outdoor grill tips for a newbie
just started grilling recently...taking advantage of an abandoned old charcoal grill on our roof/walkout area. searched chowhound but i think most people here already know what they're doing so i couldn't find any beginner tips!
so let me start with my basic questions:
my father always grilled with the cover on, after the coals stopped flaming, and only flipped meats once.
my roommate grills with the cover on, as soon as coals START flaming, and says you have to constantly flip.
which is correct? i have been using my father's method and while the burgers have been juicier than my roommate's, that could be just that he lets them cook too long. also, mine always turn out a sort of yellowy-beige color rather than brown. does that mean anything?
what about cooking times? and level of heat? i have been assuming 3-4 minutes per side for a burger at high heat. how long for a chicken breast? how long for potatoes? or bell peppers? should veggies be pre-cooked first? does that depend on whether it's on a skewer on the grill or if wrapped in foil? and if i grill things wrapped in foil, will it taste significantly different--i.e. steamed--compared to direct grilling? if i add wood chips (i read you soak them first so they don't burn) do i throw them in while the fire is still going, or after the coals are ashed over?
someone posted earlier about grilling pizzas outdoors. LOVE this idea. but does this involve a pan ON the grill, or putting the crust directly on the grill? again, what level of heat and covered or not?
thanks for any help you can give...i know these are really basic questions!
go to a book store & get a copy of "The Barbecue Bible" by Steve Raichlen. It will answer all of your questions & probably some you did not even know you had. He also has lots of receipts. Some are kind of bizarre but many are great & it is a good starting point.
As for your questions: I think you might have started an argument of epic proportions w/o even realizing it. ":^)
The reason your roomie has to constantly flip is b/c he/she did not allow the flames to die & therefore has to flip to keep things fr/ burning. Your dad is correct there but unless you are smoking I would leave the lid off the grill. Vegetables are great & should not have to be preboiled at all. Get a grill basket for cooking them & you will love the results. There is a special griddle for pizza but good foil works as well & you will find that--besides a good pair of tongs & a chimney starter--your best friend when grilling is aluminum foil.
Your father's method is exactly as "Weber's Big Book of Grilling" by Purviance & McRae(excellent book, by the way) describes. Flip burgers once halfway through because excessive flipping loses too much of the juices. Cooking covered minimizes the chance of flare-up. Purviance recommends cooking burgers at medium heat(350F) for about the amount time you've been grilling burgers(that's with 3/4" thick burgers.)
I don't think cooking uncovered is wrong; it's just a different method. "Grilling and Barbecue" by the Editors of Cooks Illustrated prefers uncovered because they feel the accumulated deposits inside the lid of the grill imparts an "off" taste to food. They recommend covering the food with a disposable aluminum foil pan instead of using the lid if you need to produce the roasting effect that you get with covered cooking. They do say that using wood chips or chunks masks the "off" taste allowing use of the lid for cooking with indirect heat. This book prefers a medium-hot heat and less cooking time for burgers(also 3/4" burgers.) No mention of frequent flipping in that book. Both books warn against pressing down on the burgers with a spatula as they cook, again too much juices lost.
I cook using the Weber method and haven't been plagued by "off" tasting food.
Americans are just about the only ones that grill with a lid. Covered is more for the BBQ than the grill, but whatever. Experiment, try different techniques. My father-in-law still uses a large grilling fork for flipping steaks and chops on his charcoal grill. He never marinates. He also covers the grill grates with aluminum foil and then places the meat over this(fry method, like many like to pre-boil chicken and finish on foil on the gas grill). He continuously pokes and stabs the meat to expell as much 'juice' as possible and flips constantly. When the meat has taken on a leathery appearance, and there is NO juice left he places them on a plate, squeezes lemon juice over the top and eats it with a salt shaker in one hand and the large chunks of 'meat' on the fork in the other. No side dishes, no veggies, no potatoes or rice, no nothin', just the shoe leather he prefers. Define, for yourself, what you prefer, and experiment. A few misses are still good enough to eat...
Your coals should be white hot before cooking. There should be no areas of black on the coals.
If you begin cooking too early and use a cover the meat will be more "roasted" than broiled, hence the brownish/golden color you mentioned in one of your posts.
Burgers should be turned once. Constant fussing says more about the nervousness of the cook than about proper technique. I usually push a spatula between the burger and the grill surface about 30 seconds after I first start cooking but then leave the burger in place - this prevents sticking.
Even after they are heated fully some grills get hotter than others. I'm going to say something heretical here - time the burgers. Once the coals are white hot try 2 minutes a side for burgers. Get a cheap Casio stopwatch - it costs about $15 bucks and will last forever.
Adjust the cooking times based on results. For things like burgers an extra 60 seconds can mean the difference between medium rare and well done so timing them will insure consistent results.
You do a grilled pizza directly on the grill, first sliding the plain dough on an oiled grill, then flipping and topping and finally taking off the grill. You may gather from this that you will definitely need a pizza peel and should have your toppings ready to go before you put the dough on.
Maybe others have other methods?