While the weather doesn’t support it at the moment, the ever-shortening summer implores us to get the grills out, writes Jason Osborne
Summer’s close is always somewhat anxiety-producing as you realise how little time you have left for all of the things you wanted and planned to do during the summer.
While the current weather isn’t too conducive to fulfilling all of our summer fantasies, sometimes you have to be a little optimistic and hope for the best. With that in mind, I haven’t given up hopes of dabbling in some grilling before the season is out, and I encourage others to engage in this archetypal summer activity.
Difference between grilling and barbecuing
Most of us use the terms ‘grilling’ and ‘barbecuing’ interchangeably. As mentioned, the ‘archetypal’ summer barbecue that graced so many of our childhood evenings was actually a grill, which is technically not a barbecue, I only recently discovered.
Although both barbecuing and grilling involve cooking outdoors over a source of heat, they’re not terms that can be used in place of each other as there are differences. The key disparities are the type of heat used and the total cook time.
Barbecuing refers to cooking meat over indirect heat, or away from the flame, for at least a few hours, although often all day, until the meat is very tender and falling off the bone.
On the other hand, grilling is more likely to be what you’re doing as you cook outside: cooking food quickly over direct heat at high temperatures. Whereas barbecuing is “low and slow”, grilling is “hot and fast” and often sears the food.
If you’re cooking steaks, hamburgers, sausages, chicken, pork chops or seafood, there’s a decent chance you’re grilling. Vegetables and fruits are also popular foods for grilling, with most at-home grilling being done over a gas or charcoal grill.
Despite these differences, it’s important to note that you can still use barbecue sauce on your grilled foods – just be sure to put it on at the end of the cook time, since the high heat you grill at can cause the sugars in the sauce to burn.
Being more familiar with grilling than barbecuing, it’s that this article will be discussing – beginning with identifying which type of grill you have or hope to use.
Usually, a griller is dealing with either propane, gas, electric, or old-fashioned charcoal. If you already have a grill and are curious about which you’re using, an electric grill is the most easily identified, simply because it comes with cords which need to be plugged in in order to operate.
If you’re sure this isn’t what you have, looking beneath the grilling apparatus for a tank should reveal more. If you see one, it’s likely you have a propane grill. If you don’t see a cord or a tank, check the grill interface. If there are knobs, dials and/or buttons, it’s likely you’re dealing with a gas grill. This is different from a propane grill in that it taps into your home’s natural gas supply. This solves the problem of running out of fuel, as you often do with propane.
Finally, if your grill is very basic – a hollowed out bowl or drum with no knobs, dials, buttons or anything else – you have a charcoal grill.
Cleaning and prepping your grill
Once you’ve figured out what kind of grill you have, or acquired one in the first place, preparing it properly is a must. If you’ve used it before, ensure it’s clean. For steel or cast iron grates, you can use a stiff-bristled steel brush to get any sort of dirt off. For any non-stick coated cast iron, you should use a nylon bristled brush to avoid scratching. Check to see if your grill comes with a special tool for cleaning it, as they sometimes do.
After that, ensure that the bottom of the grill is free of any debris from either previous uses or (if your grill is newly purchased) packaging. These things can get stuck and impede a good, clean cooking experience.
After this, it’s time to season your grill-grates (if they’re pre-seasoned or coated grates, they don’t need seasoning). This helps to create a non-stick cooking surface. You can use canola, peanut, vegetable, sunflower or avocado oil for this, but the main thing is to aim for a thin, even layer. Too much oil will burn and create a build-up, nullifying all your hard-done cleaning work.
With the grill cleaned and seasoned, the next step is securing the heat. For gas grills, the valve on the gas line that allows gas to flow to your grill must be open. Likewise, for propane grills, the top of the propane tank, which is located underneath the grill, has a valve that needs to be opened to allow propane to the grill.
For electric grills, simply find a power outlet and plug it in. Lastly, for charcoal grills, you need to add old-fashioned charcoal to the bottom of the grill, going under the grate of course.
At this point, it’s time to preheat the grill, which is nearly exactly like preheating an oven. Just give it long enough to build up a sufficient heat for cooking meats right through. With so many different kinds of grill, your best bet for starting the grill is finding your grill’s manual and following the instructions therein. That said, here are some of the basics.
Electric grills usually have a knob or dial for turning on the grill and adjusting the heat setting. If this is what you have, turn the dial to high, close the lid and wait for the grill to reach your preferred cooking temperature. The wait can be a little lengthy with an electric grill.
Gas or propane
These grills are somewhat similar, but a little more complicated in that they have dials and ignitor buttons. The dials let the gas flow from the tank to the burners, and the ignitor button creates a spark that lights the flame you’ll use to cook with.
For propane and gas grills, you’ll need to turn at least one of the dials (each dial corresponding to a burner) to high. Once it’s on high, press and hold the ignitor button. You should hear a clicking followed by a rush, which is the gas igniting. Upon hearing that or seeing a flame, you can release the ignitor button.
Keep the temperature high and fire up any other burners you plan to use. You can also close the lid and leave the grill for 10-15 minutes, or until your preferred temperature is achieved.
Charcoal is the most archaic method, if it could be put that way. Some coals can be lit quite simply with a match, while others require the application of some lighter fluid, heeding whatever warnings come with it. Don’t use too much, and apply the match quickly after the fluid. Once the coals are coated in light grey ash, they’re ready to go and you can get cooking.
After this, it’s all in your hands. Depending on what you’re cooking, you’ll need to adjust your style, but the most important thing for those setting out is ensuring the food is fully cooked through. Mastery will come in time.