Grilling Ideas for Great Outdoor Cooking

As the weather warms up outside, the perfect season for outdoor cooking approaches. If you want your grilling adventures to be the talk of the neighborhood, you might want to do some preparation. Grilling can be both an art and a science -- and it requires both knowledge and experience to get just right.

Choosing the Right Types of Food

  • Vegetables with a tough consistency and a low water content are ideal for grilling, but you can also experiment with other types. Mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, and even fruit like watermelon can all be grilled to great effect.
  • When grilling vegetables with high water consistency, such as zucchini, you may want to gently remove some of the excess water beforehand. This will help in getting a better char.
  • Consider grilling your breads as well as your meats if you're making burgers or hot dogs. A quickly grilled bread will have a different texture. Grilled cheese sandwiches straight off an actual grill can also be a great treat for kids as well as adults.
  • Look for the right type of meat. When grilling, you generally want a type of meat that is generally fairly tender, as grilled meats usually don't have the time to tenderize through cooking alone.
  • When grilling fish, look for thicker cuts and less fatty types of fish. Fish such as salmon will usually fall apart, whereas a swordfish or a tuna usually hold together better.

Prepping Your Food in Advance

  • Don't forget the marinade. Marinades are about both flavoring and tenderizing both meat and vegetables. When it comes to more delicate types of grilling, such as fish, a proper marinade can bring in a lot of flavor. Marinades are especially useful for keeping meat like chicken and pork moist, as otherwise they can easily overcook. Experimenting with different marinades can lead to a lot of different inventive grilling ideas. Just remember a good marinade generally contains an acidic base, such as vinegar or fruit juice.
  • Consider sous vide. Ever wonder how to grill really tender meat? Sous vide means “under vacuum” in French and is a method of vacuum-sealing food in a bag, then cooking it to a precise temperature in hot water, thereby improving both temperature and consistency. Once properly cooked in this way, the food can then be grilled for that perfect sear. Though a sous vide machine is a small investment, it can greatly improve the end results of your meat. You can even make a DIY home sous vide using a cooking thermometer.

Choosing Between Gas and Charcoal Grilling

Gas and charcoal grilling each have advantages and disadvantages, depending on the type of grilling that you want to do. They both can yield superb outdoor cooking results. In general, gas grills are far easier to maintain, though they tend to be more expensive. They are faster to heat and it is easier to control their temperature, though they may not get quite as hot. Charcoal grills can be more difficult to control in temperature, but they're also very affordable. Many people believe charcoal grills may taste better, but the taste is also a matter of preference.


Cooking the Meat Just Right

Once you have your general BBQ ideas set, you need to make sure you're cooking it right. In truth, grilling well is all about temperature.

    • Make sure the grill is hot before putting anything on. A grill surface thermometer can help ensure the correct temperature. Items that aren't being directly grilled, such as wrapped vegetables, fish, and chicken should generally be put on when the grill is at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius), whereas meat that you're charring directly over a fire should be put on at 375 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (190 to 232 degrees Celsius), but it’s best to check the specific recipe you’re using for ideal cooking temperatures.
    • Take the meat off when the correct internal temperature has been achieved. A meat thermometer will get you to the exact temperature in the center of the cut. It’s important to note that meat continues to cook even after it is off the grill. If you cook the meat to an appropriate "doneness," it could be overcooked when it is time to eat. So instead, you might pull the cut off the grill when the internal temperature is just shy of the target temperature. Another tip is to avoid cutting the meat right after removing it from the grill. “Resting the meat” after grilling helps it simmer in its juices, locking in the flavor.

Don't Forget the Cleaning and Maintenance

If you don't want a headache next time you break the grill out, it's a good idea to properly clean and maintain it before putting it away. This is also a good way to ensure that your grill lasts for a long time, as set-on grease and grime will eventually cause it to rust. Empty out your grill and scrub and rinse the grates. Let everything dry before replacing it. If you've been using a coal grill, make sure you dispose of the coals properly and that they are not still warm.

With the right grilling technique, you can make an excellent meal out of virtually anything. Grilling is all about getting your meat and vegetables to the right temperature quickly, in order to get the perfect cook and the perfect char. To that end, consider purchasing implement such as grilling thermometers or even making your own sous vide machine.


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