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Grilling for Dummies by Bryan Miller, John Mariani

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!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780764550768
Publisher: Wiley
Publication date: 01/28/1998
Series: For Dummies Series
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 7.40(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.80(d)

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

Chapter 3
Playing with Fire

In This Chapter

  • Choosing your fuel source
  • Building a basic fire
  • Controlling the heat

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:

  • Buy a gauge that can measure the level. A gas cylinder usually doesn't come with a gauge already attached, but you can purchase one at any hardware store.

  • Buy an Accu-Level Tape that you stick like cellophane tape to the side of the cylinder. When you pour boiling water over it, it shows you the level of propane left in the tank by changing color at the level where the propane has been used up. The tape costs about $3 and is available wherever propane tank supplies are sold.

  • The simplest method is to weigh the cylinder. A full cylinder will weigh approximately 38 pounds, an empty one about 18 pounds. So if it weighs in at about 28 pounds, your supply is about half empty. Of course, if you're an optimist, it's half full.

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:

  • A natural charcoal fire sparks and snaps, which may initially scare you, but there's no need for alarm because these special effects are perfectly normal.

  • Because natural lump charcoal burns very fast, your food cooks much faster than with briquettes. You may want to experiment with your cooking times.

  • The temperature is always changing with natural lump charcoal. It starts out very hot, peaks quickly, and then drops rapidly.

  • This intense initial heat results in quick searing, which imparts a bit more flavor to the food. For this reason, professional grillers and barbecue pitmasters prefer it to any other kind of fuel.

Charcoal briquettes

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.

Go easy on the fuel!

Many people use far too much natural lump charcoal or far too many briquettes in their grill. How much you need depends on the size of your grill and the amount of food to be cooked.

Use these general guidelines:

  • Thirty briquettes will grill about a pound of meat. Count on an average of 21/2 pounds of charcoal for grilling meat directly over the coals.

  • A single layer of coals should extend 1 to 2 inches beyond the food being cooked. Pour the briquettes into the grill and spread them out to determine how many you need; then stack them in a pyramid in the center before lighting. When most of the coals begin to burn, spread them out in an even layer.

  • If you grill more than 45 minutes, add 12 to 15 briquettes to the outer edges of the fire after about the first 35 minutes to maintain a proper temperature. Pushing the coals closer together as they burn down (using long-handled tongs) also intensifies the heat.

  • If you're grilling indirectly, start with about 25 briquettes (give or take, depending on the size of your grill) on either side of the drip pan in an average (221/2-inch) kettle grill. Add 8 briquettes to each side every 45 minutes.

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.

  • Use wood chips only when grilling indirectly, with the lid closed. Wood chips and chunks can ignite into flames on the grill; read your manual for specific information on how to use them safely with your grill.

    Increasingly, gas grills offer special, built-in smoking drawers or boxes to hold wood chips. On some gas grills, presoaked chips can be placed in a small foil pan and then set directly on the lava rock or ceramic briquettes.

  • You can wrap presoaked chips in heavy-duty aluminum foil, poke holes in the foil to allow the smoke to escape, and place the packet directly on lava rocks. The heat of the grill will cause the wood to smolder and smoke. After the grill has cooled, simply remove the packets and discard. (Douse the chips with water if they are still smoldering.)

  • You can also purchase a small steel or cast-iron container, called a smoker box (see Chapter 2), to hold the chips. You place it directly on the heat source.

Flavoring your food with hardwood

Here are some hardwood varieties that we think work particularly well on the grill:

  • Apple: Very good with poultry.

  • Alder: Nice delicate flavor with seafood.

  • Cherry: Wonderful with game birds.

  • Hickory: Essential for real pork barbecue.

  • Mesquite: Has a strong flavor for big red meats like beef and venison.

  • Maple: Fine wood to use for ham and pork.

  • Pecan: Best for poultry and seafood.

One good source for ordering hardwoods is DBA Barbecue Wood Flavors Company, 141 Lyons Road, Ennis, Texas (972-875-8391).

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:

  • Lighter fluid: This is the most popular method of starting a charcoal fire, and it is easy to use. Squirt 1/4 to 1/3 cup on the coals, wait a minute to let the fluid soak into the briquettes, and light the fire. (Check out the lighting options in the section entitled "Flaming Your Fire.") If you fear a chemical taste from the lighter fluid, don't worry! You won't place the food over the coals until 20 to 30 minutes after you start the fire, and by then, the fumes will have long since burned off.

    If you think the fire is a bit sluggish and needs more lighter fluid, never squirt it into burning coals because the fire can flare up or travel back up the stream of fluid to the can and cause a disaster. Rather, take a few new briquettes, place them in a clean can (such as a coffee can), and add enough lighter fluid to soak them. Then, with long-handled tongs, carefully place the soaked briquettes among the other briquettes.

    A word of caution: Never use gasoline or kerosene as a lighter fluid because either can cause an explosion.

  • Kindling: Kindling is any material that is highly and quickly combustible and creates a fast flame that will burn long enough to ignite a fuel like charcoal or briquettes. We recommend wood or newspaper.

    • Wood: Make sure that the wood you use for kindling is very, very dry and brittle. Any moisture or "greenness" will result in a slow start, a poor burn, and bitter smoke. Old twigs and cut-up branches are best, and you should snap them to expose the more flammable inner core of the wood.

    • Newspapers: Newspapers make excellent kindling, but be aware that you may need several wads and that burnt newspaper can fly all over the place, which is both messy and dangerous. If you do use newspaper, roll it loosely into thin, branchlike cylinders, leaving plenty of air between the wrappings -- air is oxygen, and oxygen is necessary for a good fire. Place the newspaper on the bottom of the grill and then place a single, uneven layer of charcoal on top. Light the newspaper (see lighting options in the section entitled "Flaming Your Fire") and allow the charcoal to begin to burn. After you notice that most of the charcoal looks ashy gray, add more charcoal, as needed.

  • Miscellaneous fire starters: The grill industry has come up with a lot of useful items for fire starting: compressed sticks of wood compound or sawdust that's soaked or treated with a safe, combustible fuel; wax by itself; wax in wood; and various chemical mixtures. You merely place these around the edges of your briquettes or natural lump charcoal and light the fire starters. They will burn quickly and ignite the charcoal.

Using two temperatures for maximum results

So, when lighting a fire, do you have to choose between direct or indirect grilling? Well, sort of. Although you do need to determine which type of fire is better for the particular foods you're cooking, you can have both on the same grill. The fact is, different parts of the grill grid will vary in heat intensity, making it ideal for cooking a variety of foods at the same time. If you're using a direct fire, start foods like pork chops or chicken breasts in the center of the grid and then move them to the outside edges where the fire is less intense and they can finish cooking without burning or drying out the meat. Foods that need longer, slower cooking -- such as chicken thighs and legs -- can be placed directly over the coals initially to brown and crisp the skin and then moved over the drip pan of an indirect fire to finish cooking more slowly and thoroughly. (See Chapter 1 for more on direct and indirect fires.)

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.

  1. Plug the electric charcoal igniter into an electrical outlet and place the coil on the charcoal grate of the kettle grill.

  2. Pile charcoal on top of the coil and wait about 8 to 10 minutes.

    You'll see a little smoke rising from the kettle, and several of the coals atop the coil will be glowing brightly.

  3. Unplug the coil.

  4. Carefully remove the coil (if you leave it in much longer than 10 minutes, the coil itself may be damaged from the heat it has generated) and store it safely away to cool.

  5. Using long-handled tongs, shuffle the coals around to make them level, and let them sit.

    Within 20 to 30 minutes, you'll have perfect ashy gray charcoal ready for grilling.

Butane lighter

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.

Giving it gas

One advantage of gas grills is that they are so easy to light. Today, nearly all of them come with an automatic ignition.

Check the manual that came with your grill before trying to light it but, after that, follow these steps:

  1. Open the cover of the grill -- and keep it open while lighting it!

  2. Fully open the valve on the gas cylinder.

  3. Turn the burner control(s) to high.

  4. Immediately push in the ignition button to light the grill.

  5. If the grill does not light instantly, push the ignition button again.

  6. If the grill still doesn't light, turn off all burner controls and close the valve on the cylinder. Wait 5 minutes for any gas fumes to dissipate. Then repeat Steps 1 through 5.

After the flame lights, set the controls to high for preheating (which should last about 10 to 15 minutes). Always be sure that the flame is burning before closing the cover.

Many contemporary gas grills have a built-in temperature gauge that tells you when they are hot enough to cook on. Some indicate actual temperatures -- 350 degrees is medium and 500 degrees is hot -- while others are marked "low," "medium," and "high," which correspond to the directions in most of our grilling recipes.

Chimney starter

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:

  1. Stuff a crumpled-up newspaper in the bottom of the chimney.

  2. Add charcoal briquettes to the chimney.

  3. Place the chimney on the lower grating of the grill and light the newspaper at the bottom. Be careful: Wear a mitt for this part of the operation.

    By forcing intense heat up through the shaft, the burning newspaper ignites the charcoal, which starts to burn brightly within a few minutes.

  4. Release the burning charcoal from the chimney into the charcoal in the kettle, either by squeezing the handle or by picking up the chimney and dumping the contents into the grill.

    That's it!

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:

  • If it is too hot, spread the coals out a bit more, which makes the fire less intense.

  • Raise or lower the grid if the grill has an adjustable grid.

  • Partially close (not entirely, of course) the vents in the grill, which allows less oxygen and damps down the fire.

  • Use the indirect grilling method, with coals to either side of a drip pan and the food over the pan rather than directly over the coals.

  • In the event of a severe flare-up, spritz the flames with water in a squirt bottle. Be careful, though -- spraying with water tends to blow ash around and make a mess. To control a grease fire, we suggest baking soda. You may also want to keep a fire extinguisher, garden hose, or bucket of sand nearby.

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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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

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