What could be better than mixing great food and the great outdoors? Grilling For Dummies brings together two favorite pastimes—cooking and eating—into one easy-to-understand book teeming with tried-and-true barbecuing tips and tasty, mouthwatering recipes. Here's the best place to discover or improve your grilling skills:
- Explore the tools of the trade—what you need, and what you don't
- Select different types of grills based on their advantages and drawbacks
- Use hardwoods, charcoal, briquettes, self-igniting coals, and flavoring woods
- Check out a Griller's Glossary to mastering the inside lingo on grill-speak
- Season your grilled delights with spices, herbs, sauces, rubs, and marinades
Authors and grill gurus Marie Rama and John Mariani include a list of their favorite BBQ shacks around the country, and they offer ten timely tips for hosting successful outdoor patio or tailgate parties. And Grilling For Dummies features more than 130 tantalizing recipes—including recipes for sauces and side dishes (as well as health-conscious recipes for low-fat cuisine)—that enable you to prepare an infinite variety of gastronomic marvels on the grill!
About the Author
Marie Rama, coauthor of Cooking For Dummies, is an independent food, beverage, and media consultant. She serves as a spokesperson for Sunkist Growers and appears each year on hundreds of TV and radio shows around the U.S. and Canada.
John Mariani is the author of the award-winning books The Dictionary of American Food & Drink and America Eats Out. He is also a columnist for Esquire, Wine Spectator, Sports Afield, and Eating Well, and has been honored by the International Association of Cooking Professionals in "Who's Who of Cooking in America."
Read an Excerpt
Chances are that if your food turns out perfect, your fire was perfect, too. This chapter shares the fine points of getting your fire -- whether it's in a gas grill or charcoal grill -- to burn the way it should for maximum results. In this chapter, we discuss the various kinds of fuel, fire-starting accessories, and fire-lighting tools for your grill.
Fuel Me Up, Scotty
For gas grills, choosing a fuel source is easy -- that propane cylinder attached to the grill is your only option, unless your grill is built specifically to hook up to the main gas line from your house. Your most important decision will be when to replace the propane cylinder, which you can tell is low by three different methods:
Charcoal grill owners, however, have two options for their heating source: natural lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes.
Natural lump charcoal
Natural lump charcoal, shown in Figure 3-1, results when hardwoods (such as maple, oak, and hickory) are burned at super-high temperatures. The wood breaks down, dries out, and after hours of roasting, comes out ebony and almost weightless. The result is a clean-burning fuel, with a price -- natural lump charcoal costs considerably more than the familiar briquettes. You may have to call around to find a reliable vendor, as well.
Natural lump charcoal is an excellent fuel source because it lights more quickly than charcoal briquettes and burns much hotter. However, if you've never cooked with natural lump charcoal, keep these tips in mind:
Charcoal briquettes, shown in Figure 3-2, are made from powdered charcoal that has been compressed, bound with coal dust and starch, and formed into a uniform little brick. Briquettes don't burn as intensely as natural lump charcoal but can be much easier to control. They give a good, hot, enveloping, even heat and, because of their uniform size, give you consistent results -- you're always working with a predictable fuel source!
To find the best briquettes, you have to do some sleuthing among the brands available in your markets: Try buying different brands a few times and keeping track of how they perform. You may notice that some burn more quickly than others, which means that they provide a less-consistent heat and you'll need more of them. You may find store brands that are as efficient as some of the more familiar brands, such as Kingsford. It won't take long to discover which ones you like best.
The briquettes should be uniform in size -- not crumbly -- or you lose a good portion in the bag before you even set them in your grill.
You can step up to still more convenience with fire-starter briquettes, shown in Figure 3-3, to which charcoal lighter fluid has already been added. You can place a few of these in with your regular briquettes for fast, easy lighting or cook with them exclusively. We don't recommend them as the sole source of heat for longer-term grilling because they tend to burn more quickly and require frequent replenishment. You should reseal the bag tightly after removing briquettes or the lighter fluid will evaporate, leaving you with plain-old briquettes!
The ultimate in convenience is light-the-bag briquettes, which contain just enough fuel for a single fire. There's no fuss or muss because you simply place the bag in the grill and touch a match to the corner of the bag. Then, as with regular briquettes, wait until they've reached an ashy gray color to start cooking.
The School of Hardwood Chunks
If you're lucky enough to have access to a natural supply of old hickory, oak, or fruit-tree wood, it will serve as an excellent supplemental fuel, or even just flavoring for outdoor cookery. The appeal of hardwoods as supplements to briquettes is that they make the fire burn more intensely, which is a virtue when you want high heat for searing and quick cooking. They also burn longer. Finally, and most important, they add an intensely smoky flavor that enhances the fairly subtle smokiness that comes from charcoal.
Commercial bags of hardwood chips, sold at hardware stores and grilling-supply stores, are easy to use. Chips simply require presoaking in water for 15 to 30 minutes to keep them from burning up too quickly. For charcoal grills, scatter the presoaked wood chips -- a handful or two will do -- over the charcoal briquettes after the coals turn ashy gray, or just before you're ready to cook. When the chips burn out, or when the smoke stops pouring from the cover vents, you can add another handful as a replacement. Don't overdo it though -- the chips may smother the glowing coals.
Wood chips burn very quickly, so you want to use them when you're grilling food very slowly in a covered grill. One exception to this rule, however, is grilled fish: Its delicate flesh quickly absorbs the smoke from chips, so you don't need a lengthy cooking time to reap the benefits of the wood chips.
For a more intense, smoky flavor, you can build a fire entirely with wood chunks, which do not require presoaking; however, you'll probably have a hard time controlling the fire because the chunks burn so intensely. In addition, your wallet may suffer because the chunks are expensive.
You can also mix half a dozen or more wood chunks into a charcoal briquette fire. However, wood chunks take a few minutes longer to burn than charcoal does; to keep the chunks from scorching your food, ignite them a few minutes before the charcoal or ignite them with the charcoal and then spritz them lightly with water. Another solution is to start the coals and chunks together and, when the charcoal is ashy gray, move the chunks to the edges of the fire so that they surround and barely touch the coals. This way, the chunks and charcoal produce just what you want -- a steady supply of smoke without any flame.
You can also add light, smoky wood flavoring to food when cooking with a gas grill.
It Only Takes a Spark
Fire starting doesn't have to be a struggle if you own a charcoal grill -- just choose a good firestarting strategy from the following list:
Flaming Your Fire
You may come across a bunch of gadgets for creating a flame with which to ignite a fire, and quite honestly, we believe that just about all of them beat a match. Here are the alternatives to burning your fingers with a stubby match.
Electric charcoal igniter
An electric charcoal igniter is a metal coil, usually made of stainless steel, that is placed underneath the charcoal briquettes and heated up to a red-hot, glowing point that transfers heat to the immediate area. (See Figure 3-4.) Left in place for a maximum of 8 minutes, the igniter starts coals glowing, and those coals rapidly ignite the coals that surround them. This method is a safe, easy way to start a grill, but be very careful when removing the coil, which can stay hot for several minutes. Unplug it first, remove it from the grill, and set it away from the grill on a nonflammable surface to cool. Such gadgets cost about $10.
Here's how to use the coil for best results.
You'll see a little smoke rising from the kettle, and several of the coals atop the coil will be glowing brightly.
Within 20 to 30 minutes, you'll have perfect ashy gray charcoal ready for grilling.
Butane lighters look like screwdrivers with a long nose that ignites a small flame at the flick of a switch. (See Figure 3-5.) You can use them to light paper, fire-starter briquettes, or gas grills, and they come in very handy. Good ones have a safety lock, a regulator for the flame, and even a little viewing window so that you can see how much butane is left. They are either disposable (cheaper) or refillable and cost about $10 at a hardware store.
The other way to light a charcoal fire is with the amazing chimney, shown in Figure 3-6, which is really, really cool -- and cheap. A chimney starter is nothing more than a wide-mouthed tin pipe that has a grate in the bottom and a handle. One usually costs around $10.
A chimney starter works as follows:
By forcing intense heat up through the shaft, the burning newspaper ignites the charcoal, which starts to burn brightly within a few minutes.
Bossing Your Flame Around
The general rule for knowing when your coals are ready for grilling is to make sure that 80 percent or more of the coals are ashy gray (at night, they glow red with no flame). If you have less than that, the coals are not ready, and if all of them are glowing red hot, the fire is probably too hot. A fire that's too hot will scorch your food and rob it of all its flavor.
Use the following simple technique to gauge the temperature of the coals. Place the palm of your hand just above the grid. If you can hold your hand in that position for two seconds (counting "one-thousand one, one-thousand two"), the coals are hot; a three-second hold tells you the coals are medium-hot; four seconds is medium; and five is low.
Here are a few steps you can take to adjust the temperature of your fire:
Table of Contents
PART I: Gearing Up for Grilling.
Chapter 1: Mastering Grill-Speak.
Chapter 2: Good Grill Hunting.
Chapter 3: Playing with Fire.
PART II: Adding Spice (And Side Dishes) to Your Life.
Chapter 4: A Griller's Pantry.
Chapter 5: The Magic of Marinades, Oils, and Rubs.
Chapter 6: The Secret's in the Sauce.
Chapter 7: Dishes on the Side.
PART III: Golden (Grilled) Oldies.
Chapter 8: Burgers and Sausages and Hot Dogs — Oh My!
Chapter 9: Swordplay: Grilling Kebabs and Satay.
Chapter 10: All about Ribs.
Chapter 11: One Good Turn Deserves Another.
PART IV: Grilling Everything Under the Sun.
Chapter 12: Beef Is What Grills Were Made For.
Chapter 13: Pork — The King of Barbecue.
Chapter 14: Put a Little Lamb in Your Life.
Chapter 15: Birds of a Feather.
Chapter 16: The Gill and the Grill.
Chapter 17: Not for Vegetarians Only.
Chapter 18: Grill to Go: Sandwiches, Pizzas, and Other Finger Foods.
PART V: The Part of Tens.
Chapter 19: Ten of Our Favorite Barbecue Places in the U.S.
Chapter 20: Ten Great Outdoor Party Tips.
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What People are Saying About This
Here is a wealth of information for turning the great American cooking machine into a tool for creating contemporary, sophisticated dishes. -- Chef-Author of Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook