With as much as I grill, it occurs to me that it might be helpful to lay out the basics of grilling for anyone who is interested in getting started. It’s a lot of fun, it looks impressive, it lets me keep my apartment cool, it cuts down on dishes, and if I can share the feeling I get when I introduce myself to neighbors at a building party and they respond “You’re the girl who’s always grilling! We always want to come over and see what smells so good,” then so much the better! It’s definitely a skill I picked up by trial and error over the past few years, but it would have been great to have some getting started tips at the beginning.
I’m lucky enough that I can use a charcoal grill on my porch, so that’s what I’ll speak to. I have a little Lodge cast iron grill that’s just the right size for me and a few friends, and I’ve never found anything I haven’t been able to cook on it yet. The supplies I’ve come to use regularly are:
- lighter cubes (more controllable and less smelly than lighter fluid)
- long and short matches
- charcoal, lump hardwood or briquettes
- two sets of tongs: one extra long for moving charcoal, one medium length for the food
- heat-proof gloves for moving grates or coals
- a fire extinguisher (never needed it, but it’s a MUST)
First, put two of the lighter cubes on either side of the grill and pile about 12-15 briquettes up and around the cube. Give it enough space that the briquettes aren’t right on top of the cube or it will smoke more than burn. Personally, I prefer Royal Oak Chef Select 100% hardwood briquettes since they burn really evenly, and I always seemed to go through about twice as much of the lump charcoal as the briquettes.
Once the charcoal is down, light the cubes with one of the long matches and let it burn for about 15-20 minutes until the briquettes are mostly covered with ash. My grill doesn’t have a lid, so I never leave it unattended, and keep an eye on it either through my door or out my kitchen window.
Once the briquettes are ready, spread them over the bottom grate of the grill with the tongs and put the top grate on the grill over the hot coals. Let it heat up while you finish preparing whatever you plan to grill, then rub a paper towel lightly coated with canola or another high-heat oil over the top grate. Be VERY CAREFUL here. You’re basically rubbing an unlit torch over burning coals. If the coals start to flare up, pull the towel back until they calm down.
Now the grill is ready for food. This could be a whole other post, but for most things, like the zucchini above but also any meat or seafood, lightly coat them with olive or canola oil and salt (my favorite is large-flaked sea salt), and place them on the hot grill. Be careful of any oil dripping onto the coals, as it can cause flare-ups. If that happens, just move the food away from the flame (or you can spray it with a little water). Most vegetables only take a few seconds on either side, they should still have a bit of bite in the center. You can adjust the heat by opening or closing the vent on the grill, create direct or indirect cooking spots by moving the charcoal around, lay foil over the grate to create a “pan” (bacon cooked this way? you wouldn’t even believe)…the choices at this point are pretty endless.
Once the food is off the grill, brush the grates either with a steel brush or the end of an onion lightly brushed with oil (weird, I know, but it seems to work and, yay, a use for random onion-ends) to remove any cooked-on bits. Close the vent on the grill, and cover the grill once it’s cooled down.
And that’s it! The basics of grilling, as I wish I had known them when I started. I hope this is useful for anyone who’s interested in grilling, it is really a fantastic and fun way to cook.