This time of year, everyone asks me how they can become a better griller. It all comes down to the following 10 tips, the most important of which is knowing the difference between direct and indirect cooking.
Once you understand when to use indirect heat, you'll embrace it. I use indirect heat at least 80% of the time I use my grill.
A quick definition of the two major grilling methods:
DIRECT GRILLING means you put the food directly over the heat source — similar to broiling in your oven.
INDIRECT GRILLING means the heat is on either side of the food, and the burners are turned off underneath the food — similar to roasting and baking.
My general rule:
-- If the food takes less than 20 minutes to cook, use the DIRECT METHOD — think shrimp, asparagus, summer squash, mushrooms, burgers, hot dogs, steaks, etc.
-- If the food takes more than 20 minutes to cook, use the INDIRECT METHOD — think beer-can chicken, chicken pieces, flank steak, ribs, pork butts, delicate fish, potatoes, onions, hard squash, etc.
Once you’ve mastered cooking by direct and indirect heat, you are ready for the COMBO method. It's as simple as searing the food over direct heat and then finishing (cooking) over indirect heat. This technique works well for everything from chops and steaks to whole tenderloins and even slices of denser vegetables such as sweet potatoes and fennel.
It's the outdoor-grill version of the way most restaurants chefs cook almost everything — searing on the stovetop and finishing the dish in the oven.
My 10 tips:
1. Know the difference between the direct and indirect grilling methods and when to use them.
2. Always preheat your gas grill with all burners on high, or wait until charcoal briquettes are covered with a gray ash.
3. Oil the food, not the grates! I like using olive or grapeseed oil, and coat the food before seasoning it. This keeps the food juicy, promotes great grill marks and helps prevent sticking.
4. Cook with the lid down — it reduces cooking time.
5. You don’t need super high heat. Most foods grill best between 350-500 degrees F. Any temperature above that is a searing temperature only.
6. Clean the grill grates twice every cookout with a grill cleaning brush. This is easy to do after you preheat the grill and before you put the food on it; and after you cook. The grates are easier to clean when they are hot.
7. Use an instant-read meat or grill thermometer to make sure your food is perfectly cooked.
8. Flip only once halfway through the cooking time — this goes for burgers too!
9. Brush with BBQ sauce only during the final 10-15 minutes of cooking.
10. Always let your food rest before cutting into it.
To get the hang of direct grilling, try my quick and easy “Grilled Shrimp Cocktail with Bloody Mary Cocktail Sauce”:
GRILLED SHRIMP WITH BLOODY MARY COCKTAIL SAUCE
An update on classic shrimp cocktail, with a sweet and smoky, tart and tangy Bloody Mary sauce. Rim your serving dish with celery salt before serving for a special presentation and that hint of celery.
I prefer grilling shell-on shrimp and peeling them once they have cooled. If you prefer grilling peeled and deveined shrimp, take them off the grill when they are pink and slightly undercooked or they will be tough.
Grilling Method: Direct/Medium-High Heat
1-2 pounds large shrimp, in shell about 25
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Preheat the grill according to instructions.
Place shrimp in a non-reactive bowl. Mix with olive oil until well-coated. Place shrimp on the cooking grate directly over the heat deflector plate with the lid down. Grill until pink and almost cooked through, about 4-6 minutes, turning once halfway through the cooking time.
Remove from grill and place on a tray. You can serve the shrimp hot with the cocktail sauce or let them cool and serve them cold. Serve with the shell on or peeled.
If cold is your preference, let the shrimp cool completely by topping with ice. Once they are cool, drain the excess water and refrigerate covered for 4-5 hours or up to 24 hours. Peel the shrimp and serve with chilled cocktail sauce.
Note: if you are grilling peeled and de-veined shrimp, they will take about 2 minutes less.
Bloody Mary Cocktail Sauce:
1 cup ketchup
1 cup Heinz Chili sauce
2 small lemons, juiced (3 tablespoons)
Zest of both lemons
1 small lime, juiced (½ tablespoon)
2 heaping Tablespoons prepared white horseradish (or more to taste)
2 teaspoons pureed chipotle in adobo (or more to taste)
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) vodka
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon garlic salt
Celery salt for rimming serving dish
Make the cocktail sauce. In a non-reactive bowl, mix ketchup, chili sauce, lemon juice, zest, lime juice, horseradish, pureed chipotle, vodka, Worcestershire and garlic salt until well combined.
Taste and adjust seasonings. If you like a lot of horseradish, and chipotle, you may want to add more. Set aside. The sauce can be made and refrigerated in a glass mason jar up to one week in advance.
Serve sauce with the shrimp either in a large bowl for a crowd or in individual servings of 5 shrimp each.
Chipotles come canned in adobo sauce. The easiest way to use them is to puree the whole can and store the mixture in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Use a small amount to add a sweet, smoky heat to everything from this cocktail sauce to mayo, soups and stews.
Rim dish with celery salt before serving. To rim dish, distribute a generous tablespoon of celery salt on a flat plate. Rub a cut lemon around the rim of your serving dish to moisten. While the rim is still wet, dip it in the celery salt and it will adhere.
The writer, Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling, barbecue and Southern foods expert, and the author of four cookbooks, including the newly released Steak and Cake. Her website is www.elizabethkarmel.com.