The Fourth of July is upon us, a day of united celebration of our great country’s birth. The day when all Americans wave their American flags with pride, watch a grand display of fireworks, and celebrate with a backyard cookout.
That’s right, it’s grilling season, and with grilling season comes that age old debate, charcoal or gas!
Many diehard BBQ fans insist the only way to grill is with charcoal, but there are pros and cons to cooking on the traditional charcoal grills.
To achieve the desired sear on meats when grilling, temperatures must reach at least 600 degrees Fahrenheit. A grill filled with red hot charcoal will have no problem reaching temperatures up to 700 degrees. Not all gas grills have such a high temperature range.
Because coals can reach such a high temperature, charcoal also creates that wonderful smokey flavor that everyone craves.
When drippings from meat fall onto hot coals, the drippings turn into a flavor packed steam and smoke that is absorbed by the food, resulting in that unique, charcoal grilled taste.
Charcoal grills are lightweight and portable, making it easy to bring for camping or tailgating. Although small travel size gas grills are available, in general they are too large and heavy to bring to a park or beach.
Financially, charcoal grills are much more budget friendly to purchase than gas grills. The starting price for a charcoal grill is about $25, and the gas grill starts at upwards of $100.
However, the operating cost of a charcoal grill can be higher than a gas grill. A 20lb bag of charcoal will last for about three grilling sessions, but one propane tank will last for 25 to 30 grilling sessions.
When it comes to convenience, nothing beats the gas grill. It is almost like having your indoor kitchen outside. It is easy to grill a variety of foods with a quick touch of a button, and temperature controls allow for a quick preheat, great for last minute dinner preparation. Some gas grills even have a side burner that can be used for boiling water for pasta or rice.
Preparation time for a charcoal grill is not as quick and easy. You must allow yourself time to fill the grill with coals, light them, and then wait 15 to 20 minutes to reach proper cooking temperature.
Clean up is also more cumbersome with charcoal, as you must dispose of cooled coals and ashes, and remove the grill for proper cleaning.
Safety is always a priority when grilling with any type of grill, but with gas you must always be sure your propane tank is properly installed and free of any leaks. Keep all grills at least 10 feet away from the house or deck.
Charcoal or gas really comes down to personal preference. Either way, knowing how to properly grill your favorite foods is the real trick.
When grilling the perfect steak, remove steak from refrigerator and season with salt and pepper 20 to 30 minutes before grilling. This will allow the salt to start to dissolve from the moisture it is drawing from the meat. This, in turn, will create a delicious crust that will seal in remaining moisture. Also, removing from refrigeration early will cut down on cooking time, and result in juicier meat. Always sear meat on high heat, then lower heat for remainder of cook time for optimum flavor. Remember, meat will continue to cook for 5 minutes after cooking. This is called “resting.” Interior temperature for steak should be 125 degrees Fahrenheit, so allowing for resting time, you should remove steak from heat when interior temps reach 120 degrees.
When grilling chicken, nothing is worse than dry, over cooked chicken, except chicken that is still raw in the middle! First, choose the right cut of chicken, keeping in mind that boneless cooks much faster than bone-in.
To add flavor, use a marinade, rub or brine on chicken 8 to 24 hours before cooking. This will allow you to kick back and relax while you grill without constant basting.
Make sure the grill is clean, greased and preheated. Grill chicken on medium or indirect heat for most of the cooking time to avoid over cooking. Always cover the grill when cooking chicken to hold in heat. (If your grill doesn’t have a cover, use an upside down foil pan as a cover.) Use a meat thermometer to check interior temperature. For properly cooked chicken, interior temperature should read 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can’t have the all American cookout without burgers and hotdogs!
Hamburgers interior temperature should read 160 degrees Fahrenheit. To keep them moist, use ground beef with 15 to 20 percent fat content, then cook them hot and fast! Use high heat with the lid open. Never squash the burger with a spatula while cooking. This squeezes out the juices, leaving your burger dry. Flip them only once, as the less you disrupt the juices, the juicier your burger will be.
For perfectly grilled hot dogs, rotate them constantly on the grill to get grill marks on all sides, and watch them carefully. Hot dogs are done to perfection once they start to expand, but before they start to sputter juices.
Vegetables’ flavor is also enhanced by a hint of smoke from grill cooking. To grill, lightly toss vegetables in a few drops cooking oil. This will keep them from drying out and sticking to the grill. If your coat them with too much oil, the excess will drip and cause flame flare ups, resulting in uneven cooking and a greasy flavor.
Some vegetables only take a minute or two, like onions or tomatoes. Denser vegetables, like carrots and potatoes, take longer to cook. To prevent burning, sear dense vegetables on high for a minute, then remove them to the outer edge of the grill until they are finished cooking.
To grill small, sliced vegetables, use skewers, a grill basket, or wrap in heavy duty foil.
Heavy duty foil is great for corn on the cob. Add butter, crushed garlic, chives and salt to corn cobs, and wrap them in foil. Place wrapped corn cobs on the grill for 15 minute for juicy corn that is full of flavor!
Always avoid cross contamination when grilling vegetables with raw meats. Thoroughly wash everything that has come in contact with raw meat before reusing it. Never placed cooked meat from the grill on the same plate you carried the raw meat on when you brought it to the grill, and use separate utensils for flipping meat and vegetables.
Whether you choose old school charcoal, or enjoy the convenience of gas, it’s time to spark up that grill. Think of the back yard as your summer kitchen, and with many foods that are easy to cook on the grill, dinnertime can be a cookout all summer long!