10 Tips for Grilling Greatness

Jamie Purviance, Weber’s Master Griller and author of the new cookbook Weber’s Greatest Hits: 125 Recipes for Every Grill, joins the Clever Cookstr to share tips and tricks for success on the grill.

Kara Rota,
June 20, 2017
Episode #156

10 Tips for Grilling GreatnessAs we get into summer grilling season, people have all sorts of questions on achieving grill success. Jamie Purviance has the top ten things you'll want to keep in mind.

Excerpted from Weber’s Greatest Hits by Jamie Purviance. Copyright © 2017 by Jamie Purviance. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

PREHEAT THE GRILL. What happens when the food hits the grate can sometimes separate a good griller from a great griller. If the grate is cold, the food can stick, which means it will never have a decent chance of searing properly or developing awesome grill marks. So, even if a recipe calls for medium or low heat, always preheat the grate on high first. Open the grill lid, fire up the charcoal or the gas burners, close the lid, and then let the grate get screaming hot for about 10 minutes. The grill temperature should reach at least 500°F.

CLEAN THE GRATE WHEN IT’S HOT. If you leave “stuff” on the grate from your last barbecue, it can be the glue that holds your new food to the grate a lot longer than you want. As soon as you have preheated the grill for about 10 minutes, brush off that stuff entirely, leaving behind a clean, smooth surface on which your new food can brown evenly. The best tool for the job is a sturdy, long-handled brush with stiff, stainless-steel bristles.

GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER. Gather all that you will need and put it near the grill before you begin cooking. If you have to run back into the kitchen while your food is on the fire, you might miss (that’s code for overcook or burn) something important. So bring your tools, bring your already oiled and seasoned food, bring your mop or glaze or sauce, bring your garnishes—you get the idea. And don’t forget clean platters for the cooked food. French chefs call this mise en place (literally, “put in place”). We call it getting your act together.

GIVE YOURSELF AT LEAST TWO HEAT ZONES. If you set up your grill for one type of heat only, your options are limited. What if something is cooking faster than you want? What if your food is causing flare-ups? What if you are grilling two different foods at the same time? You need at least two zones of heat: one for direct heat (where the fire is directly under the food) and one for indirect heat (where the fire is off to the side). That way, you can move your food from one zone to the other whenever you like.

OIL THE FOOD, NOT THE GRATE. Oil is important for preventing food from sticking, and a high-quality oil can also add flavor. You will get the best possible results when you lightly brush or spray the food itself, not the cooking grate. That way, you can coat the food surfaces evenly without too much oil dripping between the bars of the grate onto the fire, which can cause flare-ups. Plus, if you try to oil a hot grate, the oil tends to smoke and burn almost immediately, creating undesirable flavors.

LEAVE YOURSELF SOME ROOM TO MOVE. Packing a lot of food into a tight space on the grill is asking for trouble. Always leave some space around each piece of food so you can maneuver your tongs or spatula easily to grasp the pieces when necessary. Great grilling often involves jockeying food around the grill and setting it down on clean spots, so leave about one-third of the cooking grate empty at all times.

PUT A LID ON IT. A grill’s lid is there for a lot more than keeping out the rain. It is how you prevent too much air from getting in and too much heat and smoke from getting out. When the lid is closed, the grate is hotter, the grilling times are faster, the smoky tastes are better, and the flare-ups are fewer. So put a lid on it. That said, don’t forget to open the vents on the lid of a charcoal grill at least halfway. Every fire needs a little air to keep on burning.

LEAVE THE FOOD ALONE. Nearly everyone likes food when it is seared to a deep brown with plenty of beautifully charred bits. The trouble is, many people move their food so often that it doesn’t get enough time in one place to reach that desirable level of color and flavor. In almost every case, you should turn food just once or twice. If you are fiddling with it more than that, you are also probably opening the lid too much, which can cause another set of problems.

10 Tips for Grilling GreatnessTAKE CHARGE OF THE FIRE. On its own, a charcoal fire reaches its hottest temperatures first and loses heat either quickly or slowly, depending on the type of charcoal and, more important, on you. You need to take charge of the fire by refueling it, by pushing the coals around to suit your needs, by sweeping away ashes that can clog the bottom vents, and by adjusting the vents on the lid for optimal airflow. You should control the fire, not the other way around.

KNOW WHEN TO STOP. Knowing when to take your food off the grill is crucial. Learn various doneness clues, such as the gently yielding firmness of juicy grilled chicken when you press the surface with a fingertip. For an even more reliable method of judging doneness, get an instant-read thermometer. Its slim probe will help you pinpoint that critical moment when your food is at its peak of perfection.

Author photo (c) Deborah Jones Studio

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