Grilling 101

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.

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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.

  • 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)
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Lighter cubes+matches+fire!

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.

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Ready for charcoal

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Briquettes, just lit…

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…and 15 minutes later.

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Perfect for marshmallows! Or, you know, real food.

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.

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Zucchini brushed with oil, sprinkled with salt, and almost ready to eat

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.

Bacon on the grill

Don’t even get me started with bacon on the grill…

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12 thoughts on “Grilling 101

  1. Great step by step “how to” and the pictures really help. I have another question. What do you do with currants? I believe you said you bought some at the market. I have a pint and I’m not sure what to do with them.

    • Mostly I eat them plain or in yogurt. They’re pretty in salad too. But I don’t think I’ve ever cooked with them, though I know people make currant jelly/jam.

  2. Awesome step by step :). What are you feelings about Gas grills? I tend to prefer them myself just for the ease of it, I mean I love the taste that Charcoal lends, but I also find I don’t miss it grilling on propane…any thoughts?

    • Thanks! I don’t have anything against gas grills on principle, but like you said, I tend to prefer the taste of charcoal and just bought what I knew I liked and don’t have space (or need) for more than one type of grill. It can be fewer steps (buy propane, screw into grill, turn on burner), but I don’t think marshmallows over a propane grill look as pretty :-)

  3. Youre instructions are great and I’m going to have Grandpa read them because you’re never too old to learn new tricks. Love you!!!

  4. Great tips! I had to laugh when I opened your blog since I was going to ask for some tips on grilling vegetables. I am a gas griller but there is nothing like the smell of some one “really grilling” on charcoal! Have you tried pizza on the grill? I have and it’s great! Really gives a good taste/texture to the crust. Of course took a few times to get the process right.

    • I love doing pizza on the grill! I’ve done them like my mom with the Boboli crusts, and with my own dough–the first is easier by far, but the second is so much fun to watch it bubble and cook right on the grill.

      Also, you should try grilling carrots, I tried it last week and it was surprisingly good, probably my new favorite vegetable. I just cut the carrots in big quarters and they cooked through just enough to be a little soft on the outside and crunchy in the middle.

  5. Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The text in your content seem to be running off the screen in Internet explorer. I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know. The style and design look great though! Hope you get the problem solved soon. Kudos

  6. WELL LETS STEP IT UP A NOTCH, TAKE YOUR ZUCHINI AND HOLLOW IT OUT(SEED AREA) AND FILL IT WITH ANY GARDEN VEGETABLE YOU HAVE, TOMATOES, MUSHROOMS, ONIONS, ETC.THEN ADD SOME CHEESE, MAYBE A MIXTURE OF MOZZARELLA AND ROMONO, WRAP IN FOIL AND THROW ON THE GRILL. THE 10″ SIZE IS PROBABLY BETTER FOR THIS. IF YOU HAVE A STABLE ZUCHINI YOU DON’T NEED THE FOIL, MAYBE CUT A FLAT SPOT ON THE BOTTOM

    UNCLE DAVE

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