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  • Mary Schroeder / Detroit Free Press

    When grilling hamburgers the internal temperature should register at least 160 degrees F.

  • Bill Hogan / Chicago Tribune

    Bodacious barbecue chicken breasts coated in sauce with a few charred and chewy edges make for a delicious grilled fare.

  • Patricia Beck / Detroit Free Press

    Whether grilling spicy garlic chicken leg quarters, shown above, or lemon and curry chicken breasts remember to oil the grill grates first.

  • Marice Cohn Band / Miami Herald

    Warm potato-tomato salad with Dijon vinaigrette. Potato salad is a summer tradition for barbecues or picnics.

  • Sasquatch Books / Sasquatch Books

    “Cleanup is minimal and it’s a fast way to prepare food,” says author Dina Guillen of grilling meals.

  • Rina Jordan / Sasquatch Books

    Fig and fennel glazed salmon is one of 75 recipes from “Plank Grilling,” a cookbook by Dina Guillen of Folsom.

  • Bill Hogan / Chicago Tribune

    Chicken-sweet potato kebabs, adapted from “The Southern Tailgating Cookbook.” Marinate the chicken and vegetables in separate zip-close plastic bags overnight. Grilling time the next day is 12 to 15 minutes.

  • Susan Tusa / Detroit Free Press

    Shrimp and lobster tail brushed with chive butter cooks on the grill. Grill the shrimp for 2 or 3 minutes on each side, or just until the shrimp turns pink.

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  • Time for a grillin’

    How’s your BQ (barbecue quotient)?

    1. How many calories and fat grams are in a 4 oz. hamburger?

    a. 1,000 calories, 65 fat grams

    b. 698 calories, 43 fat grams

    c. 333 calories, 21 fat grams

    d. 151 calories, 12 fat grams

    2. How many of each in a hot dog?

    a. 127 calories, 135 fat grams

    b. 91 calories, 86 fat grams

    c. 62 calories, 60 fat grams

    d. 115 calories, 9 fat grams

    3. What’s the federal government standard for the contents of a hot dog?

    a. 85 percent meat

    b. 60 percent meat

    c. 25 percent meat

    d. Real meat products not required

    4. Can browned meat still contain dangerous bacteria, such as E. coli?

    a. Yes

    b. No

    c. Brown meat cannot contain E. coli.

    d. It can contain E. boli, not coli.

    5. What temperature should steak reach to be safe?

    a. 195-210 degrees

    b. 175-190 degrees

    c. 145-170 degrees

    d. 70-80 degrees

    6. What’s the safe temperature for cooked poultry?

    a. 220-230 degrees

    b. 185-200 degrees

    c. 165-180 degrees

    d. 120-140 degrees

    7. In what year did gas grills first start outselling charcoal grills?

    a. 1975

    b. 2002

    c. 1995

    d. 2012

    Sources: Edison Electric Institute; U.S. Department of Agriculture; Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association

    Answers

    1. c. Hamburgers have 333 calories, 21 fat grams.

    2. d. Hot dogs have 115 calories, 9 fat grams.

    3. a. 85 percent meat. Hot dogs can be up to 5 percent spices, 10 percent water.

    4. a. Yes, check its temperature with a meat thermometer.

    5. c. 145-170 degrees

    6. b. 185-200 degrees

    7. c. In 1995, 5,800,878 gas grills were sold vs. 5,321,924 charcoal grills. Gas grills have continued to outsell charcoal grills each year since. Last year, 8,053,000 gas grills were sold vs. 5,590,000 charcoal grills.

  • Baby back ribs

    Prep time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

    Cook time: 60 minutes

    Serves 4

    Note: Cook time does not include the 10 minutes stand time after ribs are removed from grill.

    Here’s how we’ll do this, and it’s not going to be cost-prohibitive. Of course, you’ll need a grill and charcoal.

    Ask the butcher for two racks of baby backs, peeled and split. This means the membranes on the backs of the 13-rib racks will be removed and the racks will be cut in half for easier handling on the grill. You decide on the side dishes.

    You can simply salt and pepper the ribs and concoct your own sauce, or you can buy a jar of rub (a mixture of spices) and a bottle of sauce.

    We like Paul Prudhomme’s Meat Magic (in most supermarkets). As for sauce, we prefer the molasses-based Daddy Sam’s Just Slop It On Sauce (at Corti Bros. Market and some supermarkets).

    Before you fire up the grill, season the ribs with rub (literally rub it into the meat) and let them sit at room temperature for an hour or so.

    In a covered kettle cooker, fire up a bed of coals. After the coals are covered with white ash, close the bottom dampers 75 percent of the way, to take off the excess heat. Remember, the mantra is: low and slow, as in low heat and slow cooking. The danger lies in overcooking and drying out the ribs over a fire that’s too hot.

    Lay the ribs bone-side down on the grill and put on the lid. Cook for 15 minutes, then turn them over. Cook for 15 minutes more, then turn them again. Let them cook for another half-hour or so.

    If you like, put a handful of water-soaked hickory or mesquite chips on the coals during the last 15 minutes of cooking. Also, you can brush the ribs with sauce a few minutes before taking them off – or not. Are they done? Cut one off and look at it. It should be juicy and whitish-pinkish in color.

    Place the ribs on a platter, cover with a sheet of aluminum foil and let them sit for 10 minutes. Serve the barbecue sauce on the side, for dipping.

  • Basic rub

    Prep time: 5 minutes

    Makes 1 cup

    Rubs add flavor to meat. If you use them for small pieces of meat or poultry, you should cook the meat within a couple of hours. Large pieces of meat, like roasts or whole chickens, can be held for 12 to 14 hours before cooking. This basic recipe can be adjusted to suit your own palate.

    INGREDIENTS

    1/4  cup firmly packed brown sugar

    1/4  cup sweet paprika

    3  tablespoons black pepper

    3  tablespoons coarse salt

    1  tablespoon smoked salt

    2  teaspoons garlic powder

    2  teaspoons onion powder

    2  teaspoon celery seeds

    1  teaspoon cayenne pepper

    INSTRUCTIONS

    Combine all ingredients and mix well. Store the rub in an airtight jar. It will stay fresh for about six months. To use the rub, generously rub the mixture over the meat, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for several hours or overnight until you are ready to cook.

    Per tablespoon: 25 cal.; 1 g pro.; 6 g carb.; trace fat; 0 mg chol.; 1,558 mg sod.; 0 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 11 percent calories from fat.

  • Chicken-sweet potato kebabs

    Prep time: 1 hour

    Marinate time: Overnight

    Cook time: 12-15 minutes

    Makes 12 kebabs

    Adapted from “The Southern Tailgating Cookbook” by Taylor Mathis.

    INGREDIENTS

    Chicken:

    2 1/2  tablespoons white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar

    1/2  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

    1  teaspoon Dijon mustard

    1/2  teaspoon salt

    1/4  teaspoon each: coarse ground black pepper, ground sage

    1/4  cup olive oil

    2  pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size cubes

    Vegetables:

    1  each: red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, orange bell pepper

    1  medium onion

    2  pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into bite-size pieces, parboiled, cooled

    1  tablespoon white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar

    1/4  teaspoon each: salt, Dijon mustard, coarse ground black pepper

    1/4  cup olive oil

    INSTRUCTIONS

    For the chicken, whisk the vinegar, Worcestershire, mustard, salt, pepper and sage together in a bowl. Continue whisking while slowly pouring in the olive oil. Add chicken to a large zip-close plastic bag; pour in the marinade. Seal; refrigerate overnight.

    For the vegetables, chop the peppers and onion into bite-size pieces. Add to a large zip-close plastic bag along with the sweet potatoes.

    Whisk the vinegar, salt, mustard and pepper together in a bowl. Continue whisking while drizzling in the olive oil. Pour over the vegetables. Seal; refrigerate overnight.

    The next day, assemble the kebabs at home. (Soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes before using.)

    Alternate pieces of chicken, vegetables and sweet potatoes on 12 skewers. (Discard marinade.)

    Grill skewers over medium-high heat, turning once, until vegetables are softened and the chicken is cooked. 12 to 15 minutes.

    Per serving: 156 calories, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 42 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 16 g protein, 87 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.

  • Carolina grilled shrimp

    Prep time: 20 minutes

    Grill time: 6 minutes

    Makes 4 appetizer servings

    Can there be too many shrimp? This version makes succulent gulfers that have a mild “afterburner” effect. Note: The prep time does not include the 30-minute soak time for the skewers or the 20-minute marinate time.

    INGREDIENTS

    Four 12-inch wooden skewers

    1  pound jumbo raw shrimp (16/20 count)

    2  tablespoons olive oil

    1/4  cup chili sauce

    2  tablespoons fresh lemon juice

    2  tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

    2  garlic cloves, minced

    1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

    INSTRUCTIONS

    Soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes. Peel shrimp; devein if desired. Thread shrimp onto skewers. Place in a 13-by- 9-inch baking dish.

    Whisk together olive oil and next 5 ingredients in a bowl; pour over shrimp. Cover and chill 20 minutes. Remove shrimp from marinade, discarding marinade. Grill shrimp over medium-high heat, covered with grill lid, 2 to 3 minutes on each side or just until shrimp turns pink.

    Per serving: 208 cal.; 24 g pro.; 8 g carb.; 9 g fat (2 sat., 5 monounsat., 2 polyunsat.); 172 mg chol.; 480 mg sod.; 0 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 39 percent calories from fat.

  • Lemongrass and curry chicken breasts with fresh tropical salsa

    Prep time: 30 minutes

    Cook time: 20 minutes

    Serves 4

    Food in Indonesia is often aromatically extravagant because the local cooks generally fry their spices and other seasonings before applying them to meats. That extra step releases essential oils and flavors, which are apparent in this recipe. The tropical salsa makes a nice counterpoint. This recipe is from “Weber’s Art of the Grill.”

    Note: The prep time does not include the refrigeration time for salsa, cool time for sauce or marinating time for chicken.

    INGREDIENTS

    For the salsa:

    3/4  cup finely diced ripe mango

    1/2  cup finely diced ripe papaya

    1/2  cup finely diced red bell pepper

    1/2  cup finely diced seedless cucumber

    1/2  cup finely diced red onion

    1  tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint

    1 to 2 teaspoons minced jalapeno chili, without the seeds

    2  tablespoons fresh lime juice

    1/2  teaspoon kosher salt

    For the chicken:

    2  stalks lemongrass

    1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

    1  tablespoon hot chili sauce

    1  tablespoon curry powder

    2  tablespoons peanut oil, plus more for brushing grate

    1  tablespoon soy sauce

    Juice of 1 lime

    4  boneless chicken breast halves, skin on, 4 or 5 ounces each

    INSTRUCTIONS

    To make the salsa: In a medium bowl, combine the mango, papaya, bell pepper, cucumber, red onion, mint, jalapeno, lime juice and salt. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or as long as 8 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving.

    Cut away and discard any hard, dried parts of the lemongrass. Cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. In a food processor or blender, combine the lemongrass, ginger, chili sauce, curry powder and 2 tablespoons peanut oil. Puree until smooth. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the pureed mixture until the aroma is apparent, about 5 minutes. Mix in the soy sauce, lime juice and 1/4 cup water. Cool to room temperature.

    Put the chicken breasts in a large bowl. Cover with the cooled pureed mixture. Toss to coat thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or as long as 8 hours.

    Lightly brush the cooking grate with peanut oil. Place the chicken breasts, skin side down, over indirect medium heat. Grill, turning once, until the meat is opaque throughout and the juices run clear, 10 to 12 minutes.

    Serve the chicken breasts warm with the tropical salsa.

    Per serving: 313 cal.; 25 g pro.; 14 g carb.; 17 g fat (4 sat., 8 monounsat., 5 polyunsat.); 72 mg chol.; 568 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 50 percent calories from fat.

  • Garlic halibut

    Prep time: 20 minutes

    Cook time: 12 minutes

    Serves 4

    This recipe is from “How To Grill” by Steven Raichlen (Workman). Note: The prep time does not include the marinating time.

    INGREDIENTS

    4  halibut fillets (6 to 8 ounces each)

    For the marinade:

    6  cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

    1  tablespoon peeled, grated ginger

    1  tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves

    1  teaspoon washed, chopped cilantro root or 1 additional tablespoon cilantro leaves

    3  tablespoons sugar

    1/4  cup Asian fish sauce or soy sauce, plus more for brushing

    3  tablespoons sake, Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

    3  tablespoons Asian (dark) sesame oil, plus more for brushing (optional)

    1  teaspoon coarse salt

    1  teaspoon black pepper

    INSTRUCTIONS

    Rinse the fish fillets under cold running water and blot dry with paper towels. Arrange the fillets in a nonreactive baking dish.

    Pound the garlic, ginger, cilantro leaves and root, if using, and sugar to a paste in a mortar with a pestle or puree in a food processor. Work in the fish or soy sauce, sake, sesame oil, salt and pepper. Spoon the marinade on both sides of the fillets. Cover the fish with plastic wrap and let marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour, turning the fillets once or twice.

    Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high. When ready to cook, oil the fish basket, if using, or brush and oil the grill grate. Place the fillets in the basket. If grilling directly on the grill grate, brush or spray the fillets themselves with oil.

    Place the fish or the fish basket on the hot grate. Grill until each side of the fillets is browned and cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes per side. If grilling directly on the grate, brush the tops of the fillets with oil before gently turning them with a spatula. To test for doneness, press a fillet with your finger: It should break into clean flakes when fully cooked.

    Per serving: 296 cal.; 42 g pro.; 6 g carb.; 9 g fat (1 sat., 4 monounsat., 4 polyunsat.); 63 mg chol.; 1093 mg sod.; 0 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 30 percent calories from fat.

  • Santa Maria tri-tip sandwich

    Prep time: 25 minutes

    Cook time: 50 minutes

    Serves 6

    This recipe is from “Weber’s Art of the Grill.” Note: The prep time does not include the refrigeration time.

    INGREDIENTS

    For the sauce:

    1  tablespoon olive oil

    1/2  cup finely diced red onion

    1  teaspoon minced garlic

    1/2  cup chicken broth

    1/4  cup ketchup

    1/4  cup steak sauce

    1  tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

    1  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

    1 1/2  teaspoons ground coffee

    1/4  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    For the rub:

    1  tablespoon cracked black pepper

    2  teaspoons garlic salt

    1  teaspoon dry mustard

    1  teaspoon paprika

    1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

    2 to 2 1/2  pounds tri-tip beef, about 1 1/2  inches thick

    12  slices French bread

    Oak, mesquite or hickory chips soaked in water

    INSTRUCTIONS

    To make the barbecue sauce: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth, ketchup, steak sauce, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, ground coffee and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes. Puree the sauce in a food processor or blender. Allow to cool, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Bring to room temperature before serving.

    To make the dry rub: In a small bowl, mix together the black pepper, garlic salt, mustard, paprika and cayenne. Press the mixture into the surface of the tri-tip, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours or as long as 24 hours.

    Follow the grill’s instructions for using wood chips. Sear the tri-tip directly over medium heat, turning once, until both sides are seared, about 5 minutes total. Then grill the tri-tip indirectly over medium heat, turning once, until the internal temperature is about 140 degrees for medium-rare, 20 to 30 minutes more. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before slicing thinly on the diagonal against the grain.

    Build each sandwich with slices of meat and a dollop of sauce. Serve warm or at room temperature.

    Per serving: 617 cal.; 38 g pro.; 57 g carb.; 24 g fat (11 sat., 11 monounsat., 2 polyunsat.); 99 mg chol.; 1,636 mg sod.; 3 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 37 percent calories from fat.

  • Orange-soy skirt steaks

    Prep time: 15 minutes

    Cook time: 16 minutes for medium rare

    Serves 8

    Skirt steak is one of the less expensive cuts of beef. When it is marinated in an acidic sauce, it becomes quite tender. This recipe is from “The Sunset Grill; 125 Tasty Recipes for Casual Get-Togethers and Easy Weeknight Cookouts,” forward by Cheryl and Bill Jamison (Sunset Books, 256 pages). Note: Prep does not include marinating time or time to prep the grill.

    INGREDIENTS

    2  beef skirt steaks (about 2 1/2  pounds total)

    2  cups fresh orange juice

    1/4  cup soy sauce

    4 to 5 cloves of garlic, minced

    1  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

    1  teaspoon dried oregano

    1/2  teaspoon ground cumin

    Salt and freshly ground black pepper

    INSTRUCTIONS

    Rinse the steaks and pat dry. In a 1-gallon resealable plastic bag, combine the steaks, orange juice, soy sauce, garlic, coarse pepper, oregano and cumin. Seal the bag and chill at least 4 hours or up to 1 day, turning occasionally.

    Prepare a grill for cooking over high heat. First, oil the grill rack. If using a charcoal grill, prepare a solid bed of hot coals. If using a gas grill, preheat to high.

    Lift the steaks from the marinade. Thread two 18- to 24-inch long metal skewers parallel through the center of each steak and season generously with salt and pepper. Discard the marinade.

    Lay the steaks on the grill rack. If using a gas grill, close the lid. Cook the steaks, turning once, until rare, about 6 minutes on each side (8 minutes per side for medium-rare). Transfer the steaks to a platter, remove the skewers and serve immediately.

    Per serving: 274 cal.; 29 g pro.; 4 g carb.; 15 g fat (7 sat., 7 monounsat., 1 polyunsat.); 74 mg chol.; 503 mg sod.; 0 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 51 percent calories from fat.

  • The perfect hamburger

    Prep time: 10 minutes

    Cook time: 10 minutes

    Serves 4

    This recipe is from “Williams-Sonoma Grilling” (Simon and Schuster).

    INGREDIENTS

    1  pound ground chuck or lean ground beef

    2  tablespoons finely chopped yellow onion

    1  teaspoon minced garlic

    1  teaspoon salt

    1/2  teaspoon freshly ground pepper

    1 or 2 dashes of Worcestershire sauce

    4  slices Cheddar or Swiss cheese (optional)

    4  hamburger buns, split

    Sliced tomato for serving

    INSTRUCTIONS

    Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling over medium-high heat.

    In a large bowl, mix together the beef, onion, garlic, salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Form the mixture into four patties, each 3/4-inch thick.

    Grill the hamburgers directly over medium-high heat, turning once, 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Check for doneness by cutting into a hamburger near the center or testing with an instant-read thermometer. No pink should show on the inside, and the internal temperature should register at least 160 degrees. For cheeseburgers, place a slice of cheese on top of each hamburger for the last 3 minutes of cooking.

    For the last 2 to 3 minutes of cooking, toast the hamburger buns, cut side down, on the grill over high heat. Serve the hamburgers on the buns with tomato, onion, lettuce, dill pickle and condiments.

    Per serving, using lean chuck, without cheese: 279 cal.; 27 g pro.; 27 g carb.; 7 g fat (3 sat., 2 monounsat., 2 polyunsat.); 60 mg chol.; 1074 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 24 percent calories from fat.

Grilling 101: All fired up over food

Published: Monday, Jul. 7, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 15, 2014 - 10:26 am

Grilling is a passion ignited by smoke, sizzle and fire. The grill has evolved into a backyard shrine where, instead of sweating over it, devotees weep droplets of undiluted love and patty-cake humble hamburger into a James Beardian din-din.

The history of cooking over an open fire is ancient and the principles relatively simple, yet backyard grilling can harbor more mysteries than a Freemason gathering. Sauces and rub recipes can be family secrets and techniques often are hotly debated. A chat can escalate from hiss to flare-up when gas or charcoal and medium rare or well done are debated.

Debates aside, the tastiest aspects of grilling are enjoying food with the company of others.

“Grilling is an outdoor activity and often involves friends and family,” said Dina Guillen of Folsom, author of “Plank Grilling” (Sasquatch Books, $19.95, 171 pages). “Cleanup is minimal and it’s a fast way to prepare food. Did I mention you get to play with fire?”

Bill Krycia of Antelope is preparing for his eighth year of conducting grilling demonstrations at the California State Fair (in The Farm area).

“Cooking for yourself and other people is a blast, but it’s also a creative outlet,” said Krycia. “It will enhance your self-esteem and accomplishes all positive things.”

Sacramento is prime grill country where farm-to-fork elevates the quality of meat and produce and weather is generously cooperative. When weather throws a tantrum, it’s not considered bizarre behavior to don a rain slicker and finish off the loin chops.

“I’m a year-around griller,” said Guillen. “I’ll grill in the rain. We don’t have snow in Sacramento and it’s not that cold. I prefer grilling rather than getting my kitchen dirty.”

Nationally, four out of five U.S. households own an outdoor cooking unit, according to the trade group Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association’s 2014 survey. Gas grills far outnumber charcoal – 61 percent to 41 percent (some folks own one of each). And, the Fourth of July is America’s favorite day to grill, followed by Memorial Day, Labor Day and Super Bowl Sunday.

Truth be known, any day is ideal for grilling up fabulous feasts. Whether you consider yourself the neighborhood Grillmeister General, an apartment-dwelling hibachi master or are merely contemplating the purchase of your first grill, there are basics that will speed up the learning curve and help you side-step disasters.

Simple is a good thing

Start with foods you’re comfortable cooking and enjoy eating. Often, those are foods you may have cooked on the kitchen stove top or in the oven.

Statistically, Americans most enjoy grilling hot dogs, followed by steaks, hamburgers and chicken. Many more choices are ideal for the grill, including pizza, pork, fish, lamb, kabobs, vegetables and some fruits.

Two of the people interviewed for this story said their favorite grill food is salmon cooked atop a cedar plank. Others cited rib-eye steak, chicken and pork.

“Pork is ideal for grilling and very reasonably priced,” said Lars Kronmark, chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone near St. Helena. “You can’t go wrong grilling pork. It’s hard to overcook it, just take it off at 145 degrees. I like an aged pork chop.”

Dick Cooper, grill chief at Cooper Vineyards in Plymouth, favors tri-tip steak for beginners. Tri-tip is relatively inexpensive, too.

“Start with a tri-tip with no fat,” said Cooper, who oversees what and how food is grilled and barbecued at special events for nearly 5,000 winery customers and visitors a year. “By no fat, I mean peel it, take it all off. Zero fat.”

Heat up the grill

Preheat and make sure the grill surface is hot enough before plopping food on the grates. You’ll need searing heat, especially for steaks, of around 500 degrees. Searing imparts that golden-brown, crusty-caramelized surface and is not to be confused with charring, which is black and burnt.

“In grilling today, it’s the heat source that is important,” said Kronmark, who has been featured several times in grilling demonstrations at the annual Lake Tahoe Autumn Food & Wine Festival. “It has to be very, very hot. Restaurant-grade heat. Buy a grill that can produce the heat you need to get that searing crust going.”

Gas grills preheat in 10-15 minutes, while charcoal takes 20-30 minutes.

Searing doesn’t seal in juices, which remains debatable in some circles, but it does create a tasty crust. Timing is everything in properly seared meat. Watch and remain at the grill. Remember, seared is good, charred is bad.

Another benefit of starting with a hot grill is fewer foods will stick to the grates, especially if you brush food with oil. Fish can make a real mess if the grates aren’t hot enough and cleaning the grill will become nightmarish.

Speaking of clean grills ...

You may know a few characters that refer to less than clean grill grates as “seasoned.” All that “seasoning” has drawbacks. Leftover chunks of food and drippings (yes, those chunks and drippings also hide under the grates) can “season” foods in a most unpleasant way. Salmon preceding tri-tip can result in fishy-tasting tri-tip.

Dirty grill grates can cause sticking and excessive smoke and flare-ups. Left to fester over long periods, fat and food buildups on grates may even provide habitat for bacterial colonies.

High heat is your friend in the cleaning of grill grates.

“Get the grill surface as hot as possible with the lid down,” said Kronmark. “Then, right before you’re ready to grill, use a stainless steel brush and work it back and forth. That will clean the grill.”

Scrub the bottom of grates and take out the burner covers on gas grills and clean a couple of times a year for a more thorough cleaning. The more often you grill, the more often you should clean.

Grilling vs. barbecue

Grilling and barbecue are as different as salt and pepper. Grilling is cooking over an open fire (direct heat) for a short period of time and with high temperatures, often exceeding 500 degrees. Many grill lid thermometers register more than 700 degrees.

Barbecuing is slow-cooking (indirect heat) at 200 to 250 degrees and over smoldering wood to impart that heavenly smoky-sweet flavor. Ribs and brisket are more suited for barbecue and a smoker. Patience is a virtue for good barbecue, which can take several hours.

Most folks own gas grills, which aren’t barbecue friendly. Charcoal grills are more adaptable and Weber’s Smokenator accessory converts a kettle grill into a smoker. Or, use grills for grilling and buy a smoker for ribs and brisket. There’s also the Big Green Egg, which does both for around $1,000 (large model).

Stand by your grill

Driving and grilling have the same fatal flaw, distractions. Nothing destroys a cook-out like an abandoned grill. Incinerated food isn’t edible and there are serious safety concerns, which we’ll address later. Fish, pizza, chicken, a marbled steak like a rib-eye and vegetables are among foods that can be ruined within a few seconds of inattention.

“I’ve learned a lot of things over the years from other people and the most important was how to stay out of trouble,” said Dick Cooper of Cooper Vineyards. “Don’t walk away from a hot grill because you have to chase some cows or pick vegetables.”

Added Krycia: “You need to pay attention to the food. I certainly wouldn’t run to the store to buy a bag of potato chips.”

If an emergency does call you away from the grill, ask another to tend the fire. A gas grill can be turned off and vents and the lid can be closed on charcoal kettle grills.

Think ahead, be organized

“Since grilling is a fast process, have sauces and tools arranged and ready before you start grilling,” said Guillen.

That’s great advice but, sadly, too often ignored. Most of us aren’t fortunate to have a BBQ island or an outdoor kitchen with yards of counter space. If you’re blessed with a well-designed outdoor cooking area, there’s still the challenge of being organized.

Gas grills often come with small, side work surfaces where essentials can be easily accessed. However, the work surfaces are small and cramped. Spread out and organize what you’ll need. If your grill doesn’t have a work area or doesn’t allow enough space, set up a nearby table where you can keep sauces, platters and tools.

If you’re organized and the essentials are within arm’s reach, you’ll be much less likely to have to leave the grill to fetch an item. Leaving a hot grill is never a good idea.

Before and after

The “before” is somewhat controversial. That entails taking refrigerated meats and fish out and allowing them to reach room temperature before grilling. Those in favor believe the meat cooks faster and more evenly and are therefore more tender than meats with cold spots.

Those who advocate right out of the refrigerator, claim it is a food-safety issue and that a sufficiently hot grill quickly makes up the extra cooking time.

Should you prefer room temperature, allow 20 to 30 minutes for steaks and 15 to 20 minutes for fish.

The “after” can be a bit of an annoyance because it requires waiting when dinner is off the grill. But, it’s worth the wait. Once you’ve removed meat from the grill, let it rest before slicing. That will allow the redistribution and absorption of juices from the center to throughout. Slicing right off the grill releases the juices all over your platter! It’s why you allow 20 to 40 minutes, depending on weight, before carving the Thanksgiving turkey. Resting time rewards you with a juicy piece of meat.

For grilled steaks, chops and boneless chicken breasts allow five minutes of rest. Roasts, leg of lamb and whole chickens should rest 20 to 30 minutes. Tent with foil to keep them warm and happy. While you’re waiting, finish preparing side dishes or salads and salsas.

Season it

Marinades, sauces and rubs are the most popular grill seasonings. They add flavor to enhance your growing grilling techniques.

Marinades: A liquid mixture featuring an oil and an acid (citrus, vinegar, wine). Meats are placed in the marinade, refrigerated and left to tenderize and flavor for several hours. Marinades work well with London broil, pork chops and chicken breasts.

Dry rubs: A blend of herbs, spices and other seasonings that is sprinkled and then rubbed into meats a few minutes before grilling. Rubs eventually evolve into the personal preferences of the home chef. Experiment with flavors you most enjoy. A rub mixture might contain citrus peel, pepper, garlic, ginger, salt, brown sugar and numerous other seasonings. Dry rubs are often used on pork ribs, salmon and chicken.

Sauces: Barbecue sauces are brushed onto meats during the last few minutes of grilling because they begin to burn at 265 degrees. The resulting caramelized crust adds a sweet and smoky flavor. Hamburgers, ribs and chicken are among the foods that marry well with barbecue sauces.

Kronmark of the CIA, also likes mesquite wood chips. “If there’s a way to add a little smoke, try it. A few wood chips in a pie tin can create great flavor.”

Plank grilling, which is cooking on a water-soaked wooden plank, infuses the smoky essence of cedar, hickory, maple, alder and many other woods.

Once foods are removed from the grill, you may prefer flavoring them with pesto, salsas, herb butters and other flavor-enhancing choices.

Flare-ups happen

Flare-ups are the joyless fireworks shows of grilling. What causes flare-ups? When fat from meats, oils in marinades and sugar in sauces meets fire, flare-ups are the result. The flames can vary from gently licking to college bonfire. If you ignore flare-ups, chances are the burgers will be incinerated to a crispy black.

Keeping grill grates clean, including the underside, helps avoid major flare-ups, but they are inevitable. Fatty meats, like some grades of hamburger, are prone to cause flare-ups and grilling over charcoal presents a more formidable challenge.

When fat or oil drips on hot coals there’s a fire. Placing the lid on a charcoal kettle grill can deprive flare-ups of needed oxygen or you can use a spray bottle, but both interrupt the cooking process. Water can also create wet ashes and a mess.

On larger grilling surfaces you can move food to an area away from flare-ups or remove meat and allow the flare-ups to burn out.

Along with maintaining clean grates prior to grilling, other ways to avoid flare-ups include cutting most or all of fat from meats and using less oil. Flare-ups are yet another reminder that backyard grilling calls for your full attention at all times.

Safety first, second and third

Like most popular summer activities, grilling has its dangers. The National Fire Protection Agency says fire departments respond to an annual average of more than 8,000 structure and outdoor fires that involved grills, barbecues and hibachis.

Nearly 18,000 people, according to the latest annual survey, went to emergency rooms with grilling-related injuries.

“I've seen grilling aprons with pouches that hold your beer,” Guillen said. “I would think the last thing you want to have hanging on you as you’re leaning over a hot grill is alcohol.”

It’s best to hold off on drinking alcohol until after food is removed from a hot grill.

Five out of every six home grill fires were caused by gas grills (84 percent). Charcoal grills were responsible for 13 percent of home fires. However, a windy day and sparks from hot charcoals can be a recipe for disaster, along with improperly placing still-hot coals in the garbage can.

Below are safety tips from the NFPA:

Propane and charcoal BBQ grills should only be used outdoors.

The grill should be placed well away from the home, deck railings and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.

Keep children and pets away from the grilling area.

Keep your grill clean by removing grease or fat buildup from the grills and in trays below the grill.

Never leave your grill unattended.

Stay alert when grilling. Do not grill if you are sleepy or when you are drinking alcohol.

Remove flammable materials from around the grill.

Always make sure your gas grill lid is open before igniting.

If you smell gas while cooking, immediately move away from the grill and call the fire department. Do not move the grill.

When you are finished grilling, let the coals completely cool before disposing in a metal container.

Read more articles by Dan Vierria



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