5 Steps to Grilling Like a Pro
Around this time each year I start getting questions about how to grill “like a pro”, without foods getting stuck or burnt. Like anything in cooking, grilling is more fun when you know how to get great results. The steps below will get you off to a great start with grilling foods the way the pros do.
#1 Heat That Sucker Up!
A very common cause for food sticking to a grill is the heat is too low when the food is added. Learning how to control heat is one of the most important cooking skills you can master. It certainly is possible to get the heat too high, but I’d say that most heat-related mistakes are made by setting it too low. If you have a grill thermometer, aim for a preheating temp of about 450° F (~ 230° C). Remember that the heat will drop significantly when you open the BBQ, so only open as needed.
A tip on temperature setup: Set one side of the grill hotter than the other. You can do this with either a gas or charcoal/wood grill. This will allow you to move the food between the higher and lower sections of the grill as needed for even cooking.
#2 Clean the Grill
Clean the grill with a wire brush thoroughly just before using. Preheat it first, to be sure any food left from the last time you grilled are well burnt. Then use a wire brush to scrape it all off.
Why? The food you are grilling is less likely to stick to the grill grate than it is to old burnt-on food. It will also get better grill marks from a clean grill grate. The material your grill grate is made from (cast iron, porcelain, etc.) is a much better conductor of heat than caked on food.
#3 Oil the Grill
Now that the grill grate is clean, rub some oil on it using a wadded paper towel, or a designated kitchen rag. Don’t use strong flavored oils, like extra virgin olive oil, as they tend to burn and get bitter quickly. And be careful that you don’t have so much oil on the rag that it drips down and flames up! In fact, if you’re using a gas grill you might want to turn off the burners for a moment while you grease the grill, just to reduce the chance of flame up. Using tongs to hold the rag also helps avoid the flames.
Why oil the grill? For one, you want to clean off any burnt char dust left from the cleaning process. Also, oiling the grill just before adding food to it will help keep foods from sticking.
What about cooking spray? I vote no. The highest quality cooking sprays seem to be the ones that boast the use of real oil… so why not just use real oil to begin with? But if you must use cooking spray, it will work. Careful though. Cooking spray tends to be quite flamable.
#4 “OSP”… Oil Salt Pepper
In cooking you sometimes see acronyms for common ingredients and techniques. “BTB” means “bring to boil”. “S&P” is “salt and pepper”. “TT” means “to taste”. I’d like to start a new acronym, “OSP” for “oil, salt, and pepper.” This is such a common technique that unfortunately so many people skip. You simply coat your food with oil, season it with salt and pepper, and let it sit for about 30 minutes before cooking. For meats, let them come to room temp before cooking. This is called tempering, and allows for a more gentle cooking process. For veggies, toss them in a mixing bowl with the “OSP.”
Why? Food is coated in oil first to keep it from sticking when being grilled (or roasted, sautéed, seared). Just as important is the fact that oil conducts heat much better than moisture or air, therefore, foods coated in oil will brown much better.
As for the salt and pepper, they make your food taste good. Salt in particular is an extremely important seasoning that you should use unless you choose not to for health reasons.
#5 Grill It, Don’t Set It On Fire!
Now I realize that several popular fast food restaurants market their “char grilled” menu items by showing them cooking in direct contact with fire. I just want to make sure the rest of us are on the same page that grilling should not include direct contact with fire. At the very least you will end up with black soot on your food. Worse yet, you will likely burn your food. Remember, heat control is one of the most important things to master in grilling, or any cooking technique for that matter.
Now that you know how to grill like a pro, get out your “kiss the cook” apron, grab a beer and your finest grilling tools, and grill up some great food! Let us know how it goes.