This is the time of year that apartment dwellers from Minneapolis to Phoenix migrate to their community grills and cookout spots, armed with shiny new cooking tools and good intentions. Unfortunately, for far too many beginning (and “experienced”) outdoor chefs, attempting to grill a steak results in a final product that looks and tastes more like the charcoal briquettes used to cook it than a delicious meal. If you haven’t inherited your ancient ancestor’s knack for searing meat over an open flame but still want to learn how to grill like you were born doing it, read on!
Gear up and grill!
Starting with high-grade grilling equipment can have a dramatic effect on your food’s final outcome, and the grills in apartment communities such as Elan Midtown in Charleston, SC, and The Retreat at Windermere in Windermere, FL, are perfect for learning the ropes.
Grills come in two primary flavors: charcoal and gas. Despite what the fanboys say, neither type cooks meat better or worse than the other, but both offer some distinct advantages.
Gas grills, for instance, start quickly and heat up significantly faster than charcoal grills. They also provide a consistent temperature range over long periods of time. Charcoal grills, however, infuse meat with a genuine, enhanced smoky flavor that gas simply can’t impart. Smoking meat is also nearly impossible on a propane grill, and charcoal beats gas in a heat contest nearly every time.
One thing is for sure though: Stay away from the lighter fluid. It’s dangerous and can taint food by giving it an odd taste if used improperly. A chimney starter is much easier (and safer!) to use, and allows you to preheat your coals with only a few sheets of newspaper for kindling. Throw out your grilling fork, too, as piercing food while flipping and shuffling it can cause flavorful juices to leak out and cause unfortunate flareups (more on that later). Tongs are a much better choice for handling food on the grill, and you’ll also need a solid spatula specifically designed for grilling burgers and fish filets.
Other vital tools any well-equipped open flame chef should have in their arsenal include a fire extinguisher, instant read thermometer and long-handled basting brush. There always exists a possibility for fire with a grill, and grilling safety should never be taken lightly. A thermometer is vital for ensuring your food has been cooked to a safe temperature, and trying to apply barbecue sauce without a true basting brush is only going to make you angry and the grill messy.
Don’t skimp on food quality.
Just like starting out with poor quality grilling equipment can lead to less than stellar results, you shouldn’t buy steaks and cuts of meat from the supermarket’s bargain-about-to-expire bin and then expect restaurant quality results afterward. Good grilling techniques can mask poor quality meats to a degree, but at the end of the day you just can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. Or a good steak.
Likewise, when grilling vegetables, choose only the freshest organic produce available to ensure the best outcome. And as with meat, seasoning with your favorite spices is a key step to grilling outdoors like a boss.
Avoid common pitfalls and employ these pro tips
One of the most common mistakes that beginners make is putting food on too early, before the grill has had a chance to heat up completely. Allow at least 15 to 20 minutes for everything to get toasty, and avoid improperly cook food. It’s also not commonly known that food continues to cook for several minutes after being removed from the grate. Allow completed food to sit for at least 10 minutes beneath a foil tent to allow juices to distribute completely. Wait until the last minute to add BBQ sauce, because putting it on too early will cause it to burn instead of caramelizing. Finally, avoid the dreaded flareup. Caused by greases and juices dropping onto the coals and igniting, flareups can ruin the flavor of your meat and leave an unpleasant, overly charred surface. Control them with close attention to heat, and tame them with a quick spritz of water from a spray bottle.
Practice good grill safety
Don’t ever forget that you’re dealing directly with open flames when you grill. Never leave your grill unattended while it’s on, and be sure to keep children and pets at a safe distance while it’s in use. Propane pipe fittings, hoses, and tanks can become damaged. If you notice any problems, stop using the grill and report the issue immediately to the community staff. Remember , never leave a fire unattended and do not leave until the fire is completely out. Keep flammable materials away from the fire, including potholders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, towels, etc. Roll up any loose-fitting or long sleeves. Coals also need to be completely cool before disposal, and it’s a good idea to cover the grill to prevent excessive rust buildup.
After the flames die down
Closing that stainless-steel hood after an evening of fun doesn’t make the mess underneath go away, no matter how much you wish it does. It’s essential to fight through the food coma and take care of your grilling tackle to get the most out of it. Thankfully, grill maintenance doesn’t have to be rocket science. Simply turning the heat up to the highest setting for 15 minutes will char most of what’s sticking to the surface, which makes it easy to scrape off residue with a bristle brush.
With a propane grill, just turn it off and close the tank valve. For charcoal users, you will occasionally need to thoroughly clean the ashes out of the bottom. Regardless of your grill type, you’ll want to coat the grate with a light surface of cooking oil, taking care to not let it drop on the coals. This will prevent rust, as well as adding an extra bit of flavor the next time you grill.
Get out there and fire ’em up!
Ultimately, no amount of reading can replace personal experience. Don’t ever be afraid to try new techniques and grilling strategies! Hopefully, these outdoor grilling tips have given you a better understanding of how to properly utilize a gas or charcoal grill, and you can now light that fire without causing a dinner disaster at your next community gathering or family event.