Cook It Up!
In this final installment of the Grilling Primer, I’ll cover basic methods of cooking on a grill. What you really need to know about your heat source is where it’s located and how hot it is. In other words, direct vs. indirect cooking. First let’s discuss temperature or how hot the fire is.
Many cookbooks give pretty vague instructions regarding temperature when it comes to grilling (of course, not the books that I write!). Words like hot, medium-hot, etc. are most often used in books on outdoor cooking referring to the temperature at the grate. Sometimes you may get actual temperatures, or perhaps you come across the “hand method”. The hand-method refers to the length of time you can hold your hand an inch or two above the cooking grate (count one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, etc.). Here is a comparison of the three methods:
|Heat Level||Temperature||Hand Method|
|Hot||450° F to 500°F||2 seconds or less|
|Medium-Hot||400° F to 450°F||3 to 4 seconds|
|Medium||350° F to 400°F||4 to 5 seconds|
|Medium-Low||300° F to 350°F||6 to 8 seconds|
|Low||Below 300° F||More than 10 seconds|
Side Note: using this chart, you can now convert your outdoor cooking recipes to indoor cooking if for some reason you cannot cook outdoors. Think grill pan or broiler. Boiler you say? Why yes, think of your broiler as an upside down grill!
This leads us to the next question – where does the heat come from?
Direct Heat Cooking
Direct heat cooking is pretty much Grilling 101. You have heat, a grate over the heat, and food on the grate above the heat. Usually the grill is uncovered. This method is great for steaks, cut-up chicken, burgers, hot dogs, fish, vegetables – you get the idea. Basic backyard grilling — WOO HOO!
Indirect Heat Cooking
This method of cooking opens up a world you may have yet discover when cooking outdoors. When cooking on a grill with indirect heat, the heat source, be it gas or charcoal, is off to the side and not directly under the food. When you do this and close the grill cover, you are in a sense creating an oven. This allows for longer and slower cooking. Meats, such as roasts, benefit greatly with this type of cooking. They are allowed to cook through before the outside turns to cinder. Additionally, indirect cooking allows you to bake on your grill. Did someone say grilled cookies?
To accomplish indirect cooking with a gas grill is fairly simple; light the grill leaving one burner turned off. Put the food on the grate above the unlit burner. Controlling temperature is a matter of turning the knobs to the desired level of heat.
For a charcoal grill, it is almost just as simple. After you have lit your charcoal, instead of spreading the coals out in a single layer, divide them in half and pile on opposite sides of the grill (you will want about 20 to 25 briquettes in each pile). If you love accessories (and I know you do if you love to grill), get yourself some charcoal baskets. Place a large drip pan (a foil baking pan) in the center of the two piles of coals, and put the cooking grate in place. You are going to cook your food in the center of the grate over the drip pan. Temperature control is handled by opening and closing the vents on the grill… the more oxygen that the coals get, the hotter they will burn.
The tricky part about indirect cooking on a charcoal grill is adding more fuel. If you are going to be cooking something longer than 50 to 60 minutes, you’ll need to add more smoldering coals. As I mentioned in part 2, Fuel & Fire, the best way to accomplish this is with a chimney starter. The part of this that gets tricky is getting the lit charcoal onto the piles of dying charcoal. The pain-in-the-ass way to this is to remove the food and the grate then add to the piles of charcoal. That’s okay once in awhile. The easiest way to do this is with a hinged grate to let you access the coals. If you use a kettle grill, Weber makes just this type of grate.
And there you have it! You are now armed with the basic knowledge to get you cooking outdoors. Don’t be intimidated by outdoor cooking. After all, what other type of cooking requires you to have something delicious to drink while you cook?
If you have enjoyed this Grilling Primer, please leave a comment and pass it on to a friend. Thanks!