Random Access Memories

March 14, 2012

How to grill the right way.

by @ 10:48 pm. Filed under Outdoors, Personal

I’ve been grilling for 20 years or so, but the other day my landlady came by while I was grilling and was amazed that I could get a fire hot enough to grill on in the middle of the Seattle winter, in the rain no less.

I suddenly realized that I had a completely different view on grilling than most people do. And that my methods and tools are probably totally unique.

So, I’m going to post them here in the hope it helps someone else improve their grilling.

#1 The Fire must be HOT.

I’m not talking “normal grill hot” I mean HOT as in “OMG THAT’S HOT!” kind of hot. The hotter the better, I would grill on a steel forge if I could. If you’re worried that your grill is going to melt it’s just about right. (I have literally melted a grill thermometer because my fire was hotter than the probe could take) The meat should be barely above the coals as well, unfortunately this is difficult to accomplish on most grills. This is why I use a Smokey Joe grill.

It works fine for me and my girlfriend, a larger family should go with a larger Weber grill, but get a different size grill surface so that the meat is closer to the coals, The hotter the fire the better the resulting piece of meat will be.

If you’re thinking “That’s going to turn my food into charcoal!” you’re right, but only if you cook by time, not by temperature. Which is why you need a good grilling thermometer. If you’re cooking the center of your steak over 120f or so you are overcooking it. A good steak should only be on the grill for a max of 2 minutes per side, if you’re leaving a steak on a grill for 5+ minutes your fire needs to be hotter.

If you don’t believe me try cooking over the coals from a big campfire sometime, you’ll never go back.

#2 Use REAL charcoal.

You’re probably thinking “huh? Kingston is charcoal!”, no, I mean real true charcoal that actually looks like pieces of wood. You can probably find it at your local grocery store but it is going to be more expensive, your best bet is to try a restaurant supply store and buy it in 50lb bags. I use about 2/3 real charcoal under 1/3 briquets, this keeps the fire hotter longer. It also provides better flavor. On top of that real charcoal does not burn down as easily as briquets do. (I have had real pieces of charcoal that started out the size of a baseball go through my grill 3-4 times.)

#3 You need more charcoal than you think you do.

On my little Smokey Joe I fill a Weber charcoal chimney all the way up and light it, then pour the whole thing into the grill, likely it’s far more than the makers of the grill ever expected, but you want to cook over heat, not half-cold charcoal. The larger the amount the more heat it holds. This isn’t wasted however since after you are done you close the vents on the grill and 2/3 of the charcoal cools off and is ready to re-use next time.

If I had to use a larger grill I would probably use 2 chimneys, chances are you would end up with more than one chimney worth of leftover coals once you’re done.

#4 Let the meat warm up to room temperature first.

Let the fat warm up, it will cook better. It won’t kill you to let the meat sit on the counter for 4 hours, when you cook to temperature there will be nothing left to make you sick in chicken or poultry.

#5 You are probably overcooking your meat.

What temperature is suggested for different foods? I go by this list:

Beef Steak or Roast can be safely eaten raw, but I suggest 120f. (This also includes meat you ground yourself at home)
Poultry 165f (This also includes home-ground poultry)
Pork (Not ground) 150f
Ground Beef 155f (Due to not knowing what parts are included in store-ground meat)
Ground Pork 160f
Ground Turkey or Chicken 170f

The USDA has recently reduced it’s recommended temperatures for most of those foods, but most grilling thermometers suggest temperatures 10-20f higher than those temperatures for legal reasons. Get a good thermometer that you can set your desired temp on and use it.

#6 Get a bellows.

A what? Oh, a crazy thing you squeeze to blow on a fire? Well, yes, but there are newer versions. I use a battery-powered pump for a rubber raft that I picked up for 10$. I blow it on the coals between the batches of meat on my little grill to bring the fire back to life. You won’t regret it. Just be careful you don’t get a face full of ashes.

#7 Other general suggestions.

What else do I suggest?

Fire handlers gloves. (Heavy leather insulated gloves, they make grill work much easier. You can grab a hot grill surface, clean up hot coals, etc. without concern)
A good set of long stainless tongs. (If you grill as hot as I do simple kitchen tongs will NOT work, you’ll burn the hair off your hands, get a long 2′ set)
A wide jar full of bacon grease or cooking oil if you use a chimney starter. (Huh? Yep, spread some bacon grease on your newspaper and you have a candle under the charcoal, it lights faster especially in cold or damp weather)
Get a chimney starter if you’re not using one. (Nobody wants to eat food that tastes like lighter fluid)

Good luck, and keep your fire hot. 🙂

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