From smoking to grilling to barbecue, it takes experience and talent to become a true BBQ master. How much do you know about the tools and tips that make for delicious fire-fueled foods?
Oiling your grate before you grill will help prevent food from sticking to the cooking surface. Fold over a paper towel into a small square, soak it in the oil of your choice (like olive oil, not Quaker State) and lube up that grate.
See that nice, juicy, perfectly-cooked steak? Don't cut into it immediately unless you want those juices to wind up on your plate. Let the meat rest for a few minutes before you chomp. Your mouth will thank you.
Always, always open the top of the gas grill before lighting it. Otherwise, propane gas tends to collect, creating a potential explosion hazard.
Planking means that you're placing meat on a piece of wood, which transfers some its flavor to the food. The wood must be soaked in water prior to the cooking process so that, you know, it doesn't catch fire.
Scientific studies show that some grilled foods produce carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemicals. Some ingredients, like olive oil or even cherries, have been shown to reduce the amounts of these harmful chemicals.
The chimney is a cylindrical piece of metal used to stack and then light charcoal. It's one of the easiest ways to ignite charcoal and it doesn't require stinky lighter fluid.
Barbecue (also known as BBQ) is a low heat, slow method of cooking foods. Grilling, on the other hand, is a higher speed type of cooking.
Charcoal grills have a wonderful trait -- if you put chunks of a nice hardwood, like hickory or mesquite, right on the coals, it will produce a nice smoke that adds a smoky profile to all of your foods.
Pellet grills are enormously popular because they blend some traits of a smoker with the conveniences of an electric grill. They require compressed sawdust pellets to create heat and smoke.
BBQ, which is typically done with low, indirect heat, often utilizes chunks of hardwood. As the wood slowly burns, it produces a smoke that lends foods a smoky (and hopefully delicious) flavor.
If you've never read any of the horror stories about health problems that can develop from eating undercooked meats ... well, don't start now. Trust us, use a meat thermometer so that you know the meat is thoroughly cooked.
If you can hold your hand about 5 inches above the cooking surface for roughly three seconds, you have a very hot grilling surface that's probably 450 degrees or hotter. That's perfect for searing meats (or if you're so inclined, your hand).
Pick off the big pieces of food left behind. But if you leave the charred stuff, it will actually protect against rust. Then next time you fire up the grill, wait until it gets hot and then brush off the bits of gunk.
Grilling is a high-heat form of cooking. It typically uses direct heat to quickly cook everything from veggies to thick steaks.
It seems a bit counterintuitive, but opening the vents on your charcoal grill will help it burn hotter. Why? Oxygen, of course, helps fires burn.
Flare ups are usually small and caused by dripping grese. Often, they'll burn off after a minute or so, but if not, close the grill cover to suffocate the flames (and avoid setting your property on fire).
So-called match-light charcoal is a hazard -- to your tastebuds, that is. This kind of charcoal is loaded with lighter fluid type chemicals that make a lot of foods taste very bad.
Propane grills are fast. Turn them on, wait a few minutes and they're ready to go. Charcoal, however, must burn for about 30 minutes before you can begin cooking over it.
Wood chips are more common at local stores. But they burn fast. Bagged chunks, however, are typically about the size of your fist and they burn much longer and make more smoke.
Charcoal grills are almost always more affordable than gas grills, which (if you buy a good one) cost more than $500. You can pick up a dinky little charcoal grill for less than $20.
Hickory is a hardwood, and it produces good-tasting smoke. Softwoods like pine have a resinous fiber and a totally revolting sooty flavor.
Charcoal grills are renowned for generating good amounts of smoke that make grilled foods taste even more delicious. Propane grills, on the other hand, don't generate much smoke at all.
It takes a bit of work, but you can achieve a smoky flavor using a gas grill. Throw some wood chips (such as hickory or mesquite) into a foil packet. As the packet heats up, it will create smoke that flavors your meats.
Propane gas grills are wonderfully easy to use. Set the temperature and they'll cook at a consistent heat. Charcoal, though, requires constant attention as you stoke the fire or suffocate it a bit in an effort to keep the heat levels just right.
Propane is a wonderful energy source, but these grills typically top out at around 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Charcoal grills can get twice as hot and blaze past 1,200 degrees. Yee haw, seared ribeyes!
Unlike grilling, which uses direct heat, smoking is indirect. In smoking, the food is cooked next to (but not directly over) the heat source.
Even if you have a dedicated smoker box on your gas grill, that grill is equipped with some substantial ventilation slits. The smoke tends to escape too quickly, before it flavors the meat.
Mesquite is a very heavy wood that creates a lot of flavorful smoke. It's so potent that some experienced chefs will only use it for equally flavorful meats (like brisket) for fear of overpowering the food.
In some circles, it's practically heresy to say it, but charcoal doesn't always equal smokier food than gas. Both grills achieve a bit of smokiness, not from their fuel source, but rather from the greases dripping down onto the flames.
Rust is the No. 1 killer of both gas and charcoal grills. If you keep your grill outdoors and you don't cover it, you're dooming your grill to a short, rust-riddled life.