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Master your grill with these simple tips

Even heat distribution is key to successful outdoor grilling.
Posted on June 23, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross

Food & Nutrition

I know that to more of you the warmer weather means grilling. Nowadays there are so many grilling possibilities and many of you have your own preferences.

There are a variety of grills to choose from, including wood pellet and gas grills that not only save time but have other advantages when cooking outdoors. Those of you who like to cook with charcoal briquettes have learned to plan for the extra time the coals need to get hot. Many of you use gas grills with some wood chips or briquettes for a certain flavor. The indirect heat of the wood pellet grills is wonderful and you can also use different kinds of wood to cook for some flavor differences.

An important key to successful outdoor grilling is even heat distribution, which means an even bed of coals. When using a charcoal grill I light it at least a half hour before cooking. My dad taught me how to speed the heating of the coals by using an old, empty, metal coffee can with both ends removed. The can is placed directly in the grill and a layer of charcoal briquettes was added to it. A little lighter fluid was sprayed on the charcoal before another layer of briquettes was added. Continue to layer in this way until the can is full or until there is enough charcoal to cook with. The charcoal heats much faster and also heats at a more even temperature.

Have the discipline to wait till the coals are gray before you use them. Plan to use a pair of tongs to remove the can and arrange the coals.

Once the grill is hot, you may need to reduce the heat, depending on what you are grilling. To lower the heat, raise the height of the grilling rack or open the lid. To increase heat near the end of cooking time, remove the food from the grill and carefully scrape the ashes off the coals. The ashes will blanket the fire. Place the food back on the grill and continue cooking. If you need more coals, don’t place them on top of the burning coals, add them around the edges.

I have heard that some like to add flavor by adding wood chips of apple, hickory or other flavors. To make the wood chips last longer try soaking them in water before adding to the coals. Later in the summer I suggest you try adding herbs such as thyme, oregano and rosemary when you are grilling mild meats like chicken and fish, or if you are grilling vegetables. You will get the most flavor by laying the fresh herbs on the meat or vegetables when you grill them. An added bonus for your nose is to place some of the herbs on the coals.

For controlling fire-ups and smoke, trim as much fat from the meat as possible before placing it on the grill. A spray bottle of water will really help control fires in the grill. When cooking chicken I like to cook halves versus pieces; this way they won’t dry out. I cook the chicken halves bone-side down and I never turn them. If you do you will probably burn or tear the skin. If your grill has a lid you can cook with the bone-side down and skin will brown during the cooking process. If your grill does not have a lid you can cover with a large skillet lid.

When cooking a roast, leg of lamb or anything similar, I suggest you place an aluminum bread-size pan in the center of the grill with water in it. Place the coals all along the edges of the pan. The meat is placed on the grill over the pan, this way it doesn’t burn and you catch all the juices to serve with the meat. This is a form of indirect cooking.

There are many commercial rubs that are excellent on meat, but if creating your own remember to be light with the salt. When marinating meat use an acid, which can be fruit juice such as lemon, orange, pineapple or vinegar, and a flavoring such as teriyaki. Use about three-fourths juice or more to one-fourth the flavoring. Marinating is best if done ahead of time in the refrigerator. The longer the meat is marinated the more flavor it will have and more tender it will be. Using a large needle and syringe is a quick way to get flavor into a roast or chicken half. Allow time for the acid in the fruit juice to tenderize the meat.

The Elkhart County 4-H Fair hosts a grilling contest each July. Regardless if you’re a grillmaster in your own domain or just love to experiment with new recipes and ideas, I encourage you to enter this year’s outdoor grilling contests. Saturday, July 27, is the Best of Michiana Ribs contest. Also that day is the Byler-Lienhart Cook-Off for beef, pork and lamb. All contest rules and entry details can be found in the 2013 Open Class Home & Family Arts Department booklet. Download a copy from our office website by visiting www.extension.purdue.edu/elkhart, or stop by Elkhart County Purdue extension office, located inside Gate 2 of the fairgrounds.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is an extension educator in consumer family science. Write to her at 17746 E. C.R. 34, Goshen, IN 46528; call 533-0554; fax 533-0254; or email lienhart@purdue.edu.


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