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Grilling can be a bit intimidating, what with all the fire and the male chest-beating surrounding it. But, says journalist, photographer and barbecue expert Rick Browne, with a little know-how, you can cook anything on the grill that you’d cook inside -- even a soufflé.
"People have to remember that a barbecue is an oven you take outdoors," says Browne, the author of numerous barbecue books, including The Ultimate Guide to Grilling and 1,001 Best Grilling Recipes. He’s also the creator, executive producer and host of the public television series Barbecue America. If those credentials don't have you convinced, he has also been given an honorary PhB (doctor of barbecue) by the Kansas City Barbecue Society.
Browne's tips will help you grill everything better -- but before you even get to the food, start with his most important tip: "Clean the darn grill before every use!"
Some of Browne's other rules to grill by:
Always oil the grill, but never apply cooking spray to a hot grill (it can burst into flames). Either spray the grates before you turn on the grill, or brush oil (such as olive oil or canola) onto pre-heated grates.
Ignite the grill with the lid open, then close it and let the heat build up before you put items on it.
Most meats should be cooked with a combination of direct heat (close to the flame) and indirect heat (farther away from the heat source). A brief high-heat stint allows meats to sear and get grill marks, while finishing meat on lower heat allows it to cook all the way through without charring on the outside.
Resist the temptation to lift the grill lid, unless you’re turning or adding items, to keep heat from escaping. “Men are notorious” for peeking, Browne says. "Every time you lift that lid, you lose heat. You could substantially increase the cooking time."
Don’t, poke, prod or pierce whatever you’re grilling -- only touch it when you’re putting it on, turning it, or taking it off the grill. You don’t want to release the juices, and if you try to move things right after you put them on the grill, they often stick.
Don’t fear salt: "There’s a fallacy that salt draws the moisture out," says Browne, but it’s perfectly fine to salt meat before cooking it.
Add barbecue sauce only in the last five to ten minutes of cooking. The sugars in the sauce will burn if you put it on any sooner.
For safety’s sake, get an instant-read meat thermometer and follow the USDA guidelines for internal temperatures. This will help you avoid under-cooking and overcooking.
Let meat rest for at least three minutes after you’ve removed it from the grill. It will continue to cook, and the juices will redistribute instead of staying at the surface of the meat and running out when you cut into it.