Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Grilling tips

So there I was the other day, headed out to the backyard laden down with a load of grilling implements, food, and beer when I said to myself: "Joe, this grill kit rocks! You should share it with the world!" So here I am doing that right now... sort of. I decided to expand it a little with a couple of other tips to help make your grilling at least as good as mine (which isn't too bad, in my humble estimation)! So here we go, with a burger as our test subject.

First, you have to start a fire, which we covered here. It takes around 15 minutes for your chimney of charcoal to be ready (if you're using gas, I presume it takes as long, but you're pretty much on your own with that since I have no clue -- the kit below is something you may still find cool though).

While the fire is chugging away, get your burgers ready. I usually make half-pound burgers -- not for any specific reason other than that I am lazy (and breaking a pound of ground beef in half is easier than breaking it in any other fraction: and if you make one pound burgers, you're just plain crazy!). That's the whole recipe. Just beef. No salt, no crackers, no parsley, no onion or garlic salt, just beef. I mush the beef into a ball (like making snowballs for my fellow Canadians), then flatten it while working around the edge to prevent any splitting, and finally punch a little hole in the middle with a finger and thumb. This hole is the key to success -- it lets some heat into the middle of the patty so the burger cooks through more reliably, and it also prevents it from puffing up into an unmanageable pillow as it contracts in the heat (a ring contracts differently than a disc -- at least that's my anecdotal evidence and I'm not about to conduct a Cooks Illustrated kind of experiment with 600 burgers to prove it).

Now, once you've made these fine patties, you have to get them outside (which was the original point here). Above you can see my basic grill kit. It includes (don't get me started on the difference between includes and comprises) a large sheet pan, a small sheet pan, and a cake pan.

Loblaws sells these aluminum pans that fit perfectly together such that the small sheet pan (9ish by 13ish) fits on the cake pan (also 9ish by 13ish), both of which fit sideways in the large sheet pan (13ish by 18ish). This gives you a covered place to put your meat (in the cake pan), a place for a small cutting board (the unused half of the large sheet pan), and a place for condiments, salt, pepper, grill oil, etc (on the small sheet pan). IT IS TOTAL GENIUS (hence this post).

Once you stack it all up, it's easy to carry outside, and then spread out to take up your whole picnic table. (The radio is a second trip, since you can't carry it all, a beer, and the radio at the same time -- ok, ok, it's not perfect, but it's pretty great).

Ok, on to grilling. If you use charcoal, you want to add some wood chips for extra-awesome smoke (so you smell like a forest fire later -- who doesn't want that?!) and flavour (note the "u" -- YAY FELLOW CANADIANS!).  I build a fire more-or-less à la BBQ guru Steve Raichlen by dumping the ashed-over coals so that they are heaped up on one side. I put all the wood chips as far from the coals as possible so that they smoke rather than burn. If they do ignite, pour some trusty beer on there to cool 'em down and keep 'em smokin'! (Note: always have a beer in hand -- it is safety equipment. Always have an opener and another beer nearby too. Safety first! I'm not kidding).

Before grilling, you need to give the grill grate a few minutes to heat up. I usually dump the coals, put the grate on, head inside and do some stuff, come back out and rotate the grate by 90 degrees (gloves on, duh), go back in and do some more stuff, then come out and scrape the grate with a grill brush. THEN it's ready to be oiled.

I always bring out a small bowl (Japanese ceramic -- très chi-chi!) filled with a wad of paper towel (not so chi-chi) and a good glug of grapeseed oil (I used to use peanut oil, but it's deadly to some people, so why bother when grapeseed has just as high a smoke point and no one has started to try and genetically modify grapes? Last time I checked, anyway). Good grief, I digress!

Anyway, use some tongs to pick-up the oily towel and coat the grill grate (don't chuck the towel after because you'll use it to clean the grill grate at the end too).

Once the grate is ready, plunk your patties over the smoke so they can soak-up some flavour (YAY "u"!). I don't buy-in to this whole leave it for x minutes and flip only once stuff (Sorry, Steve!), I usually rotate the grillee after a few minutes (to even out the heat blast from the hot end of the fire) and then flip, then rotate, then flip again depending on when I feel like it (how's that for precise instructions?). Generally, a burger takes 10-15 mins or so to cook my way, so bank on that and flip and rotate as you see fit. Note that I like to keep the flipper stuck in the grill over the heat while there are still raw bits of meat exposed. (Some people call that thing a spatula, but to me a spatula is the rubber thing you use to get the last bit of peanut butter out of the jar, and I'm NOT going to recommend that anyone use one of those to flip their burgers.) This storage spot bakes the living daylights out of the thing (spatula/flipper, your call) and prevents any cross-contamination with nasty bacteria (just keep the wood part away from the heat and you should be fine).

I put the salt and pepper on either before or after each side is grilled (it's a whim, depending on how much I am channeling Francis Mallmann and the Seven Fires!); here it is done before.

I also use this opportunity to get some garnishes going (here tomatoes and pepper, and shallots). I have a long story about trips to The Malt Shoppe in my youth, where they served amazing burgers absolutely drowned in black pepper, but this post is WAY too long already!

Inch the patties up the grill as the fire cools and the flipping progresses. Hit them with more salt and pepper if you like, too.

Add some asparagus or whatever is in season when you are about 5 to 10 minutes from serving.

Once you think the patties are done (I judge when the juices run clear after flipping, but check with your local authorities for guidelines so I don't get sued), move them back to the cooler, smoky end of the grill. You can now add some BBQ sauce (I recommend Stubb's!) to each side and let it warm up for a bit while the vegetable finishes.

Get your buns on there in the last moments (and by moments, I mean moments -- the coals will still produce Disco Inferno in a matter of minutes).

Image of perfect bun.

Dress the bun with whatever.

Add the other stuff.

Slam it together (SLAMWICH!) and add the veg.

And then say "YEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!" as you take a massive chomp!

After you've eaten to your heart's content (or maybe discontent, depending...), give the grill grate another brush and oil to keep it happy until next time.

Then, pack-up all your goodies with your awesome grill kit for the return trip to the kitchen ... to do dishes :(.

Happy grilling, people!


  1. The hole on the burger is a good tip to follow. The thing about grilling meat and other food products is that the flavor and presentation depends on several factors. You could have the right smoke but have poor sauce, and vice versa. Things like brushing the grill with oil before and after grilling might be menial tasks, but they are very important. :D

  2. Hi Joe,

    I enjoyed reading the article you wrote about grilling above.

    We just created an infographic about common mistakes people make when grilling called Come on Baby Light My Fire (I've attached it to this email - you can also see it online here []).

    Since your blog was one of the ones that I read while researching the infographic, I thought that your audience might like our infographic, too - and since I know writers are often looking for relevant content to use, I wanted to let you know that you are more than welcome to use our infographic on your blog : )

    If you do use it, let me know and we'll tweet out a link to your blog post to our twitter followers (@JESRestaurantEq).

    There is some HTML code on our original source post that makes it pretty easy to post, but please feel free to use and post the infographic however you like - we just ask that you put some kind of link back to the source page so if other people want to use it, they can too.

    Thank you very much!

    ~ Melanie

    JES Restaurant Equipment
    (866) 200-6056