One of the wonderful things about living in Southern California is the ability to grill outdoors year-round. However, since Memorial Day is the start of grilling season in the rest of the country, I thought I would kick off the season with a four-part primer on grilling: The Grill, Fuel & Fire, Cool Tools, and Cooking Methods.
The good news is you don’t need a fancy stainless steel gas grill that launches rockets. I have developed and written over 500 grilling recipes and all were cooked on a single-burner portable gas grill (I love my Weber-Q!) or a kettle-style charcoal grill (a 22.5-inch Weber kettle) on my apartment balcony. (insert cheesy grilling demo pic)
Choosing a Grill
What you need to know: It needs to get hot! That said, there are essentially two types of grills: gas and charcoal; and like anything, they both have pros and cons and as I stated, I have both and use each for different cooking methods.
Gas grills are definitely the most convenient… you turn on the gas, light it, select your temperature, and start cooking. They come as simple as having a single heating element to having three or more separate burners so you can have controlled heat zones while you cook. There are, of course, a lot of bells and whistles available with gas grills including side burners and rotisseries. It is also much easier to control and adjust the temperature when cooking with gas – just turn the knob.
Gas grills are usually large, and for the most part stationary, although some manufacturers are starting to introduce efficient portable models. When buying a gas grill the most important thing to remember is to buy the grill you can afford that will get the hottest. A general rule to remember is that the amount of BTUs (British Thermal Units) a grill should have is about 100 BTUs per square inch (95- to 115-BTUs). In other words, if your grill has 350 square inches of cooking surface, it should be putting out at least 35,000 BTUs. If it doesn’t get hot enough, you won’t achieve that wonderful sear on your food that is the hallmark of great grilled food.
Some would argue that charcoal grilling is grilling at it most primal level and the only way to grill. Technologically speaking, they are pretty much the same as they were 30 years ago. However, covered charcoal grills can be even more versatile than some gas grills. Look for the grill that has the largest cooking surface that you safely have room for (don’t squeeze it onto the balcony of your apartment like I have).
Before buying a charcoal grill, know what kind of cooking you want to do. Do you just want to cook a couple steaks and chicken breasts once in a while? Will you want to cook a whole chicken over indirect heat? Smoke ribs? If you want to cook a beer can chicken, you need a grill with a cover tall enough for the chicken to stand on the can.
There are basically three different varieties to choose from beyond a few bricks and a wire grate.
Hibachis are small, coverless grills that are ideal if you want to cook a couple of skewers or maybe a couple of steaks for you and a friend. They are usually made of cast-iron and have one to three adjustable grates.
Braziers are the charcoal grill that we all grew up with. Basically a pan for the charcoal with a grilling grate set up on wobbly aluminum legs that could collapse at anytime. Now that that you have the picture, there are sturdier models out there and many have features such as adjustable grates for temperature control. Braziers are usually, light-weight, portable, and come in many shapes and sizes.
Kettles are usually larger, and therefore, not so portable grills with dome-shaped covers. Because of there unique shape they are the most efficient of the charcoal grills when covered. The domed cover helps to circulate and concentrate the heat allowing food to cook more quickly when the grill is covered. A kettle grill will allow for the most cooking and smoking methods.
Now that you’re set up with the information you need to purchase your new grill, in the next installment we’ll cover Fuel & Fire.