I’m always thinking about cooking. So when I lived up north and the snow of the winter began to melt just enough to get around in my back yard, all I could think about was how much longer I’d have to wait before firing up my outdoor grill.
There are so many different kinds of outdoor cookers these days. From your run-of-the-mill gas and charcoal grills and giant smokers to the Big Green Egg, which boasts unparalleled versatility but at a serious cost (about $300 for the smallest, which won’t allow you cook more than 2-4 burgers at a time).
If you ask me, you don’t need anything fancy to whip up tasty barbecue. Yes, there is specialized outdoor cookware that will help make cooking certain items easier. But with the right mindset, you can take almost any reasonably-priced charcoal grill and produce a number of flavorful dishes.
My weapon of choice for many years has been my trusty 22-inch Weber charcoal grill. Under $100, this piece of cookware has allowed me to both grill and smoke a variety of proteins, imparting that distinct charcoal and wood flavor that is so closely associated with the summertime. Maintenance is easy, and with these tips, so is producing culinary masterpieces without breaking the bank.
In honor of Grilling Week on the blog, I share with you my:
3 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your
Grilling Over Direct Heat
When you’re grilling items like thin chicken breasts, burgers or pork chops, grilling over direct heat will give you the opportunity to sear your protein, which will help lock in all of its juices. Those grill marks and the slight crust we all look for on our grilled food form when your food sits directly over the fire of the coals. Laying your burning coals in an even layer is key in creating a consistently-heated cooking surface. This will maximize your grilling area, enabling you to cook more food at once and in an even manner.
Indirect Heat Grilling
Larger cuts of protein like thick steaks, pork loins and half chickens benefit from grilling over indirect heat. By spreading your heated coals evenly across only half of your grill, you create two cooking areas — one fueled by direct heat and another fueled by indirect heat. This enables you to sear your larger cuts before moving your protein away from the coals. In turn, your food finishes cooking more gently, preventing the outside of your protein from burning before the inside comes up to temperature.
Perhaps the most distinct taste, the use of wood chips soaked for at least an hour (depending on how large they are) will take any food you grill to another level. With a large variety of wood chips to choose from (hickory, cherry, applewood and mesquite, to name a few), the directions of flavor in which you can take your food are endless. The key here is soaking your chips long enough so that they do not burn out before your food finishes cooking. I tend to double the recommended soaking time and lay a hefty amount of wet chips directly onto my heated coals, creating a healthy layered bed across the grill. This will instantly produce billows of wanted smoke that will ultimately make its way into your food.
Placing the lid on the grill once your wood chips and food have been positioned is mandatory. From here, you can use the vents on your grill to moderate how much air enters the grill itself, in turn, moderating the temperature. Target temperature for smoking on a charcoal grill is between 225-275 degrees. If you notice the grill getting too hot, close some of the vents. If the grill’s temperature is dropping too much, open the vents. The oxygen will reignite the coals, adding additional necessary heat to the cooking area.
When I first began pushing the limits of my Weber grill, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I just went with my instincts. After multiple successes with the methods outlined above, I realized the true value of outdoor cookware lies not in what the product might say it can do but how creative you get when using it.
These simple techniques which allow you to grill over direct heat, indirect heat and with wood chips for a smokey flavor are all you need to turn your $100 grill into something worth more than you could ever expect. Remembering these tips and using them next time you decide to do a little outdoor cooking will take the grilled dishes you make to new heights and will give you another reason to crave that warmer weather every year to come!