Summer is here, which means it's grilling season. And by that we mean "screwing up when you try to grill things in the backyard season." Despite the hippie feel of eating outdoors, there's a science to proper grilling. Ignore the science and you're missing out on one of the best things about summer.
Trouble is, just like other kinds of science, there are rules. Commandments, even. And to get the definitive dogma, we reached out to grill masters of all walks -- including James Beard-nominated chef Greg Denton of Portland, OR's Ox, LongHorn Steakhouse Executive Chef/Grill Us Hotline hero Josh Evans, catering chef Dave Coffman of Tree's in Sherwood, OR, and a bunch of dads -- to figure out the 10 commandments of grilling.
Thou shalt not use accelerants
Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you? If you put lighter fluid on your coals, that stuff wafts up and coats your grilled meats with just a hint of petrochemicals. The same goes for those match-light charcoals (which are basically regular charcoal with lighter fluid mixed in). Those same chemicals will attach to your cooking surfaces too, so the next few meals you grill will also have toxic fumes as their secret ingredient. You're a big boy. Learn to start a proper fire. Or just use gas… propane, not 'oline.
Thou shalt establish heat zones
Bank your coals to one side for a charcoal grill, or use just the side burners for a gas grill. Do this so you can cook with indirect heat rather than just slapping meat on top of the hottest part of the cooker. It gives you a slower, more even cook all through your meat. Once you're ready for Advanced Grilling (™), you can strategically position different foods closer or farther from the hot zone so everything is ready at the same time.
Thou shalt not forget the veggies
Yes, grills are for steaks and hamburgers. Yes, vegetarians can be annoyingly self-righteous. No, that doesn't mean a grilled hot pepper or beet isn't delicious. Denton specifically recommends putting your veggies on the grill after you've cooked your meat. Let the coals burn down while cooking your veggies. If the outsides char, you can slice that away. Use them for a second course, to munch on while you sip your beer and slap at mosquitoes.
Thou shalt use fresh meats
Slapping a frozen slab of meat on the grill makes for an uneven cook: the outside chars while the inside slowly thaws. For best results, you want to use fresh meats that went from the grocery store to your fridge, then straight to the grill. If you absolutely must use frozen, thaw them overnight in the fridge. Don't even think about cooking those suckers until they are fully thawed.
Thou shalt not mistake the purpose of marinades
The primary purpose is to break down tougher meats (like flank and hanger steaks), to make them easier and more pleasant to chew. If you like the flavor of a marinade on a rib-eye, cook that liquid down to a thicker sauce while your meats are cooking without it, then brush it on a minute or so before the end.
Thou shalt always clean thy grill
Another "what the hell is wrong with you?" situation. A dirty grill leaves pieces of charred and carbonized last night's meal all over this night's dinner. That's nasty. The best time to clean your grill is after you've preheated it -- just before you slap down your food. The fire will cook some of the old stuff away, and warm up the Klingons so you can scrape them off easily.
Thou shalt not use a cold grill
If you put meat on a cold grill, it cooks onto the metal with a chemical bond that's about as hard to knock off as concrete from rebar. A hot grill, by contrast, sears your meat nicely so it doesn't stick. Keep in mind that you're putting cold meat on that hot metal, which reduces the overall temperature because of physics. So make it hotter than you think you need it. It'll warm up. Don't worry.
Thou shalt become comfortable with people waiting their turns
The rule for meats on a grill is the same as the rule for slow dancing at prom: all flesh should be in inch or more apart. If you're observing our earlier commandment about using indirect heat (which cancels out part of your surface for cooking), that means cooking fewer items at a time. Your friends will have to be patient.
Thou shalt not poke your meat
You've heard the trick of poking meat and comparing it to the texture of your hand to tell if it's medium, or rare, or burnt, or whatever. The trick works, but only for professionals -- and remember that professionals at this level can tell the doneness of a steak in a pan by the sound it makes. You're not a pro, and you don't want to poison your friends. Buy a damn meat thermometer.
Thou shalt leave the lid alone
Opening the lid of a gas grill reduces the temperature and slows cooking. Opening the lid of a charcoal grill adds oxygen to the fire and burns your meat. Patience, grasshopper. Use a timer, then open the lid to flip, then close it again until it's close to time for the cooking to be done. You don't keep opening your oven and dicking around with a cake or casserole. Resist the urge with the grill.