Grilling season is upon us. It is probably my favorite way to cook most meats, with just a couple of exceptions. And if the weather is inclement, I’ll do stovetop grilling, as I am the proud owner of a few too many (in my wife’s opinion) cast iron grill pans.
The other alternative is broiling, of course, because the broiler in your oven is really nothing more than an upside down grill.
The only thing the broiler can’t do is make grill marks. Duh.
But let’s confine this discussion to the grill on your patio or deck. We use three attributes to evaluate the quality of grilled foods: flavor is always No. 1. Coming in tied for second place are appearance and texture.
Even using a gas grill, the foods prepared on grills should have a distinctly smoky flavor, and that’s achieved by a certain amount of charring and by the addition of hardwood chips (hickory is the most common) or the sprigs or stalks of some herbs like rosemary or thyme.
Sometimes grillers get a little too enthusiastic about smoke as a flavor element. The result can be a bitter or carbony taste. The same holds true for marinades and glazes. Frequently, they can be too salty, too acidic or too sweet and, as a result, they mask the grilled item’s main flavor. The use of smoke as a flavoring agent is actually a whole other subject in the wonderful world of barbecue. And that reminds me: Your grill is a grill. It’s not a barbecue.
A few more words about the appearance of grilled meats: I like adding crosshatch marks to steaks, chops, chicken and fish. This is relatively easy to do, but it requires patience and, for the uninitiated, a measure of courage, especially with fish.
The method for crosshatching applies equally to charcoal, wood or gas grills. Your grill grates generally run north and south. Get the fire going, close the lid and get those grates screaming hot. Oiling the grates is optional, especially if the metal is hot enough. Season the meat, and then place it on the diagonal running southwest to northeast. Here’s where patience comes in. Don’t lift it too early. You’ll tear the meat or destroy the fish. Meat and fish will release when they’re ready, especially when your grates are sufficiently heated. When the sugars completely caramelize, the meat will lift easily. That’s when you turn it 90 degrees so that the meat now runs southeast to northwest. Once again, patience, please.
You can repeat this on side two, as well. That ensures that your food will have a well-developed crust with a moist and tender interior. If you’re cooking fish, it may not need as much time on the second side. It’s situational and requires experience or an instant read thermometer.
Some other do’s and don’ts: Never pierce the food with a fork, especially when it’s time to turn. Juices escape and you’re on your way to dried-out food. Use tongs. For ground meat (hamburgers), use a spatula and by all means do not press down on the burger in an attempt to hasten cooking, browning or for making grill marks. Once again, juices will run out and you’ll end up with dry and unappetizing meat.
One of the more important aspects of grilling is that you must have clean grates. Here’s a surefire way to do that so that subsequent sessions at the grill are effortless. When my meat has finished cooking, I remove it to a plate to rest, because there will be carryover cooking time. And while that’s happening, that’s when I take my grill brush and scrape the grates clean. The grates are hot, the juices or oils are still liquid and it makes cleaning so easy without an excess of effort.
Cleaned and screaming hot grates, wood or herb flavoring in or near the fire, proper seasoning, and patience. Grilling is great.
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