Tuesday, July 25, 2017  



Grilling to Perfection

by Rebecca McKinley

Nothing says summertime like a relaxed al fresco evening meal with family and friends. There’s just something special about getting together and sharing delicious food in good company. For years, grilling has been a casual American pastime. It takes the formality out of entertaining, and brings life to any patio or backyard setting. So it’s time to dust off that grill and get fired up for a long hot summer.

Types of grills

    When it comes to outdoor grills, there are a variety of choices to consider. Let’s start with the classic charcoal grill. Known for their simplicity, charcoal grills are easy to use and relatively inexpensive. The charcoal produces a low, smoky heat that brings out every ounce of flavor. Looking for an extra kick? Add some smoking wood chips to get a savory aroma. When looking to purchase a charcoal grill, consider both the shape and the size. Cooking surfaces can be round or rectangular. Large grills are great for parties and cooking many things at once, while smaller grills may be more suitable for everyday use. Also look at additional features, such as side tables for food prep or tool racks for storing utensils.

    Gas grills are another option. Typically fueled by propane, gas grills are easy to light and fast to heat up. Not only do they cook delicious food in a short amount of time, but they are also a breeze to clean up. Just turn it off, wipe down the grill grate, and voila! For those in search of a more eco-friendly option, many new versions run on natural gas. Natural gas is a cheaper, cleaner alternative that yields the same great taste with the flick of a switch. Also, there are electric grills that require no fuel at all! Simply plug it into an outlet, and never worry about losing heat or running out of fuel.

    For the barbecue pit masters, a good smoker grill is ideal. The basis for this method is a low, intense heat that remains enclosed. As the smoke steadily rises, it slowly cooks the food to tender and flavorful perfection. This is accomplished through maintaining the strength of the smoking woods. Some popular smoky flavors include mesquite, hickory, and apple wood, among others.

 Kamado grills are another great idea when cooking outside. They are generally fueled by charcoal. One of the claims of the ceramic construction is that there is no flavour contamination (metallic taste) to the cooked food and for the same reasoning, lump wood charcoal is the preferred choice for modern kamado cooking.Manufacturers of the kamado style ceramic cookers claim that they are extremely versatile. Not only can they be used for grilling and smoking, but pizza can be cooked on a pizza stone and bread can also be baked. This is by virtue of the excellent heat retention properties of the ceramic shell that mean temperatures of up to 750 °F can be achieved. Also, due to the precise control of airflow (and thus temperature) afforded by the vent system, Kamado-style cookers are much like wood-fired ovens and can be used to roast and bake anything that can be roasted or baked in a traditional oven. The high end Kamados also have the ability to use a rotisserie cradle which is great for crisping up the skin of birds and uniform browning. Kamado grills can even smoke. You can have it all with one of these beauties

    Feeling adventurous? Take the kids and build a cozy fire pit for old time’s sake. There have been many stories shared and memories made while roasting marshmallows over an open fire. Campfires are best suited for remote, nonflammable areas, so be careful in choosing a safe location (stone, gravel, sand, and dirt are all good bases). Now all that is needed are some graham crackers and chocolate for the ultimate s’mores experience. 

Health benefits

    Grilling comes with multiple health benefits. As the food cooks, a good amount of the fat leaks out, resulting in reduced fat content. A low fat diet helps to lower bad cholesterol levels, reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Foods tend to cook faster on a grill, resulting in minimal loss of water and vitamins. This is particularly true with vegetables. Dry rubs and light marinades boost the flavor of foods without adding unhealthy components.

What to cook

    When it comes to grilling, the possibilities are endless. Meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables come in a variety of forms to be enjoyed at the chef’s discretion. Let’s start with the more hearty choices. Red meats could include anything from steaks and London broil to more gamey options like venison and small game. A common practice is to wrap the latter in bacon, which traps in the juices while getting rid of the gamey taste. For everyday grilling, people like to use white meats like chicken and pork. With a savory marinade or zesty rub, you can boost the flavors of any meat selection.

    Fish can be enjoyed on the grill as well. When grilling fish, it is important to consider size and fat content. Thicker fillets like salmon and tuna cook directly on the grill plate, and because of their oil content, they require no basting. Leaner cuts, however, such as tilapia, work best when grilled inside an aluminum foil pocket with a wine or stock to keep them moist. If using a small fish like trout, it may be easiest to prepare it whole, making diagonal cuts in each side to speed up the cook time and help the heat spread evenly. A fun Mexican spin would be fish tacos- a light compilation of fish, salsa, and other fresh ingredients inside a grilled tortilla. While shrimp is perhaps the next most common seafood entrée, large sea scallops can also take the heat.

    Don’t forget your vegetables. Peppers, mushrooms, onions, asparagus, squash, and zucchini are some of the best for grilling. Chop ‘em, dice ‘em, or slice ‘em, then throw them on the grill. Another popular option is corn on the cob. With corn, you can either wrap it in aluminum foil or simply leave each ear in its husk. Avoid grilling the following: cucumbers, celery, leafy greens. They hold too much water and do not work well in the heat.  

     Hotdogs and hamburgers are the staples of any cookout. The art of grilling a hotdog is to get those dark charcoal lines and smoky taste. With burgers, it’s all about searing the outside of the patty to seal in the juicy flavor.  

    Try mixing things up with kabobs. This food-on-a-stick method features marinated chunks of meats and vegetables on skewers. Depending on the items used, dipping sauces can be a tasty accompaniment. Kids will love the fun presentation, and moms will love the nutritional balance.

    And I saved the best for last: dessert! From cakes and skillet pies to fruit and crisps, the grill can satisfy nearly every sweet tooth. Peaches and pineapple are a light and refreshing finish to a meal (grilled pineapple is also the perfect topping for a Hawaiian-style burger). Remember the s’mores from earlier? Try putting the same ingredients inside a split banana and wrapping it in foil before sending it for a quick trip on the grill. Donuts don’t have to be just a morning treat. The sugar on a glazed donut will caramelize and melt in your mouth. They are perfect when reheated on a grill!     

    Also, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. For instance, a sliced baguette can be brushed with olive oil and thrown on the grill as the base for a light bruschetta appetizer. If you like thin crust pizza, consider grilling the dough. The crust will crisp nicely and pair well with the toppings of your choice. Instead of pressing the focaccia for a panini, place the bread directly on the grill to toast. If you are a vegetarian, you could swap out a regular veggie burger for a grilled Portobello mushroom cap. The mushroom has a hearty texture, and the heat brings out its earthy flavors. For the next picnic, you could make over a classic potato salad simply by grilling the potatoes instead. Kids might enjoy a basic grilled cheese quesadilla.

Clean Up

    Always remember to clean the grill after each and every use. This helps make sure yesterday’s spices don’t end up in today’s marinade. By scraping the grill grate, you not only remove cooked-on leftovers, but you also preserve the lifespan of the grill. Here are several more suggestions to keep your grill clean and in good condition: spray olive oil in grill grate to prevent meat from sticking; cook fish, corn, etc in foil; use special grilling pans to provide a barrier between the food and the grill.
    Now that you know the ins and outs of the grilling world, see if you have what it takes to host the ultimate summer soiree. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate five-course meal. Just invite over a few of your closest friends and “wow” them with your skills. Hand-select a meat from the local market, visit the fresh produce stand for side components, and whip up a sweet treat to end the night. With a simple menu and bold flavors, you’re sure to excite everyone’s taste buds.