Putting food to flame is a summertime tradition, a ritual as old as civilization itself. Of course, that doesn't mean that every man knows how to do it right. Herewith, a few helpful tips to kickstart the barbecue season.
Sweet, smokey, fall-off-the-bone ribs. They're easy to make with this quick and effective method.
It's the grate debate: Purists argue that charcoal is the only way to go, but it does take patience and prep work. Want more control? A gas grill, which readies in ten minutes and offers steady heat, might be for you. Here's how to get the most out of each:
Ditch the petroleum-laced lighter fluid and use a chimney starter instead. Twist some paper into a donut shape and stuff it into the bottom of the chimney (the hole in the middle allows for airflow and quicker igniting). Place on the grate and fill with charcoal and light the paper in several places. Once the flames have died down and the coals are orange, empty into your grill.
Use lump hardwood charcoal. These charred pieces of natural, chemical-free wood are favored by true BBQ aficionados because they burn hotter and longer than your standard briquettes. Plus they impart an authentic, wood smoked flavor as well.
You want your gas grill to be able to get really hot, so make sure the burners are clean and clear of debris that could block the flames. Preheat for ten minutes on high with the lid down.
Brush your grate once preheated to remove burnt bits, but that's really the only cleaning it requires. This seasons the grate, preventing sticking and allowing a good char on the food.
Keep the lid down as much as possible while cooking to let the heat and smoke do their thing.
Steven Raichlen, author of "The Barbecue Bible," recommends checking the grill's heat by "holding your hand about a half beer can high over the grate and counting." High heat: 2 seconds; medium-high: 3-4 seconds; medium: 5-7 seconds and so on.
Direct Heat vs. Indirect Heat
Elizabeth Karmel, North Carolina native and author of "Taming the Flame," follows this rule: If it takes less than 20 minutes to cook, use direct heat. It's perfect for individual cuts of meat, vegetables, burgers and kabobs. If you plan on grilling a whole roast or an entire chicken, you'll want indirect heat.
The Two-Zone Fire
A smarter take on direct-heat grilling, this allows you a hot side to sear the meat and a less hot, "safe" side to finish the cooking. On a charcoal grill, push your coals into a ramp towards one side. For gas, keep one burner on low while the others are turned up.
Flare-ups caused by fat drippings singe the meat and make it taste burnt. Don't spray water or close the lid. Gently slide the food to a cooler area of the grill, trying not to shake out any more juicy fat (which could lead to another flare-up).
Wood Chips give your grilled meats that perfect smokey finish. For a charcoal grill, sprinkle chips (that have soaked in water for a few hours) over the coals just before placing the meat on the grate. For gas grills, you can place the wet chips in a smoker box, or simply wrap them in foil and poke some holes to let the smoke escape.