Barbecuing or outdoor grilling can be intimidating, especially for the cooks whose comfort zone is in the kitchen.
Chef Jose Garcia Campos, Culinary Arts program director at Virginia College in Greensboro, has answers to your common grilling questions and tips on everything from the type of grill and grilling utensils you need to the right prepping and cooking techniques. Check out the questions and answers below before the next time you light up your grill.
Should I use a gas fuel grill or a charcoal grill?
“This is one of the most common questions when deciding on a grill,” Campos says. “The truth is that there is no wrong answer! Both types of grills have their advantages. What is important is that you choose the one that you feel comfortable with.”
What are the benefits of a gas grill? What are the benefits of a charcoal grill?
“A gas grill will offer the convenience of turning on and off the fire at any time. It is also easier to control the temperature of a gas grill,” says Campos.
“On the other hand, a charcoal grill provides you with a better flavor, as they can get hotter than gas grills can. Let’s face it – with a charcoal grill, you will have the thrill of playing with and controlling the fire, which can be fun if you know what you are doing.”
What do I need to get started grilling?
“What you’re going to need will depend on whether you choose to use a gas or charcoal grill. If you choose a gas grill, then make sure that you have a full tank of gas. You don’t want to find out you are out of gas halfway through your cooking. On the other hand, if you are using a charcoal grill, a chimney starter is a must-have,” Campos says. “With a chimney starter, you can kiss lighter fluid goodbye! You will be able to light your charcoal without the strong smell and undesirable flavors of the lighter fluids. It takes some practice, but chimney starters are always effective.”
What else should I know about using a charcoal grill?
“It’s important to choose the right charcoal. If you are using a chimney starter — which you should — then avoid any easy or instant light charcoal. Those are soaked in lighter fluid and will add an unpleasant flavor to your food,” Campos says. “You also have the option of choosing bricks or natural wood lump charcoal. Lump charcoal will light faster and burn hotter while producing little ash, and since it is all natural, it adds better flavor to the food. On the other hand, brick charcoal will last a lot longer, which makes it easier when maintaining a specific temperature with less hustle.”
What grilling utensils do I need?
Here’s Campos’ list of utensils you should consider:
Long handle spatula – A good grilling spatula should have a long, offset handle so you can keep your hands away from the heat.
Long tongs – Use good quality tongs. The longer the tongs, the less grip they will have. You need to make sure they are good quality with a good grip.
Grill mitts – Regular oven mitts will not do the job. Campos likes to use silicone grill mitts. Not only do they resist high temperature, but they are also easy to wash since you can rinse them with water.
Thermometer – A thermometer will help you know when your food is ready.
Basting brush – A basting brush is necessary if you are planning to baste with sauces, garlic oil, butter, etc.
Grill basket – This item is very helpful when grilling small or delicate items that may fall through the grill spaces or break while being turned.
Grill brush – You will be using this through the cooking process in between placing different items on the grill. It is important to maintain as clean a grill as possible during your cooking.
How should I prepare my food on the grill?
Now that you have all the equipment you need, it is time to choose and prepare your food. Here are some of Campos’ best grilling tips:
Make sure you buy meat that is tender with good marbling. The more marbling the juicer and more tender it will be. If your meat is lean (like chicken breast) you may want to marinate it in advance. Marinating will help to keep the meat moist and juicy as well as add flavor to it.
Preheat your grill and give it plenty of time to heat up. You want to make sure your grill is hot before putting any items on it. Let your meat rest at room temperature for a couple of minutes before placing it on the grill. This will allow the meat to cook more evenly.
Be patient — do not poke your meat while grilling as this will let all the juices out.
Brush the grill frequently to keep it clean.
Let your meat rest at least 5 minutes before slicing it.
Keep these tips in mind during your next barbecue. And remember, careful preparation from the time you purchase your grill to the time you throw the meat on top can take your grilling to the next level.
Want to turn your love of cooking into a career? Learn more about the Culinary Arts program at Virginia College.