I decided to buy a bigger grill as a gift to myself. Although most of the time I am only cooking for two, I like to cook a lot of things on the grill, not just the meats. I can cook an entire meal outside on my charcoal grill, and not heat up my kitchen on hot summer days. Cooking on the grill also means no pots and pans to clean up. That is a plus that Fabgrandpa loves, because he is the dishwasher around here. Here are some things I have learned over the years that make grilling more pleasant, and not so much of a chore.
Line the bottom of your grill with heavy duty aluminum foil.
Line the bottom of your grill with heavy duty aluminum foil. If the foil is not wide enough to cover the entire bottom, tear off two pieces of foil and fold them together. Doing this will make cleaning up the ashes a breeze! Just fold up the aluminum foil with the ashes inside, and toss it in the trash. Make sure the foil does not cover the air vents.
Use enough charcoal.
For cooking a whole chicken, split in two, you need to have enough charcoal to burn hot for about an hour. Pour about 65 charcoal briquettes in your grill, and pile them up in a pyramid shape, or use a charcoal chimney. (I have never used a chimney, I always use the pyramid stack). I squirt on about a half ounce of charcoal lighter fluid, and wait about five minutes before lighting the fire. When the flames are gone and the charcoal is glowing red, you can spread them around in the grill, and they are ready to use. For information on using a charcoal chimney click here.
Adjust the air vents.
When you are shopping for a charcoal grill, make sure it has adjustable air vents on the grill and on the top. When you have the charcoal ready to use, adjust those vents to keep the charcoal burning hotter or cooler. On my new grill, I have found that closing the air vent on the back, and opening the air vents on the front and on the top make the fire hotter. If I want a cooler fire, I can open the back vents too.
Put the food that takes longest to cook on the grill first.
Just like when you are cooking indoors, if you want all your food to be ready at the same time, you start the food that takes the longest to cook first. When I am cooking several items for a meal on my grill, I usually put the potatoes on first because it takes longer for them to cook. A whole chicken cut in half takes longer to cook than sliced squash. Plan out your cooking times so you know what to put on the grill and when. My new grill has a warming shelf. I can move cooked vegetables from the grill rack to the warming shelf as they get done. I love this feature!
Use tongs to turn meats.
When you use a fork to turn meats, the holes from the fork let the juices run out of the meat. It is better to use tongs so those juices stay in the meat. Your grilled meats, fish, and poultry will come out moist and tender every time. Also, turn meats only once or twice. When I cook a whole chicken cut in half, I let it cook for twenty five minutes on one side before turning. After cooking another twenty five minutes, I check for doneness. If it needs more cooking time, I turn it once more. My grilled chicken always gets rave reviews from my guests.
Use a disposable aluminum pan for cooking vegetables.
If you are cooking vegetables, use a disposable aluminum pan. Poke several holes in the bottom of the pan before adding the vegetables. This will prevent your vegetables from falling through the grate and into the charcoal fire. When the vegetables are done, you can move the pan to the warming shelf to keep them warm while preventing them from burning while you finish cooking the meats.
Buy an inexpensive oven thermometer.
If your charcoal grill does not have a built in thermometer, buy an inexpensive one from the grocery store. You can put it on the cooking grate to find out if your charcoal fire is hot enough. The one I bought cost about eight dollars. It let me see that my grill was heating to 400 degrees.
Do you like to cook on a charcoal grill? Do you have any tips for using it that helps you get a balanced meal on the table?