in: Featured, Food & Drink, Living

• Last updated: July 10, 2023

The Art of Summer Grilling

Illustration of friends get together while grilling in the Backyard.

When it comes to grilling, you will probably hear different recommendations from each person you talk to. Some will tell you to use a gas grill only; others will tell you that the briquette is the only way to go. Some grill with wood chips; others use smokers. One thing we tend to agree on though, is that fire makes a piece of meat taste so much better than an oven or microwave can.

Grilling takes a lot of finesse. You usually won’t get it right the first time you try. It is a process, one you will always be trying to perfect. Two main types comprise the “right way” of grilling. Charcoal (bricks or briquettes) and wood (hickory or other choice wood). I am not covering gas grilling, as I am of the school of thought that frowns upon gas grills. I am most experienced with briquettes, so this will be the method discussed here. Below are some tips on how to use briquettes and on grilling artistry in general.

Clean the grill. If the grill has been used recently, the process begins with clearing excess ash from the bottom of the grill. This will allow better air flow. Also, if the grills themselves look like they have a bunch of gunk on them from previous cooking, run them under some hot water and scrub them down with some steel wool.

Stack the briquettes. The next step is to put the briquettes on the grill. Note that there are two racks. The smaller one is at the bottom of the grill, and holds the coals. The top one holds the food. Some grills, like mine, have a smaller veggie rack that connects to the lid and sits above the main grill. The various grill racks should be apparent. The ideal amount of briquettes will cover the entire surface of the bottom grill in one layer. Some overlap is okay. Once you have enough coals on the grill, you need to stack  more on top of this foundation. Make sure the vents are open on the bottom of the grill.

Stacking the coals is an art. One wants to maximize the heat channeling through the stack in order to get an even light. You want to build a tall pyramid in the center of the grill. This will maximize efficiency. Next, you douse the coals with lighter fluid. Some men, myself included, enjoy watching the initial burst of fire upon lighting the coals, so we coat them especially well with the lighter fluid. The idea of the fluid is to encourage an even light around the base of your pyramid. Make sure you squirt some of the fluid inside the pyramid. This helps get the most flame onto the coals.

Light ‘er up! Once you have put in the desired amount of lighter fluid, it is time to light it. Keep in mind you are building a fire, so you want to start from the bottom on the opposite side from where you are standing. This keeps you from burning your arm. Light around the base of the pyramid, stand back, and enjoy the fire.

Back in the day, coals took 45 minutes or longer to light. Kingsford, among others, has come up with new ways of making the coals so they light faster and heat more evenly. 25-35 minutes is a reasonable wait for the coals to light. Keep in mind that the flame will burn itself out in moments. This does not mean the coals did not light. The idea of charcoal is to let the embers smolder. If you look at the coals, you should see them turn white as they burn. You may even see a red glow from inside your pyramid. This is good. Once most of the coals are white, it is time to spread them out.

Spread ’em. Spread the coals over the entire surface of the grill. You want an even heat, and no flame-ups if possible. By evenly dispersing the coals, you will get a more even cooking. At this point, it is time to sterilize the top grill. Assuming it has been used at least once, this helps burn off any remaining bacteria from the last grill session. To sterilize the grill, place it over the coals and close the lid. You should allow about 10 minutes for the grill to heat up. Use a grill brush to get rid of excess char from the grill. You are now ready to put the meat/food on.

Throw the meat on. Steaks should be at room temperature before going on the grill. A cold steak will not cook as well as one at room temperature. There are a variety of marinades out there, both wet and dry. I am pretty fond of McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning. I like both the original and the spicy versions. I have been adding a basic Cajun seasoning as an alternative lately, and have been pretty pleased with the results.

Once the meat is on the grill, let it stay there. Different steaks or cuts of meat will require different cooking times, so you should probably look your meat up on the web for a guideline. Constant agitating of the steak will result in a poorly cooked steak. Put the meat on, the lid down, and walk away. Try not to position the meat directly over a flame, but rather over an ember. You want a slow, even cook. If you put the meat over the flames, the flame will char the meat, and the inside won’t cook all the way.

Try to limit flipping the steaks/burgers to no more than two flips. You want as much of the juices to remain in the meat as possible. When grilling burgers, don’t press hamburger patties down. You lose the flavor and dry the meat out.

Let the meat rest. One thing that many people forget to do is let the meat rest once it is cooked. Cutting into it too soon will result in a drier, tougher meat. Let the juices settle back into the meat and you will agree it is worth the wait. A few minutes is sufficient. Keep in mind as well that the meat will continue to cook somewhat once removed from the grill. If you want it medium rare, make sure you allow for some post-grill cooking.

Happy grilling!

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