By: Steve Lindell—
Consider it an art form, not a “task.” Grilling outside is something that I have grown to love, especially in recent years, as my wife Nancy shows SO much appreciation for the efforts! It is a way for us to be outside, with nature, and the tastes created at the end of the process always make the whole family smile. Another part of my enjoyment is the tremendous variations and experimentations that are always in play. In a word: it’s “FUN.”
For a beginner, I’d suggest keep it simple. Start with some burgers and hotdogs. Build into steaks and whole chickens. Then, when you feel more comfortable, do a turkey, pork ribs, or some other large piece of meat that you will cook “low and slow” (and watch your guests smack their lips at the amazing tastes that you created in your backyard).
Gas grills are easy, and fast (to heat up, and cook, and clean up) but my preference has always been the old Weber charcoal grill. They are a relatively inexpensive investment and they last forever, if you take care of them. I suggest a chimney to start the coals, instead of lighter fluid (all you need is Kingsford charcoal – never buy generic – and old newspapers to create your white-hot coals).
There are two basic ways to cook: direct, and indirect. Direct is for smaller cuts of meat (burgers, hotdogs, chicken breasts), with the food directly above the coals. Indirect to for bigger cuts of meat (turkey, ham, roast, very thick steaks, ribs) that if you put on direct, would cook too quickly on the outside of the meat – so while you wait for the internal temperature to come up, would overcook the outside.
Here’s a very important recommendation: invest in a good meat thermometer! My preference is the one Nancy got for me a few years ago – it’s a digital version, with wireless connection from the base to the remote – so I put the probe into the thickest part of whatever meat is cooking, and clip the remote (it’s the size of a garage door opener) on my belt and it beeps when it reaches the desired temperature – NEVER OVERCOOK AGAIN!
So, let’s start with burgers. Nancy buys fresh ground beef (never too lean, because that fat dripping on the coals creates fantastic smoke), AND ground turkey! She mixes them together to make them a little healthier but keep the great flavor, along with dry onion soup mix (and a whole bunch of variations of other spices each time – never boring – and normally garlic powder (never garlic SALT) because we love garlic! She puts the patties in the freezer for at least 3 hours before I cook (longer is better), so they 1) don’t cook too quickly, and 2) don’t fall through the grill grates!
Want to REALLY amp up these burgers? Get some hickory chips and soak a handful or two in a bowl of water for an hour or more before cooking. Then, drain the water and wrap the chips loosely in aluminum foil. Before you spread the coals for cooking, lay the foil-chip-baggies down, and pour the coals on top so they cook and smoke (give them a couple minutes to start smoking before you put the burgers on. Close the lid, and let ‘em go. Flip after about 5-7 minutes, depending on the temperature of your coals and close it up again. After a few more minutes, open the grill and insert that temperature probe and let them cook until they hit your temperature (all meats are different, and you should refer to on-line guidelines for proper safe consumption).
As I write this column, I want to cook NOW! I could go on for hours, and cite many examples of what works, and what does not – but I’ll have to wait until the 2nd Annual MuncieJournal.com Virtual Home Show (if I am invited back)!
Steve Lindell is Vice-President and Director of Operations for Woof Boom Radio, LLC