Grilling season is just around the corner.
That means it’s time to clean up the grill, get fresh charcoal or propane, and start planning some cookouts.
Back at the start of my culinary career, in the early ’90s, I spent a couple of years as the grill man at a French bistro in Chicago. It was there that I learned the secrets of grilling that I’m going to share with you today.
Before you begin, the grill needs to be cleaned with a coarse wire brush between every use. Otherwise, carbon will build up on the grill grates and these black chunks can get stuck on your product, which is not desirable. You can find an inexpensive wire brush with a plastic handle for just a couple of bucks in the grilling section of any home improvement or hardware store.
The first key to perfect grilling is lubrication. Both the grill itself and the product you are grilling need to be thoroughly oiled to prevent the product from sticking to the grill. This is especially true with fish, which will stick to the grill, fall apart and be ruined if you fail to properly lubricate.
You can use a clean rag dipped in oil, but I usually use pan spray. Be careful when you spray it onto a lit grill, however, because it does ignite. Stand back a few feet and spray in short spurts.
The second rule is that everything needs to be seasoned with salt and pepper, barbeque seasoning, Tony Cachere’s, or whatever you want to use. That means every square inch of the product, on both sides. You don’t need to use a lot of seasoning, but in order to bring out the full flavor of any grilled item, you need to season it properly.
The third and most shocking rule is that you don’t actually grill anything. Not in the sense that the product you are cooking is going to be kept on the hottest part of the grill grate from start to finish.
Instead, only use the hottest part of the grill to mark whatever you are cooking with grill marks, then finish cooking it on a cooler part of the grill. That’s because the part of the grill that is directly over the flame is too hot and will quickly burn whatever you are cooking.
Regardless of whether you are using charcoal, propane or even wood, every grill has a certain spot where the heat is the most intense. This is the spot where you will want to mark your items.
If you want to create the distinctive hash marks on grilled items, just imagine there is a giant “X” running from corner to corner of your grill. Midway through the marking process, turn your product so that it rests on the opposite axis of that “X” and you will achieve perfect hash marks every time.
Once your product has been marked on both sides, it needs to be moved to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking without burning up over the intensely hot part of the grill.
I usually transfer my marked chicken, steaks, burgers or whatever to the top shelf of my grill, turn down the heat to low, and replace the cover. This allows me to control the cooking process, slowing it down so that the product can cook all the way through, or to whatever temperature I desire.
If you are using charcoal or wood, once the coals or wood have ashed over, push them to one side so that you have a hot side for marking and a cooler side for finishing.
Finally, whatever you grill needs to rest for a few moments before being served. This is because all the blood and other liquids need time to relax and disperse themselves evenly throughout the product. If you cut into something immediately after removing it from the grill, all that liquid will run out onto the plate and the product will be dry and tough.
As a former grillardin, I can assure you that these techniques can be used to perfectly grill any item, from fish to meats, even vegetables. The only variable is the length of time it takes to cook the product all the way through. For example, a double-cut pork chop will need to cook much longer than a thin filet of fish.