or wire basket. These tools are ventilated in order to get you that great grilled flavor, but they will also keep food from falling into the flames. If you're really averse to the extra cleanup, try cooking food in foil pouches, too!
- Kebabs 101: Skewering small pieces of meat and veggies is also a popular method of preparing food for the grill. Be sure to keep the size of your food uniform for even cooking. If you're using wooden skewers, be sure to soak them for at least an hour before using to prevent them from charring in the heat. Or, soak a large batch and freeze them in a plastic bag, and pull them out for use as needed. Metal skewers are also widely available for purchase, and are reusable. When you thread your skewers, be sure that the pieces touch, but aren't overcrowded.
- Stop Lifting the Lid: That's right, step back from that grill! It may be tempting to check your food frequently, but for best results, you don't want to lift that lid unless you have to. Otherwise, your heat (and smoke, if you're using it) escapes, resulting in lackluster flavor and uneven cooking. Aim to turn your food over only once or twice, if possible.
- Know When to Sauce: Another rookie move is to apply your sauce to food too soon. Sauces should be applied to food in the final 20-30 minutes of cooking. Sauces a higher sugar content, like barbecue or tomato based sauces can burn more easily, so it's best if they're applied towards the end of the cook time. Glazes, like melted jams or preserves, are especially sensitive to heat and should be applied either just before or just after food is removed from the grill.
- Take a Nap: Just as when meat is prepared on a stove or in an oven, grilled meat should rest before being sliced and served in order to keep it moist and juicy. Smaller pieces like steaks, burgers, and chops can rest for a few minutes, while larger cuts like roasts should rest longer - between 15 minutes to half an hour or more depending on the size.
We at The Hardy Team hope you love to cook outdoors as much as we do, and we hope these tips help enhance your grilling experience. If you're looking for a new location in which to park your grill, we can certainly help with that as well! Call us at 352-688-3300 or email [email protected] to speak with us about your real estate needs today!