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Grilling-The Basics

June 8, 2012
by Shannon Hepburn


Fire it up! Warm weather grilling season pleases me for several reasons: fewer dishes to wash, my husband mans the grill, and most importantly the food is truly delectable.  There are a few things to consider when grilling and I’m going to defer to Bobby Flay here.  I’m not a celebrity chef junkie, but I do have considerable respect for Bobby Flay’s cooking.  This post will be broken into two parts – this week I’ll talk about grilling a bit and next week I’ll share some recipes for the grill.



  • A gas or charcoal grill.  We use a gas grill for convenience and ease. However, we sacrifice the smokiness that gas grills cannot quite achieve.
  • A pair of tongs.  The extra long grilling tongs can be a bit unwieldy – regular kitchen tongs are easier to handle and bring you closer to the food.
  • Brushes.  Flay uses good quality paint brushes from the hardware store and replaces them often.  Pastry brushes are certainly fine, but can be expensive.
  • A work space.  Give yourself enough room to work.  Grilling is more relaxing when you’re not juggling a bunch of bowls and plates.  Set up a table next to your grill.
  • The right recipes – Don’t take them as instruction manuals that need to be followed down to every last detail. Feel free to combine the sauce from one recipe with the fish from another, or change a lemon butter to a garlic butter to fit with the menu you want. Grilling is not an exact science: fires, tastes and cooks are always different. Trust your own eyes and hands over what’s written on the page – only you can see, feel, taste, and smell what’s happening on your grill.


RULE #1: Don’t start testing the food the minute you put it on the heat! This includes picking it up to see if it’s done on the bottom, moving it around, and turning it over every ten seconds. Put the food down and give it a chance to cook. This will also give it a chance to sear on the bottom so that it naturally pulls away from the grates and doesn’t stick. If you try to move the food before it’s seared on the bottom, it will definitely stick.


RULE #2: Don’t cut into your food to see if it’s done. For one thing, it doesn’t really work, since you can’t get a good look at the inside. For another, it lets the juices come pouring out and the food dries out on the grill. The best way to test food is by poking it with your finger. As it cooks, it becomes firmer and firmer. A rare steak feels squishy; a medium steak feels more springy; a well-done steak feels as taut as a trampoline. The rule of “the longer it cooks, the firmer it gets” also holds true for fish and poultry. As you get more and more experienced, you’ll learn exactly what your favorite food should feel like when it’s done.


RULE #3: Meat and poultry should rest for at least a few minutes before slicing or serving. What does this mean? Well, without getting too technical about anatomy or chemistry, if you cut into the flesh right as it comes off the heat, the hot juices will run out all over your cutting board. If you wait a few minutes to let them thicken just a bit, they’ll stay in the meat. You may feel like the food is getting cold, but actually it’s still cooking. Cover it up with foil and let it rest for at least 5 minutes. Fish does not need to rest and should be served immediately, as it loses heat very quickly.


RULE #4: When in doubt, it’s better to undercook than overcook. You can always put food back on the fire if you need to.

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My husband happens to be an exceptional griller.  He has been grilling for so long that his sense of timing is super keen.  I, on the other hand, get a little squirrelly when cooking on the grill because I don’t do it that often. I’m tempted to do all the things Flay says not to:  move the food around too much, cut in to check for doneness and seriously overcooking for fear of undercooking.  This summer my goal is to get more acquainted with the grill so that I can feel confident cooking outside.  Please leave a comment if you have any specific questions.