Thursday, June 28, 2007



It’s taken me quite a while to become comfortable in front of the grill. I grew up using a gas grill, cooking whatever meat I was told to cook: hamburgers, hot dogs, elk, sometimes some trout. I never really learned anything about grilling when I was young, but I got a lot of practice overcooking meat.

My first barbecue after getting married was a pancake-shaped charcoal grill. I tried but couldn't get things to work out very well with it. I couldn’t seem to get enough heat to cook the food as fast as I wanted.

Then we got a gas grill. Things went a little smoother. I had some experience with one of these. Cheap ($99) gas grills are a little picky. They have hot spots and cold spots. It can be tough to get the burners at the same temperature. The gas tubes below the burners can get full of crud. The grill racks usually don’t sit flat and will rock. One of the biggest problems though is you can’t turn them down low enough.

The biggest problem with a gas grill is flare-ups. Once the grease starts dripping its going to burn no matter what you do. Then you have to move the meat away from the flames. Usually the flare-ups start where your hot spots are, which is where you want the food because it doesn't get cooked over the cold spots. If your grill is covered with chicken then you don't have a place where you can move the meat. No flare-ups with charcoal! It’s so easy!

Summer of 2005 our gas grill developed a leak in the hose because some hot grease dripped on it and melted it. I didn’t realize I could fix it so I bought a new grill. This time I got a charcoal grill with an offset firebox for smoking. I didn’t feel very confident about using charcoal, but I had high hopes. I fixed the gas grill and gave it away.

Food cooked over charcoal tastes better that cooked over gas. There are a couple reasons. The first is the fuel. Burning propane doesn’t have a smell. Charcoal is made from wood. When the charcoal is burned the food absorbs some of the smoke, which is much more fragrant and pleasing than not having it.

I can’t say this without stereotyping so this isn’t totally true, but people who cook over charcoal probably pay better attention to the grill than those who cook over gas. I believe this because #1, they are cooking over charcoal so they really want the food to taste good and the cook’s time investment is bigger when cooking with charcoal. This means that they are going to watch the meat carefully and make sure everything is as close to perfect as possible. I must say that this argument isn’t 100 percent true. I know several people who cook over gas and do a great job with the meat.

I have learned to love the charcoal grill. I’ve picked up some skills from others and from reading on the internet.

  1. Practice. The more you use the charcoal grill the more you will learn from your mistakes and learn how to:
  2. Use the right amount of charcoal and get it burning. Knowing how much will only come from experience and is also determined by the size and shape of you grill. When you are starting the charcoal use a chimney-type starter and don’t be bashful with the lighter fluid. Soak the top coals and make sure some fluid runs down on the coals you can’t see. Then light ‘er up! The lighter fluid will have all burned off by the time the coals are ready.
  3. Turn the meat often! Except for hamburgers, all the meats need to be turned often to keep the juices from boiling/evaporating out the top. Try turning every seven minutes.
  4. Use a thermometer to know when the steak/chops/roast is ready. Some people can tell when a roast/steak is done by pushing on it. Thermometers are for sure. I love reading anyway. Go digital.
  5. Don’t overcook red meat! Don’t undercook white meat! Follow this rule and dinner will turn out great.
  6. Don't put barbecue sauce on until the meat is almost done. If you sauce the meat before you cook it the sauce will burn before the meat is fully cooked.
Our grapes are growing great this year. Maybe double last years yield!