Insights

All the Things You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Grilling

There’s absolutely no question that we’re in the heat of grilling season (pun intended). But, contrary to popular belief, grilling prowess isn’t an inherent trait, it must be developed and cultivated. For grilling novices, or grill masters itching for a bit more information, we present the Plated Grill Guide. Wondering what equipment you need? Seeking to diversify your grilling menu? And lastly, searching for some insight on grill maintenance and cleaning? Look no further.

What to Buy

Although it’s one of the most enjoyable and simplest cooking methods, grilling involves a good amount of equipment. We’re shedding some light on the essentials, plus some add-ons that you’ll probably want to get.

Grills

When deciding on an outdoor grill, the age-old charcoal versus gas debate must be invoked. Here, we’ve broken down the pros and cons of both, and important factors in choosing.

Charcoal
The plus side to a charcoal grill can be summed up in one word: flavor. Using hot coals to cook creates aromas and smoke that will imbue even more taste into whatever you’re cooking. Conducive to low and slow cooking, charcoal grills are cheaper than gas grills, and can be found in a number of sizes, from the small, round BBQs to large, heavy duty versions. The downside to charcoal is the cleanup (which involves disposing of ash and thoroughly cleaning the bars) and the lack of heat control. Adjusting the heat with charcoal can be challenging, and requires constant attention. If you do go for charcoal, purchase a chimney starter which will help heat up your coals quickly and prevent the need for lighter fluid or matchlight coals.

Ideal For:
– Experienced grillmasters
– Smaller Budget
– Minimal Space
– Flavor snobs

Gas
Gas grills, while thought to be less “authentic” by some purists, are easier to use, quicker to set up, and involve much less clean up. While they don’t provide the same intense charcoal flavor, the concentrated heat and the design of a large outdoor grill will still create the char lines and smokiness you love and expect. The consistent, spaced out heat is easily manipulated on a gas grill, making it simpler to use, and harder to burn foods. Gas grills are, however more expensive and larger than their charcoal counterparts.

Ideal For:
– Grillers who are less experienced or simply want an easier, less-involved experience with less cleanup
– Those with extra space (big backyard or property)
– Bigger budget
– A nightly (or very frequent) grill user

Grill Pan
If you’re like many of us city-dwellers, the likelihood of having an outdoor area and adequate grill space is low to very low. However, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the grill flavors you know and love. In the Plated Test Kitchen, we’re total devotees of the humble cast iron grill pan, which comes in so many shapes and sizes, and takes up little space. Make sure to turn on a kitchen fan or open the windows as wide as possible when using it though, as grill pans can create some serious smoke.

Ideal For:
– City-dwellers with no outdoor space and little indoor space
– Lovers of grill flavor!
– Many budgets

Tools

Even though it seems primitive, grilling, it turns out, requires a good amount of tools.

Tongs
As grills generate a lot of heat, tongs, preferably long-handled ones, are an essential tool when grilling. Buy a couple of sets, perhaps one 12-inch and one 16-inch, and you’ll find yourself using them in the kitchen, too.

Basting Brush
We love slathering meats in barbecue sauce and marinades, and basting brushes are the ideal tool for this. Purchase a silicone one, long-handled if you can find it, and your meats and fish will remain perfectly juicy.

Grill Brush
Debris can accumulate very quickly on a grill and cause burning, so make sure to get a thick bristled grill brush and clean the grates before every use.

Metal Skewers
Skewers of all kinds are a grill’s best friend. Purchase a set of the high quality ones, and you’ll use them for seasons to come.

Spatulas
Grilling is all about the flipping, so purchase a few high quality spatulas. Try to get a heat-safe one, so that the handle doesn’t melt or get extremely hot.

Instant Read Thermometer
This should have a place in any kitchen, not just an outdoor one. Nothing’s worse than laboring over a grilled masterpiece to find out it’s way too rare or completely overcooked. Your health and happiness will thank you.

Apron
Okay, so it’s not essential, but grilling can get your clothes seriously dirty, and plus, who doesn’t love an apron? Whether you go basic, or all out and monogrammed is your choice.

What to Cook

Beef

Burgers and steak are grilled classics, and it’s not hard to see why. Because of its strong flavor, beef stands up particularly well to charring, and the fat drips off while flavoring the meat. Short ribs, brisket, and tenderloin are also terrific on the grill, especially for a large crowd. The USDA recommends cooking beef to 145°F and ground beef to 160°F, so grab your instant read thermometer.

 

Pork

We love throwing everything from epically large slabs of ribs to pork chops and tenderloins on the grill. Pork’s natural fattiness helps to keep the meat moist, while excess fat melts off. For an unbeatable flavor combination, cook pork with peaches, whether in skewers or simply together. Also, the high heat and crowd pleasing ability of sausages makes them a winner on the grill—cook a variety and pair with charred peppers and onions. The USDA recommends cooking pork to 145°F and ground pork to 160°F.

Lamb

Lamb chops and lamb burgers get terrific smokiness, and take very little time, on the grill. Make sure that the meat comes to room temperature before grilling, though, as it’s more delicate than other meats. The USDA recommends cooking lamb to 145°F.

Fish

Thanks to its quick cooking time and ability to be prepared whole, fish is a wonderful ingredient to cook on the grill. Meaty fish like salmon and swordfish are terrific marinated, then grilled, with or without basting. We’re also big fans of whole roasted fish, stuffed with lemon and fresh herbs. Shellfish, especially shrimp and lobster tastes fantastic with additional grill flavor, and if you haven’t, make sure to try grilled oysters. Consider purchasing a grilling basket for fish, to keep it intact. USDA recommends cooking fish and shellfish to 145° F.

Veggies

Vegetables like peppers, onions, mushrooms, and squash are particularly delicious on the grill. Slice a medley of them, wrap them up in foil, and season with garlic, oil, and spices for a delightful (and delightfully easy) veggie packet. Or, slice veggies into strips or rounds and cook them right on the grill, with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Chiles like jalapeños and poblanos turn smoky-delicious on the grill, all the better for whipping into homemade salsa.

Fruits

We’re of the belief that fruits are the unsung heroes of the grill. Stone fruit like peaches, plums, and nectarines are sensational grilled, as their natural sugars turns them caramelized and even sweeter. Pineapples, pears, and watermelon become smoky and delicious on the grill as well, and can be served in sweet or savory preparations. Slice up a few bananas, stick them in foil, and put them on the grill for a sensational dessert that is best with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Dessert

There’s nothing better than s’mores, and cooking them on the grill ensures perfect gooeyness and melty chocolate. Wrap the s’mores in foil to avoid messy leakage and burning. Dense baked goods like pound cake and doughnuts turn deliciously crisp and smoky on the grill, as well.

Pizza

We love cooking pizza on the grill, as the smokiness imbues into the crust, similar to a wood-fired pizza oven. Whether you’re going savory or sweet (think grilled dessert pizza), this may be your new favorite method. Make sure to brush the grill with adequate oil, or use a pizza stone, to avoid sticking.

Cleaning, Maintenance, and Cooking Tips

Although various types of grills have different cleaning and maintenance methods, here are a few rules of thumb:

1. Before you start cooking, get your outdoor grill to the hottest possible temperature. This will burn off any excess debris which you can then brush off with your handy grill brush.

2. If you’re using a gas grill, check the fuel line for cracks before you begin cooking. Make sure to frequently inspect the line throughout the grilling season.

3. Thoroughly clean your grill at least twice a year. Even if you’re a careful cook, there will be debris and bacteria buildup that you’ll want to get rid of.

4. Always light a gas grill with the top open.

5. Never use soap to clean your grill pan or any cast iron pan. Combine water and kosher salt in a paste, then brush into the pan to clean it. After, make sure to re-season it, by rubbing vegetable oil on the surface, then place it on the stove or oven at a low temperature for about 30 minutes.

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