If there's one indicator that summer finally has arrived in St. Joseph, it's the smell of meat on the grill.
Grilling used to be considered dad’s domain, but now men, women and sometimes even older children are manning the flames like a pro. There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a grill and cooking your food properly, though.
Most grills come in two basic varieties: gas and charcoal. More ambitious backyard chefs might prefer a third option in the form of a smoker. Each variety has its own pros and cons, as well as a loyal fan base. Patrick Moran, assistant store manager at the St. Joseph Home Depot, says the main differences occur in the flavor of the meat and the time it takes to cook.
“If you want to quick grill something and have it be ready to go, a lot of people stick with the gas. Some of the more advanced cookers, they’re using the smokers, the Weber grills, some of the pellet grills. It takes a little bit longer to heat up, but you get some of the different flavors from the charcoal,” he says.
Smokers require a lot of time and patience, and some people don’t have much of either. To give your food a smoked flavor without it taking all day, Mr. Moran says you can get flavored briquettes for charcoal grills or a small metal smoker box for either gas or charcoal. The type of wood chips used in the smoker box will determine the meat’s flavor.
No matter which version you prefer, all grills come with a few issues people must tackle so their food achieves the right color, flavor and doneness. For instance, hot spots and cool spots can be a confusing matter that not everyone will agree on. When you’re aiming for even heat and temperature, these spots can cause burnt, crusty exteriors or underdone interiors.
“Hot spots and cool spots, I don’t particularly like that. You’re going to get that a lot on gas grills. (The area) directly over the flames is hotter, while the back is cooler,” Mr. Moran says.
Andrew Clark of Bleecker Street Deli Co. and Bad Art Bistro says the differing amounts of heat can serve a positive purpose, though. Some people bank up coals on one side of a charcoal grill specifically to keep one side hotter than the other, which helps keep finished food warm on the cooler side as the rest continues cooking. The same concept goes for two-tier racks or hanging grill baskets inside gas grills that don’t come in contact with flames.
Another common grill issue is flare-ups, which can happen spontaneously and burn parts of your food that you don’t want charred.
“Flare-ups are usually caused by liquefied fat dripping from protein. The biggest offender is skin on chicken. To prevent (this), use lean meats and remove skin from chicken,” Mr. Clark says.
Dripping marinades also are a flare-up culprit. Mr. Moran recommends using a heavy-duty grill mat or pan to block high flames and prevent food from sticking to the grill grates.
”They have a newer product out, it’s a reusable grilling sheet. Foil will rip on you and you can still get foil sticking to meat. This stuff is a nonstick, its reusable and you can cook about anything on it,” he says, noting that the brand name is Cookina.
If plating and appearance are important to you, Mr. Clark says achieving the attractive criss-cross char on meat isn’t difficult. To preserve the look and taste of the food, it’s best to only flip it one time. Rotate the item halfway through cooking on each side to achieve the crosshatch pattern, which he calls quadrillage marks.
Steaks, burgers and chicken aren’t the only things that go on the grill in the summer. Depending on their size and shape, vegetables can go directly on the grates for a nice char or can be cooked on a grill pan, grill mat or in a foil packet. Fruit does well on the grill because the natural sugars caramelize the flesh.
Delicate fish might require a mat or pan underneath as well, but grilled whole ocean fish is one of Mr. Clark’s favorite summer meals.
“Pack the cavity with fennel fauns (fronds), thyme, lemon and salt and pepper. Lightly oil outside of fish and season. Put (quadrillage) marks on both sides of fish and then move to a cooler spot on the grill to cook low and slow until done,” he says.