By: Chef Cristian Feher
The temperature is rising, the sun is shining, and the grass is growing like, well… grass. It’s summer. For most people this means firing up the grill, sticking meat on it, and walking away. And for some, it means burnt pucks, rusty grills and a boring repertoire of tiresome menu ideas. In this article I will give you some tips that should improve your grilling skills, help you maintain your grill, and give you some new ideas to expand your summer menu.
Does your grill get rusty? Does food tend to stick and hold on for dear life? A grill, much like your car, could use some maintenance every now and then. And you may not be aware of it. Rust and sticking might just be an issue of maintenance. The first thing you should do before you even turn on your grill is to take some spray vegetable oil and spray all of the inside surfaces; the grill, the inside of the lid, the sides and the bottom under the burners. Once you turn on your grill, the oil will burn onto the surfaces protecting them from rust. This is called “curing” your grill. Another good thing that burnt oil does, is it makes your grill surface non-stick over time. The more oil you can burn onto your grilling surface, the less food will stick to it. This practice will eventually turn your grill into a seasoned “classic” instead of a rusty “junker”. So, throw that heavy steel brush away and clean your grill gently with a Brillo pad just to get the big chunks of burnt food off. If you use a steel brush, you’re really just removing that burnt oil and ruining the non-stick property of the grill – not to mention that you’re creating the perfect surface for rust to form. If there is some grease on your grill and it grosses you out, just preheat the grill with your lid closed to 400 or 500 degrees for a few minutes and it will sterilize the surface, making is completely safe to cook on. And remember that your grill must be really hot before you put food on it, otherwise you can bet that it will always stick – burnt oil or not.
Do you start with a perfectly good steak, and end up with a mysterious lump of charred coal? Unless you’re a meat alchemist (an alchemist was a medieval “scientist” that tried to turn metals into gold by using magic, potions and so forth) you could probably benefit from what I’m about to share with you. Stop looking as your grill as a grill, and start looking at it as an outdoor oven. The whole idea of the grill is not to apply fire directly to your meat, but to surround it in heat. When I grill, I only turn on half of the heating elements, leaving the other half of my grill off. I put the meat on the “cold” side of the grill and close the lid. The temperature goes up to 400 or 500 anyways, and since there is no fire directly under my meats, they cook evenly and they don’t burn. And since it’s so hot in there, they still get perfect grill marks. You can also do this with a charcoal grill by moving the hot coals over to one half of the grill, or you can lower the coal so that the fire is not in actual contact with the meat. The idea is to use your grill as an oven, and not an incinerator. Would you cook your meat with a blow torch? I didn’t think so. If your grill doesn’t have a lid, or doesn’t give you a choice of lighting up only half the grill, then you should consider buying a new grill that has these functions. There is no sense keeping a piece of equipment around if it doesn’t do the job.
Use your grill as an oven. As stated above, a grill with a lid is really just an outdoor oven. And if you have the capability of turning off half of your grill, you can use the other half as an oven. I actually bake in my oven during the summer months when it makes no sense to heat up my kitchen (Here in Florida, that’s about 10 months out of the year). I put my baking and roasting foods such as salmon, whole fish, roasting potatoes, marinated turkey breasts, meat loaf, whole chickens, etc, on a non stick baking sheet, as I would for a regular oven, and put them in the “cold” side of the grill. Lid closed, temperature regulated by thermometer on the lid. It becomes a really efficient outdoor oven. And since I never really roast anything under 400 degrees anyways (most Chefs don’t) the grill works perfectly for me. I even bake puff pastry appetizers in the grill and am able to add a nice, smoky flavor to foods by adding some wood chips in there, or using my charcoal grill as an oven. It really beats my indoor oven hands-down for most recipes. If your grill has a stove top, try grilling your meatballs while preparing a fresh tomato sauce on the stove. I guarantee you won’t go back in your kitchen for a while!
I always enjoy reading emails from my readers. Have you prepared something interesting on your grill? Do you have tips of your own to share? Please email me at email@example.com. You can also visit our website at www.tampabaychef.com. Grill on!