Get Ready to Grill

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Dear Home Ec 101,

I think I’m going to bite the bullet and fire up the grill this weekend. I’m tired of waiting for my spouse to cook something. Do you have any tips for a beginner?


Grilling in Groten

Learn How to Grill

Heather says:

Hands down, the most important tip I have for a noobie grill chef is learn the hand test. What’s the hand test? It’s simply the most useful judge of a grill’s heat known to mankind. Even if you have a snazzy grill with propane and knobs that indicate the level of the flame I’m willing to bet your grill sits outside exposed to destructive elements and possibly more destructive children. I don’t trust the knobs on my grill one bit. Sure it says I’ve turned it to low, but that flame looks more like a medium or on another burner the opposite is true. Aside from that, every grill whether charcoal or propane will have areas that are hotter than others.  Use the hand test to become familiar with the zones or settings of your grill. (With a charcoal grill the zones will vary depending on how you spread the coals, a propane grill is fairly consistent).

The Hand Test

With a clean, dry hand hold your palm an inch over the grate. The length of time you can comfortably keep your hand in this position is a good indication of the grill’s temperature.

1 – 2 seconds Hot (duh)
3 – 4 seconds Medium
5 – 7 seconds Medium Low
8+ seconds turn up the burner or add more charcoal

OK, now remember this isn’t the time to play hero or prove your man / womanhood. Seriously. We will point and laugh if you hurt yourself by trying to not wimp out holding your hand over a flame. That’s asking to be mocked. Move your hand as soon as it becomes uncomfortably hot.

My other suggestions for successful grilling:

Learn how to easily get your charcoal grill started.

Keep a spray bottle of water handy.

Use this to control flare ups. Remember to squirt the flare ups, not the food.

Know the difference between direct and indirect grilling.

Not every recipe you come across was intended for a grilling novice. Many times the recipes assume the cook has some basic knowledge of how to grill.

Direct grilling is straightforward, you grill over the heat source and is appropriate for many items that benefit from fast cooking: burgers, fish, boneless poultry, vegetables, and of course steaks. Keep the lid down, except when turning.

If you are preparing a cut of meat that is more than 2 inches thick, poultry (with the exception of boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs), or roasts indirect grilling is more appropriate. The outside of these items would burn long before the center reached a safe temperature. To grill indirectly on a charcoal grill, mound the charcoal off to one side or in the center. Place the items away from the pile. For a propane grill with multiple burners, turn on one burner but cook over the other. For a small propane grill you may need to place a drip pan under the grate to deflect the heat. When grilling indirectly, it is vital to keep the lid closed as much as possible.  Think of it like baking, you wouldn’t open the oven every two minutes to check on a cake, don’t do it to your grill.

Prepare the side dishes in advance.

Just trust me on this one, it’s not fun to monitor the grill for flare ups, while dashing back in the house to stir something on the stove. It’s not my idea of a good time and I inevitably manage to let in flies while going in and out.

Keep the grill clean.

This means cleaning the grill the same days it is used. If it’s hard enough to want to grill, it’s going to be even worse if you have to clean the grill before you use it.

What grilling tips do you have?

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11 thoughts on “Get Ready to Grill”

  1. Our new grill arrives on Wednesday… I appreciate the tips! I did not not know abuot the hand test but will definately try that out.

  2. Take the meat out of the fridge twenty minutes before you put it on the grill. This allows the entire cut of meat to come up to room temperature, and thus get more even cooking. I ruined countless pieces of perfectly good steak before I stumbled upon this tip.
    If you have a charcoal grill, consider getting a charcoal chimney to start your charcoal. This avoids having to use charcoal fluid to start it, which avoids getting that awful chemical smell in your food and is cheaper in the long run.

    • Nancy, excellent tips. I need to be more observant of my own habits so I can pass them along. Some things like bringing the meat to room temperature have been habitual that I fail to note them.

  3. oh man, you have to clean these… I thought that was where some of the flavor came from:) I swear if I did not have to clean everything I would like cooking a lot more.

    • It’s why I’m glad my grill has two sides. If you see pics of me grilling on the wavy lined side, it’s because a certain spouse failed in his clean up duties.

  4. Quite sad, but we have not used our grill since before my daughter started school. She is now 19 and working full time. Still, it lurks in a dark corner, having been hauled around thru 4 moves since it was last used.

    I’m going to go cry now.

  5. Grilling is one of my favorite things to do in the warmer weather. There are so many things you can make on the grill beyond hot dogs, hamburgers and steak. Grilled fruits and veggies, grilled pizza, and on and on. I love using the grill as often as possible during the warm months and even on occasion during the cold months.

    My advice:
    1. Invest in a good grill. Do some research. If you buy a cheap grill that doesn’t work properly or breaks after 1 season, it’s not worth the money and you find that you hardly use it. My first grill was a cheap one given to us by a friend. I hated using it because you couldn’t leave it for a second or your food got burned. I was constantly moving my food around on the grill because you had one spot that was always high temp/flame and one spot with low temp/flame, nothing in between no matter where you set the knobs. I finally saved up and invested in a great grill and I find I use it All.The.Time.

    2. Give your grill a good cleaning every season to keep it lasting longer. A paint scraper, steel wool, wire brush, and soap and water will help you do an efficient job with cleaning. To minimize flare-ups and prevent grease fires, make sure to empty and clean out the drip tray, if you’re grill has one. You’ll still get flare-ups from drippings on the coals/heating elements during grilling, but keeping the drip tray clean will keep from the grease catching fire.

    3. I know Heather recommends above to clean your grill when you’re done using it, but actually a lot of grill companies and avid grillers recommend that you don’t clean after use for propane grills. You are more likely to waste propane and forget to shut off your propane that way as you need to keep the grill on for awhile to burn off the food before scraping the grates clean. Instead, shut off the grill and propane as soon as you are done cooking your food. Next time you go to grill something, light the grill (ALWAYS with the lid open, don’t turn on the propane while the lid is shut or you will get a build-up of gas that will ignite when you light the grill. People have lost eyebrows that way), then shut the lid (after it’s lit). While the grill is heating up, it will burn the food particles from the previous use and then before you add the food, use your wire grill brush (I recommend one with a long handle so you don’t need to get your hands too close to the heat source while cleaning) to clean off the remnants. Then you are good to go. This way you are not wasting propane and you’re less likely to forget to shut everything off when you are done.

    4. My last bit of advice is don’t be afraid of the grill. It’s not just a man’s domain. I have so many women friends who say they don’t know how to grill and are afraid to even turn it on. It’s sooo easy and fun, I tell them all the time. I personally find grilling easier than cooking/baking. For a propane grill, you turn on the propane, light the grill (a good grill, the igniter should not break easily like cheap grills), wait for it to heat up and then cook your food. Indirect grilling is great for things like barbeque. A charcoal grill, you just light the charcoal and wait for it to heat up and then cook. As someone recommended above, a charcoal chimney makes this process easier without having to use lighter fluid which leaves a bad taste to the food (and makes me nervous about what’s going into my body if I can taste the fluid). Also, buy a good grilling cookbook that has lots of information about types of grilling and how to use a grill. If you don’t want to spend the money, there is tons of information on the internet from bloggers about using a grill.

  6. Thank you, Kim, for all of your comments. I must admit that I don’t own a grill, and am somewhat afraid of them 😉 BUT, I would love to conquer that fear.

    • Thank you Rhonda. I really recommend that you conquer that fear. Grilling is a lot of fun and there are so many great recipes out there to make on the grill.


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