The grill or fire pit has held an important place in virtually every country and culture throughout history. Although we often use the terms “grilling” and “barbecuing” interchangeably, there is a difference! Barbecuing involves cooking foods slowly at a low temperature using indirect heat. Often, barbecue is cooked in a smoker or fire pit. This method provides a delicious, smoky flavor and exceptional tenderness, but it takes time — from a few hours to all day. Barbecuing works best for large cuts of meat or turkeys and for tougher cuts like brisket or spareribs that benefit from long slow cooking.
Charcoal grills provide a more distinctive flavor and backyard aroma and it’s easy to combine wood chips or other natural ingredients with the coals for additional flavor. However, charcoal is messy and sometimes difficult to ignite and, once lit, it takes a little while to reach the desired temperature. (Hint: To avoid lighter fluid, try using a starter cone or chimney starter.) Gas grills ignite easily and maintain an even temperature from start to finish, but they are more expensive than charcoal grills, they do not provide a smoky flavor and they are not suited for burning wood chips. To cook indirectly on a gas grill, leave one burner off and place the meat on the grate directly over the cool burner. For a charcoal grill, pile all the coals along the sides of the grill and place the food in the center, away from the hot coals. Place a metal drip pan beneath the grate where the food will sit, to collect juices as it cooks.
Tips for Prepping and Heating the Grill
- Clean your grill, especially the rack, before each use.
- Oil the rack prior to heating to prevent food from sticking.
- The area of the fire needs to be wider than the area of the food you’re grilling. If you are cooking a variety of items using charcoal, pile coals at different levels to achieve the right level of heat for each item.
- Preheat your charcoal grill and don’t skimp on the charcoal. Light the coals at least 30 minutes before you plan to begin cooking. Do not put foods on the grill until the fire dies down to glowing coals.
- Even gas grills need to preheat. Turn on the flame at least 15 minutes before putting food over the fire.
Grilling Beef & Pork
The appropriate heat level and cooking time are crucial for grilling meat that is tender and juicy. Each type of cut has its own rules:
- Use direct heat for sausages, chops, steaks and hamburgers and indirect heat for roasts and larger cuts of meat.
- Slash the edges of steaks and chops on the diagonal, about ¼ inch into the center to prevent the edges from curling.
- Resist the urge to squeeze or press down on your meat! This will result in a tougher, less juicy cut.
- Steaks like filet mignon, rib eye, top sirloin and New York strip are naturally tender and need nothing more than a seasoning rub or a bit of salt and pepper.
- Pork needs a marinade or a rub before being placed on the grill.
- Pork spare ribs and baby back ribs can be pre-baked and then grilled to achieve a smoky flavor.
- Start sausage on high heat to get a grill marks on the outside, then move it to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking.
Whether you choose chicken, duck, turkey or game hen, using a dry rub or marinade will maximize flavor. Once you’ve selected your specific poultry and seasoning method, prep the grill and cook accordingly:
- Thin pieces of poultry can be cooked over direct heat; larger pieces of chicken should be cooked over indirect heat.
- Cook whole and butterflied poultry breast-side down.
- Place a drip pan under a whole chicken and turkey breast to catch juices.
Quick-cooking seafood is a great choice for grilling on a busy weeknight. When grilling seafood take extra care not to overcook it. When it comes to seasoning, it’s best to select lighter marinades and seasonings that do not mask the delicate flavor of seafood.
- Oil fish well with a neutral-flavored oil such as canola to help keep it moist.
- Fish cooks quickly using the direct heat method. Remove it from the grill as soon as it’s done; it will continue to cook once it has been removed from the fire.
- Once you put the fish on the grill, don’t touch it until a crust forms on the outside, which will allow the fish to naturally pull away from the grates. Once the crust has formed, it can be turned over without sticking or falling apart.
- Thin pieces of fish can be wrapped in foil, so they do not fall apart or use an oiled grill basket or skewers for shrimp and scallops.
- Firm fish, such as swordfish, are ideal for cooking on the grill.
- Placing fish on cedar planks when grilling imparts a subtle wood flavor. (Try different woods for slightly different flavors!) Soak the plank in water for at least an hour prior to grilling to prevent it from catching on fire. Most fish fillets will cook on a plank, without turning, in about 20 minutes.
- Fish is naturally tender and should not sit in an acid-based marinade (like lemon juice) for longer than 20 minutes, or it will start to “cook” the fish, turning it mushy.
- Shrimp should be marinated (with or without the shells) or brushed lightly with oil.
- Cook shrimp until it turns pink and opaque, about 5-7 minutes. Turn it halfway through cooking. Take care not to overcook or it will become tough.
Grilling Veggies and Fruits
Grilling intensifies the natural sweetness and flavor of most veggies and fruits. To achieve good results:
- Use a light brushing of oil on vegetables and fruits to prevent sticking. A grilling basket or foil packets lightly coated with oil can also be helpful.
- Leave the husks on corn to act as a natural insulator, keeping the steam in and preventing the corn from drying out.
- Some veggies (including artichokes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, carrots, parsnips, potatoes and winter squash) can be pre-cooked to shorten grilling time and ensure that the inside and outside cook evenly.
- Veggies like eggplant, fennel, onions, mushrooms, peppers, sweet potatoes, summer squash and tomatoes should be raw when placed on the grill.
- Watermelon, pineapple, apples, peaches and pears can all take the heat. Soak them in liquor or drizzle with honey before grilling for added flavor.
- Meaty portabella mushrooms are a great burger substitute; while button mushrooms make for tasty kabobs.
- Cook all fruits and vegetables directly over moderately hot coals or use the indirect heat method. Rotate or move them to a cooler part of the grill during cooking as necessary to ensure that the outside doesn’t cook too quickly.
Quick Homemade Barbecue Sauce
Makes about 2 cups
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can No-Salt-Added Diced Tomatoes
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 4 tablespoons onion, minced
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Put all ingredients into a small saucepan, cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Carefully transfer to a blender and process, adding a few tablespoons of water as needed to make a smooth purée. Set aside to let cool, cover and chill until ready to serve. Reheat, if desired.
Grilled Chicken with Homemade Barbecue Sauce
Serve with coleslaw.
- 6 chicken legs with thighs attached or small bone-in breast halves (3 3/4 lbs. total)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Homemade barbecue sauce, recipe above
Coat chicken with the oil.
Build a charcoal or heat a gas grill to medium (350°F to 450°F); you can hold your hand 5 inches above the cooking grate only 5 to 7 seconds.
Grill chicken until browned all over, about 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Generously brush with some of the barbecue sauce and cook a few minutes; repeat turning and brushing 2 more times, until chicken is well-browned and cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes total.
Barbecued Beef Ribs
Serve with Potato Salad and Sliced Tomatoes.
- Rack of 6 beef ribs, at room temperature
- Homemade Barbecue Sauce, recipe above
Light a grill. Cut in between the bones to separate the rack into individual ribs. Grill the ribs over moderate heat, turning, until crusty and sizzling, about 10 minutes. Brush generously with the barbecue sauce and grill, turning, until deeply glazed, about 5 minutes longer. Serve the ribs, passing extra sauce on the side.
Grilled Lamb Chops with Roasted Garlic
Serve with a Cannellini Bean Salad.
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 4 thyme sprigs
- 1 garlic clove, minced, plus 2 heads of garlic, halved crosswise
- 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 lemon, sliced
- 8 lamb loin chops
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large, shallow dish, combine the 1/4 cup of olive oil with the thyme, minced garlic, rosemary and oregano. Add the lamb chops and turn to coat with the marinade. Refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Set the halved heads of garlic cut side up on a large sheet of foil and drizzle with oil. Wrap the garlic in the foil and roast for 1 hour.
Light a grill. Remove the chops from the marinade; discard the herbs and scrape off the garlic. Season the chops with salt and pepper and grill over moderate heat until lightly charred and medium-rare, 5 minutes per side. Grill the lemon slices until light grill marks appear. Serve the chops with the roasted garlic and lemon slices.
Grilled Swordfish with Tangy Onions & Fennel
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
- 4 red onions (1 1/2 pounds), thinly sliced
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 small fennel bulbs, cut through the cores into 3/4-inch-thick wedges
- Four 6-ounce swordfish steaks, about 3/4 inch thick
In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderate heat until lightly golden, about 4 minutes.
In a large, deep skillet, heat the 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened and light golden, about 15 minutes. Add the wine, vinegar, sugar and bay leaf and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard the bay leaf and keep the onions warm.
Meanwhile, preheat a grill. Brush the fennel wedges with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the fennel over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until crisp-tender and lightly charred, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Brush the swordfish steaks with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the fish over moderately high heat until browned on the outside and just white throughout, about 3 minutes per side. Spoon the onions onto a serving plate and arrange the swordfish steaks and fennel on top. Scatter the capers and pine nuts over the fish.
Grilled Sausage and Pepper Salad
- 4 fresh pork or turkey Italian sausages
- 1/2 white onion, cut into thick rings
- 1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
- 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- 3 jarred fire roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
- Italian vinaigrette, recipe below
Preheat a grill to medium-high heat. Grill sausages and onion, turning occasionally, until onion is tender, 8 to 10 minutes, and sausages are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.
When cool enough to handle, slice sausages thickly on the bias and cut onion into chunks. Toss romaine, feta and red peppers in a large bowl. Drizzle with the Italian Vinaigrette. Spoon romaine mixture onto plates and top with sausages and onion.
- 1 tablespoon dried Italian mixed herbs
- 3 cloves garlic, pressed
- 1 tablespoon prepared Dijon mustard
- 3 teaspoons honey
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup olive oil
Whisk all ingredients together, drizzling olive oil in at end, a little at a time.
Yields: 3/4 cup
- Tips for grilling out safely (rockrivertimes.com)