The heat is on: tips for better barbecues

July 01, 1998|By ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Plenty has been written about buying a grill (check out the June Consumer Reports for a guide to gas grills). But a lot of grilling success relies on the fire -- how you build it, how you use it and how you regulate the cooking temperature, say Bill and Cheryl Alters Jamison in "Born to Grill" (Harvard Common Press, $27.95). Here are hints on tending the flames:

* Know your fire. Gauge the heat of a charcoal or gas grill with the "hand test," where you hold your hand a certain distance from the fire and count the seconds until heat forces you to pull your hand away.

According to the Jamisons, assume a standard cooking grate is 4-6 inches above the fire, and hold your hand, palm-side down, 1-2 inches above it. If you pull back in one to two seconds, the fire is hot; three seconds, medium-high heat; four to five seconds, medium; six seconds, medium-low; seven seconds or longer, low heat.

* Have a hot-enough fire. Don't skimp on charcoal, the Jamisons say, because it's easier to reduce the heat than to raise it. (And always preheat the grate a few minutes before cooking.)

Increase the heat of charcoal by bunching coals closer together, opening vents fully and moving food closer to the fire. To reduce temperature, spread coals apart, dampen the draft or increase the distance between food and fire.

For a gas grill with the cover up, it may be necessary to turn all burners to their highest setting to reach a medium temperature for open grilling, the Jamisons say. If your grill won't go beyond low, reserve it for covered cooking.

* Try grilling without the cover. In months of recipe creation, grilling with and without the cover, the Jamisons found the flavor of food improved when it had been grilled open, or uncovered. Plus, open grilling is more fun, they say, though they do recommend using the cover for roasting large cuts of meat or grilling in stormy weather.

Chris Schlesinger, co-author of "License to Grill" (Morrow, $27.50), compares covered grilling to using an oven and open grilling to using a saute pan. Covered grilling imparts a distinct, unpleasant flavor to food, he says. He uses a three-fourths-of-an-hour rule: He puts the cover on only when cooking something like a whole chicken, beef brisket or pork roast that needs to be on the grill at least 45 minutes.

* Build a two-level fire in a charcoal grill, or a fire with a hotter part and colder part. (With gas grills, just turn the control dial to change temperatures.) With a little bit of practice, Schlesinger says, you'll know when to move food from one side to the other so it ends up with a good strong surface sear (from the hot part) and is properly done on the inside (cooler part).

With charcoal grills, most people build a two-level fire by piling coals on one side of the firebox and scattering more coals in a single layer elsewhere. The Jamisons also suggest stacking charcoal along the outer wall of the firebox, leaving an empty "doughnut" hole in the middle.

* The Weber Grill-Line is staffed by grilling experts from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays through Labor Day to answer questions: 800-474-5568.

Pub Date: 7/01/98

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