Nothing brings out the flavor in your foods like grilling does. That is probably why so many people are interested in how to grill. The smoke and charring that grilling adds to the flavors of your food is pretty much unattainable by any other methods of cooking.
This guide and site is here to help you learn to make perfect grilled, barbecued, and smoked foods every time you fire up your grill. We are going to help take the uncertainty out of grilling, and help you to master the basics. Once you have gotten the basics down, you will be well on your way to Mastering the Flame.
Getting Started Grilling
Many of you out there already own some type of grill. Grills are available in pretty much any imaginable size, shape, and price range. What type you decide on really comes down to your cooking habits. Do you cook for yourself, or a number of people? Are you an adventurous cook, or do you usually make the same things over and over? These questions help you when deciding whether to buy a gas grill or a charcoal grill.
The majority of grilling fanatics choose to use charcoal grills. For most it is because they are more versatile, and you get more of a grilled taste from the foods you cook. Charcoal grills are more versatile in that you can easily add wood or other herbs to the coals to give your foods a smoked flavor. With gas grills it’s a bit more effort to add smoke, but it still can be done. Another reason a lot of folks choose charcoal grills is the cost factor. You can get yourself a really nice charcoal grill for a lot cheaper than you could a gas grill.
So, why doesn’t everybody just get a charcoal grill then? Well for one reason, they are a bit messier. You have to deal with charcoal and/or wood, which you need to light with some sort of starter like lighter fluid or a chimney starter. Coals also need to be replenished during longer grilling sessions.
One of the big reasons people choose not to use them is that they can be unpredictable. Each fire within a charcoal grill is different, and it can be hard to control the heat. You will get hot and cool spots and those will change in temperature during your grilling. So, there is a lot more monitoring with a charcoal grill.
If you really like to grill, monitoring is half the fun. I for one, love to tend to the grill. Once you have mastered the charcoal grill, you pretty much can grill on anything. I think everyone should own a charcoal grill even if they have a gas grill.
Grilling with a Charcoal Grill
So, you’ve decided on a charcoal grill, now we have to get the thing lit. Gone are the days of dousing the charcoal with lighter fluid and tossing in a match. Yes, some still do this, but I don’t recommend it. I also do not recommend the self-lighting charcoal. I really don’t like my grilled foods to be chemically soaked with whatever is in those products.
Lighting a Charcoal Grill
There are a couple safer ways to light a charcoal grill. You can use an electric starter, or use my favorite method which is using a charcoal chimney starter. My article, how to light a charcoal grill, has all the information you need to get that grill fired up.
Once your coals are glowing orange-red, they are ready. This generally takes 15 to 20 minutes in a charcoal chimney starter. With the coals ready, it is time to set up the grill. There are two basic ways to set up a charcoal grill for cooking, either direct or indirect.
Direct Grilling on a Charcoal Grill
Setting up your charcoal grill for direct grilling means that you will be cooking directly over the coals. This setup is perfect for everyday grilling with small items such as burgers, or steaks. The food will be in contact with higher heat and cook much quicker.
To set up your charcoal grill for direct grilling pour the lit coals from the chimney starter into the bottom of the grill. I suggest using protective gloves when doing this. Spread the coals into an even layer. Sometimes it is handy to use a garden hoe or other tool to spread the coals.
You can also create different heat zones with direct grilling. At one end of the grill have a double layer of coals for high heat grilling; in the middle have a single layer of coals for medium heat grilling, and the other end leave empty for a cool area to keep your foods warm. This is often referred to as a three zone fire. It is always a good idea to leave an area free of coals for a cool zone in case some of your foods are cooking too quickly, or if you need to move something there because of flare-ups.
Indirect Grilling on a Charcoal Grill
The other method is indirect grilling. With indirect grilling the food is cooked next to the heat source, not over the fire like direct grilling. With indirect grilling the food is cooked at a lower heat. Grilling this way allows you to cook larger cuts of meat like a whole chicken or roast without burning the outside. It also gives you the opportunity to add wood to the fire for smoking your foods.
Once your coals are ready pour the coals out of the chimney starter into two piles at opposite sides of the grill, leaving the center open. Again a garden hoe or other tool comes in handy to rake the coals into two piles. There are coal baskets that you can get to pour the coals into as well. In the center place aluminum foil drip pan. Place your foods over the drip pan in the center of the grill.
Indirect grilling is normally done at a moderate heat level. You can change the heat levels in your charcoal grill by adjusting your vents. The vents control the air flow, and thus they control the heat. If you close the vents you will extinguish the fire. With the vents wide open you will have a hot fire. Adjusting the vents partially open will give you a moderate heat level.
Smoking with a Charcoal Grill
One advantage of a charcoal grill is the ability to easily smoke with it. You can use wood chips, wood chucks, or even whole logs to create smoke. There are a lot of great woods that can be used for smoking such as hickory, apple, cherry, mesquite, or oak. Which one you use will depend upon what you are grilling.
If you are using wood chips, be sure to soak them in water for an hour or so prior to using them. This will help them from burning up quickly and give you the best smoke flavor. To use your charcoal grill as a smoker, set up your grill for indirect grilling. Place a handful of chips on each pile of coals, or if you are using chunks place a chunk on each pile.
With indirect grilling you are usually cooking for quite a while, so wood and coals will need to be replenished every hour. With wood chips or chucks just add an additional chunk or handful to the coals. For coals, you can just place some fresh coals on the fire or light a fresh batch in the chimney starter.
Grilling with a Gas Grill
Why doesn’t everyone use a charcoal grill? Well, for the simple fact that a gas grill is really convenient. The majority of your gas grills will start up with a push of a button, and you can easily control your temperature with the turn of a knob. No messing with charcoal, all you need is a tank of propane.
Lighting a Gas Grill
Lighting a gas grill is pretty straightforward, there isn’t all the setup involved like with a charcoal grill. Always open the lid of the grill before you turn on your gas. There is potential for gas build up and an explosion if you do that. Safety first, as always.
Lighting a gas grill can differ between manufacturers, so always read the instructions that come with the grill. With some models, the igniter only lights a specific burner tube, which must be lit first before lighting the rest of the grill.
After you have the grill lid open, open the valve on the top of your propane tank to start the gas flowing. Turn the knob on the grill to start the flow of gas to the burner. Depending upon the grill press or turn the ignition switch until you hear the gas light. If you grill fails to light, make sure to wait a few minutes for the gas to dissipate for trying to light it again.
Direct Grilling on a Gas Grill
One you’ve got your gas grill lit, preheat it to your desired temperature. Generally you will want to preheat it to high for direct grilling and medium for indirect grilling. For direct grilling on the gas grill, set all the burners to high. You can easily do this by adjusting the grill knobs.
Gas grills have multiple burners, and some have more than others. You can set up your gas grill to have a three zone fire like with a charcoal grill. It’s rather simple depending upon the number of burners your grill has. Set one burner on high, the next one or two on medium, and leave one burner off. Now you have the ability to move your food to different heat zones for better cooking.
Indirect Grilling on a Gas Grill
Indirect grilling on a gas grill is easy too. Your grill just needs to have at least two burners. If your grill has only two burners, just preheat one of them. Once it is preheated place the food over the unlit burner. With a three burner grill, light the front and rear, or left and right burners, depending upon how your grill’s burners are set up. You then place your food in the center. The same goes for a four burner grill, put the food in the center, and light the outside burners.
Smoking with a Gas Grill
A lot of people think you need a charcoal or a smoker to smoke foods, but that isn’t the case, you can smoke on a gas grill. Some gas grills come with a built in smoker box that slides out. It is just basically a drawer that you fill with wood chips. There is a burner under the box that will heat up the chips and make them smoke. Just follow the manufacturer’s directions for your grill.
If your gas grill does not have a smoker box built in, no worries, you can get yourself a cast iron smoker box, a smoker tube, or make yourself a smoker pouch. You just need a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil, place some soaked wood chips in the center, then fold up all the edges to form a pouch. Just poke some holes in the pouch and place it under the grate over one of the burners.
Cleaning and Oiling your Grill Grate
Whether you go with a gas or charcoal grill, keeping your grill clean is important. You have got to keep those grill grates clean. Not only is a dirty grate nasty, it will cause your food to steak. So, you always want to keep your grill grates cleaned and oiled before grilling.
The best tool to keep your grate clean in a stiff wire grill brush. Brush the grate twice. The first time is when the grill is preheated. Preheating the grill will loosen any stuck on gunk. Just brush it vigorously. The next time to brush is after you are done grilling while the grill is still hot. Again it is easier to get the cooked on gunk off when it is warm.
Besides keeping your grate clean to keep food from sticking, oiling it is also important. If you are looking for those attractive grill marks, oiling the grate helps. There are a couple ways to oil the grill grate, one is with an oil soaked paper towel, and the other one is with spray.
I generally just use a folded up paper towel that I grip with a pair of tongs. I just dip into a cup with vegetable oil , then rub it on the grate. Some people use a piece of bacon to oil it as well. Just grab a piece with a pair of tongs and rub the grate with it. You can also use spray oil. If you do this make sure you take the grate off the grill before you spray it. You do not want it anywhere near fire. You should always oil your grate, especially if you are grill foods that tend to stick like fish.
Other Types of Grills
Besides charcoal and gas grills, there are a bunch of other types of grills and smokers available. There are electric grills, rotisserie grills, barrel smokers, vertical water smokers, electric smokers, hibatchi grills, and the list goes on. There are so many different ways to make some great grilled and smoked foods.
I put this site together to help others Master the Flame. The best advice I can give is to just get out there and start grilling. Learn your grill, whatever type you choose, then move on and try another type. You will get the feel for how your grill cooks, and you will be able to make some exceptional food that you, your friends, and family will love.
I’ve got tons of grilling tips, and recipes for you to try out on the site, and I’m adding more all the time, so keep coming back and try something new out. Whether you are looking for how to grill the perfect steak, or how to grill chicken, you will find it here. So, jump on in and start grilling.