5 Tips to Grills and Grilling.
THE FIRST GRILL I HAD was a five-dollar patio-sized hibachi, a cast-iron grill from which I received more than my money’s worth. It was installed on the third-floor walk-up apartment’s balcony/fire escape.
Later, I upgraded to a bigger charcoal kettle grill, which could fit two chickens or a whole fish, which was a huge improvement. I recall grilling almost everything and anything. In the early years of my food company, I also remember days spent cooking on an outside barbecue I built for Konkapot Restaurant in Mill River, Massachusetts. During the winter, we barbecued outside, with snow almost putting out the fire during some exceptionally bad New England weather.
(A bewildered client once wondered why I had snow on my shoulders as I presented a grilled entrée to him in the warm dining room.)
Grilling was an essential cooking technique for me. It’s still the case. Many people like grilling because of the age-old allure of fire-flavored dishes that remind them of being outside.
This book is aimed at individuals who appreciate grilled fish but also want to try the tastes of smoked fish.
This book is created for the outdoor chef who does not want to bother creating anything and would rather get started right away. If you already own a grill, as many, if not all, people do these days, you’ll only need a few more items to get started. The few more items you’ll need are covered on pages 14–17 in Tools of the Trade. Continue reading if you’re searching to purchase a new outdoor barbecue.
A Grilling Guide
My goal here is not to promote any particular items, but I may favor a few that are more readily available than others. I could also suggest one or two distinctive design features.
In our technologically evolved era, there are various items designed for grilling and smoking. I’ll try my best to provide enough material for you, the grill master, to play with (gleaned from more than 35 years of different achievements — and failures). After that, you’ll decide whether to grill, smoke, or devise another method for your outdoor cooking requirements.
As you may know, every grill expert believes he or she has developed the greatest walleye recipe, the most subtle technique to smoke tuna, and the only way to smoke bluefish. Hopefully, this book will motivate you to attempt something new, something tough, or a previously unimagined combination. Mix and combine fresh ideas with existing recipes if nothing else:
Experiment, \scontrive. I constantly learn something new when I talk to other fire builders about cooking, grilling, and smoking methods. After decades of experimenting with fire, I not only appreciate but also welcome fresh information. You should, too.
Then there are the new fandangled grills.
Hibachis are still accessible, which is fantastic news. They are a little more expensive than the $5 I spent on my first one, but they are still within reach. Grills may cost up to ten thousand dollars (are you ready for this?). That’s the price of the ultimate “machine,” which does everything but wash the dishes and put the kids to bed.
Is this anything you require?
Consumer Reports, available online or in print, is an excellent resource for anybody looking for information on everything from vehicles to food processors to barbecues. The reports are produced by professionals who are regarded to be objective. As a beginning point, look at its online product suggestions.
Another source is a word from over the fence, even though it will be based on one person’s perspective. But who better to approach for guidance than someone who has actually used the product? But don’t fall victim to the one-upmanship trap: Perhaps the less costly black variant would suffice for your needs, rather than the stainless steel type simply because it looks nice.
The majority of gas barbecues sold in America are under $300, and gas grills account for six out of ten grills sold. I examined a high-end stainless-steel gas grill with six burners, two side-warming burners (on which a whole dinner could be prepared), and a slide-out drawer for corn or wood chips for smoking. It is an excellent bargain if you are willing to invest four thousand dollars. It is currently priced in the middle of the outdoor barbecue pricing range.
You may also spend $1,000 on a good-quality outside barbecue, but you don’t have to.
While investigating grills, smokers, and other equipment for this book, it became clear that the ideal grill, at least for my needs, may not exist. For a number of reasons, I needed one that could cook and smoke with either gas or charcoal.
I discovered a smoker with a side chamber for the wood logs and a central chamber for the smoke, which was basically a miniature version of a similar design I described in Chapter 11. However, it was merely a smoker, with no grilling options. After giving it some thought, I imagined what I would do with it if I were to take it home.
I was tempted, but I didn’t want to recreate the product since I didn’t have the time or inclination to do so. I wanted everything done for me, as most people do nowadays.
Gas grills are unquestionably useful. Instant fire with little hassle. Look for a grill with detachable heavy grates for easy cleaning. For maximum longevity, it should have porcelain-coated heavy steel grill bars (or grates) arranged close together. Thin, fragile metal will corrode over time and need replacement. More importantly, metal does not evenly transmit or retain heat well enough for intensive grilling – at least not well enough to sear dishes.
A gas grill with at least two burners is required to smoke grill.
Four is nice, six or eight is much better, but we’re heading into costly territory here. Four burners should be plenty for most outdoor gatherings. Look for a barbecue with the biggest cooking surface area you can afford. For most purposes, 400 to 600 square inches should be enough, maybe more if you do a lot of group entertainment.
The best gas grill, in my opinion, is one with divided-in-half grates (on which food is put) — that is, one moveable grate on each side, each distributed over two (or more) burners. This kind of barbecue is designed to be simple to clean and operate. Look for a bottom tray that can be simply removed and cleaned.
If you need to maintain low heat, such as for indirect smoke grilling, each of the gas burners should have its own control switch so that just one or two burners are lit (see page 13 for a description of indirect smoke grilling).
Of course, depending on the type, all four burners may be lighted for grilling at 600 degrees or higher. That temperature is seldom reached with only two burners.
One disadvantage I’ve seen with gas barbecues is that the heat isn’t always as intense as it is with charcoal grills. If you’re a professional, a more-priced model with a higher British thermal unit (BTU) output may be preferable.
However, the more bells and whistles you add, the higher the price tag becomes.
Adjust the time for most grilled or smoke-grilled dishes in this book according to whether you like gas or charcoal. Even gas barbecues with lava rocks burn hotter and quicker than charcoal flames.
This is a grill design I’d like to see improved:
More grills, both gas, and charcoal should enable you to adjust the heat source or the grates themselves to better regulate the cooking process. This characteristic is included in one little castiron hibachi design, although it is not present on many others.
One of Weber’s models, an old kettle-shaped mainstay since 1954, has a particularly ingenious new feature: A tiny gas burner ignites the charcoal underneath the wire baskets that carry the charcoal. This clever concept keeps the foul-tasting lighter fluid out of our grilled dishes.
Grills that burn corn or pellets have just recently entered the market. On these specially constructed grills, a small motorized auger feeds dried corn kernels or tiny compressed wood pellets into the fire chamber, a few at a time. One variant has ceramic “pebbles” that run the length of the heating surface, just under the grates; the rocks transfer heat and help the lid stay closed for lengthy periods of time. The price of lighting one of these grills is quite inexpensive. Different types of wood pellets are available for diverse flavorings. Both styles of smoke grilling may be readily accomplished with these barbecues.
How about a grill that rises from a portable unit at the push of a foot pedal, revealing an ice chest beneath? Take it to the beach for those summer days when you want everything, hot and cool, neatly tucked inside your trunk. Hmm.
On charcoal barbecues, indirect smoke grilling, which is the emphasis of this book, is simple. On one side of the heating area, heap burning charcoal, with a smoke pan of corn kernels or wood directly on top of the charcoal, and the fish or other items on the other, “cool” side of the grate. The container functions as a simple, efficient smoker when the dome-shaped cover is in place.
Don’t forget to opt for a grill with removable pieces for easy cleaning.
I once possessed a barbecue with no access to the bottom pan, which collected all the drippings and fluids. In the end, it was a dirty, throwaway barbecue that was both irritating and inefficient.
So, do you want to use gas or charcoal? In any case, you’ll enjoy the flavor of fresh air that comes with outside cooking.
Instructions for Preheating
For the sake of clarity in this book, I’ll start most grilled or smoke grilled dishes by saying: 1) Prepare a grill for smoke cooking, or 2) Preheat a grill.
Heat the grill. In preparation for grilling, light the heat source (gas or charcoal). This entails opening a valve and lighting the gas in the case of a gas grill. It’s that simple. The grate should sizzle when a drop of water is splashed on it after five to ten minutes.
Remember that you want the exterior of the fish, veggies, or whatever you’re cooking to sear rapidly, sealing in the natural tastes and fluids. Food will adhere to your grill if it isn’t hot enough, sabotaging your efforts. To preheat a charcoal grill, light it with newspaper or kindling and let it burn until the majority of the pieces are gray.
Remember to brush or spray cooking oil over the grate and, if feasible, the bottom of the meal to avoid sticking. It’s disappointing to witness your hard work shatter before your eyes, and the eyes of your visitors, when a delicate fillet sticks to a metal grate.
Prepare your grill for smoking. Preheat the grill according to the instructions above. Cover with dried corn kernels or wood chips in the smoke pan. Place the smoke pan immediately on top of the heat source when the charcoal is gray or the burners sizzle when a drop of water is poured on them.
If you’re doing indirect smoke cooking, transfer the hot charcoal to one side of the grill before adding the smoke pan. When lighting a gas grill, just turn off one side of the burners. Wait 10 minutes until the maize or wood starts to smoke.
Don’t forget the frying oil once again.
When I’m getting ready to smoke-grill, I like to think about what equipment and utensils I’ll need, collect them, and put them where they’ll be easy to find.
It’s quite inconvenient to have to look for a tool or gadget when cooking meals, so plan ahead for each of the tasks. Organize yourself and all of the equipment you’ll need for the job, and your work will flow smoothly and without strain.
The Pan of Smoke
This pan, or tray, is preferably a cast-iron container into which corn kernels, wood pieces, or chips are inserted before being thrown directly over a grill fire. A lid keeps most of the oxygen out after the corn or wood ignites, burning the pan’s contents and producing a smokey atmosphere in which to cook and flavor food.
If feasible, the pan should be enameled and come with a slotted cover (but the slots or holes may be on the sides of the pan itself, as mine are) and side handles.
It should contain 3 to 4 cups of maize kernels as well as some wood pieces or chips. My smoke pan (seen below) is a standard size that would fit on most barbecues. My favorite cast-iron smoking pan, which I use solely on my barbecue, was discovered by chance at a camping shop.
Coleman, a provider of outdoor camping equipment, makes this grill pan. It’s a high-duty, enamel-coated cast-iron pan with venting holes on the sides and a hefty lid. This is a little slice of durability designed for open flames. It’s about the right size for most home patio grills, measuring 3 inches by 10 inches by 10 inches.
Hardware shops, huge discount home building companies, and mail-order catalogs all sell cast-iron pans. A little one cost approximately three dollars at a gardening supply shop. It was too little for my purposes, but it seemed to be ideal for a small barbecue or table-top hibachi.
In a pinch, disposable aluminum baking pans from the supermarket’s baking aisle can suffice. Sizes vary from extremely tiny (ideal for maize kernels and sawdust) to very huge (excellent for sand and gravel) (good for wood chunks and chips). If the proper size isn’t available, purchase two little ones. These pans are disposable, light, and easy to use. Cover with a hole-punched aluminum foil.
If you don’t have an aluminum pan, cut and lay down two 18-inch squares of heavy-duty aluminum foil, one on top of the other, and fill the middle with two or three wood pieces or smaller wood chips and/or 2 to 3 cups dry corn kernels.
Cover with a second layer of foil and press the lid and bottom corners together to make a sealed “smoke pan.” Make six to eight holes in the top and place the improvised pan on top of a bed of hot gray charcoal or straddle two metal burners on one side of a gas grill. Wait 10 minutes until the maize and/or wood chips start to smoke.
To put spent coals into, you’ll need a fireproof container. Keep a metal pail near the grill, or line an aluminum roller paint tray with foil, as I did one day in a hurry. It’s the perfect size for the charred “wafer” residue left behind from dried corn. Do not use a plastic tray or bucket for obvious reasons.
Basket with Mesh
This is a useful item to have; it’s great for many kinds of grilled and smoked dishes, not just fish. The gadget is a hinged wire-mesh container with a handle and a wire mesh lid that may be locked in place to safeguard the contents. It may be turned over to cook all sides of the dish.
The one I use has a 12-inch handle and is 1212 inches by 1312 inches.
While comparing and pricing goods from other manufacturers, I found this one to be a little more costly than some at about $25, but after purchasing a flimsy, poorly made one for a cheaper price that I subsequently had to toss, I would consider it a decent deal. It will last you a long time.
Place a fillet, a whole fish, or a fish Wellington (see pages 144– 146) in the basket and clamp it down to secure it.
If you utilize food that is smaller than the opening of the mesh apertures, it will fall through.
Onions, garlic, and small-cut veggies are thus prohibited. This gadget was designed to work with solid mass. Brush or spray the insides of the mesh of anything you want to clamp into a fish basket with oil before putting food inside.
Grilling or smoking entire fish is significantly easier using elongated fish-shaped wire-mesh baskets. Look for them at stores that sell other culinary supplies.
Grill Pans with Perforations
I was waiting for a buddy at a mall when I went inside a sports goods shop. A 12-inch circular Teflon-coated pan with a handle caught my eye in the outdoor cookware department. The pan features 2-inch-high sides and holes punched into the bottom, allowing heat to infiltrate the pan from below.
The handle on my newest buy (for $8) is also appealing since it folds over the top for travel and storage.
I often use the pan. It’s fantastic for grilling fish and pizza and sautéing veggies.
A grill wok, like a Chinese wok, is a perforated pan with a flat bottom and high edges. It’s great for stir-frying veggies. For those who prefer little or no oil or butter, there is no need. Most barbecues will accommodate a 12-inch grill wok, however bigger sizes are available.
Spatulas Purchase two metals, not rubber, spatulas that are as broad as possible. Metal spatulas, about 7 inches broad, are made by outdoor cooking manufacturers.
Grilling and smoking become much simpler when two people pull a complete side of smoked salmon or shad off the grill. Turning without proper support will swiftly degrade delicate fish, causing them to peel apart.
Tongs have become an extension of my arm after enough years in front of a professional stove and grill. Without them, I couldn’t function. Simple tongs with a spring movement are my favorite. They come in a variety of lengths, but I like the 12-inch size for most applications. In a restaurant supply store, look for low-cost tongs and other equipment.
Aprons, towels, and mitts
These are necessary to prevent blisters. The cover handle, grates, and any exposed metal on a grill are all very hot. Assume that everything you take will be really hot.
Always wear mittens or towels while working around a steel smoker, which has almost all metal pieces.
When removing hot racks, as well as a smoke pan lid without wooden handles, the chef must exercise caution.
I feel naked without at least one towel tucked under my belt for wiping hands, in addition to the towels and mittens I use to keep cool. Aprons? Sure, they protect oil and food from splattering all over your clothing.
Metal skewers carry heat, allowing the food to cook more quickly. Do you remember the culinary tip about putting a nail in a cooked potato? It cuts the cooking time in half.
If you’re using wooden skewers, 1112 inches long by 14 inches thick seems to be the standard size, however greater lengths are available for skewering large shrimp or tiny entire fish. I’ve noticed that skewers that are approximately 38 inches thick hold up better over time on the barbecue. Remember to soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes before using to avoid scorching.
Sprays for cooking
The cooking spray was a brilliant idea. It’s a calorie-free, sodium-free, cholesterol-free oil that’s sprayed over a surface to keep it from adhering. Why hadn’t someone thought of this before? To avoid sticking, spray all grates, the insides of pans, wire-mesh baskets, and the undersides of fillets and entire fish, if possible.
It works. Once you get into the habit of using cooking spray, you’ll find that it makes cooking and cleaning a breeze. If the grates are sprayed beforehand, they scrape clean wonderfully. After a coating of cooking spray on a skillet, even a Teflon pan, pizza releases more readily.
Brushes with wires
You have to have one. It will reach the deepest portion of any grill and is about 12 inches long. Cleaning up after cooking is much easier than cleaning up after the grill has cooled down and chunks of food have stuck mercilessly to the grates.
Also, remember to clean the brush. Cleaning a grate with a bacteria-infested brush isn’t a good idea. Always keep all utensils and equipment clean.
Starters for Chimneys
A “chimney starter” for starting a wood fire is an eco-friendly device that employs newspaper to light a fire in a grill. However, do not utilize the colored-ink areas; unlike black ink, colorful ink generates hazardous vapors when burnt. The idea is straightforward: a chute, or tower, with an open top and a platform at the bottom that separates a layer of charcoal from the crumbled newspaper.
A match is lighted from underneath the paper. The charcoal is ready to be placed to the grill after 15 to 20 minutes. Spread the coals out so that they are all touching. If the coals are left alone, they will eventually go out, so keep them close together.
The coals are ready for the smoking process once the bed has burned down to an even shade of gray. The grate will also be sufficiently hot and ready to accept the fish by this time.
Spray bottles for spraying plants are extremely helpful for putting out stray fires.
Always have one on hand.
Optional equipment, like that for a car, may occasionally push you to the limit. Every new device on the market seems appealing – you have to have it! Resist the urge and stick to the list above; it’ll get you started.
After some time on the grill, you’ll be able to see if you need additional devices and may go (slowly) from there.
The Gentle Smoke
I HAVE FOUND WHAT I THINK IS AN EXCITING NEW/OLD SMOKING VEHICLE. It’s a fuel for smoking fish that can be obtained at any agricultural supply shop, hardware store, or even supermarket; it’s also cheap. Corn. Whole dried corn kernels