Grilling 101

By Jewels Quelly

Which grilling team are you on? Are you a staunch supporter of gas grilling or a stalwart enthusiast of charcoal grilling? The defense of each technique can get as intense as a longtime football rivalry.

Each method comes with its own advantages. Gas grilling is as convenient as outdoor cooking can get. Push an igniter and the heat is on. Cooking and cleanup are also generally quick from start to finish. There’s none of the stacking, lighting and grumbling-tummy-waiting involved like there is with charcoal. Now more than ever, time is at a premium and for gas-grillers the ability to control the heat in a short amount of time is where it’s at.

Charcoal grill fans insist that true “barbecuers” only use charcoal. They’ll tell you the higher temperatures achievable and the smoky flavor from using charcoal far outweigh the time involved and the messier start and cleanup. There is also the expense factor. Charcoal grills are generally cheaper than gas grills, but you will need to have a supply of charcoal on hand.

In order to identify what type of grill suits you best, consider what types of dishes you’ll be making. Using direct or indirect heat or a combination of the two is what gives you the flexibility many cooks are looking for. Direct heat means the foods are placed directly over a strong heat source, such as a high flame or a hot bed of coals. You also get a better char over direct heat, which in the case of a steak, adds real flavor. Direct heat works well for thinner steaks, chicken breasts and burgers.

Indirect heat means that the foods are placed on part of the grill that is not directly over the source of heat. In a charcoal grill, this can be achieved by leaving spaces while stacking your charcoal. In gas grilling, this is achieved by turning down or turning off selected burners. Foods that burn easily, such as pizza and fruit and foods that take longer to cook, such as beef brisket or barbecued ribs require indirect heat.

Whether you choose charcoal or gas, the general consensus of area grill experts was not to skimp on quality when making your grill purchase. “Going for a better quality grill costs less in the long run,” advises Ken Ringer, owner of Albright’s Hardware, Allentown. “They last longer, are made of better material and they heat more evenly.” The quality of the grill lies in the gauge of stainless steel used, both in the shell and in the grates. “If a magnet will stick to the grill, it’s not a high grade of stainless steel,” he says. Ringer maintains that even the cooking grate will hold heat better if it contains steel rods.

“Charcoal grilling is really coming back into fashion, says Glenn Panick, general manager of Neighbors Home and Garden Center, Hellertown.” “You get a flavor from charcoal that you won’t get from gas.” When looking for a charcoal grill, Panick says the same high quality stainless steel should be on your checklist as it is for gas. “Ask for 3 to 4-gauge.” In addition, look for a good venting and dampening air system and a grill that has features that aid in cleanup of coals. Although pre-pressed industrial formed briquettes are available, all natural, pure lump charcoal is the fuel that Panick, would have you use for your charcoal grill.

Frank Rymdeika, owner of Grates & Grills, Dublin, Bucks County, points out that Weber makes a charcoal grill with a gas igniter, which, he says serves the dual purpose of removing the need for lighter fluid and heating the charcoal in about half the time it usually takes. Rymdeika finds that many of his gas-grilling customers incorporate wood chips into the process to lend a smoky flavor. Panick agrees. “Some grills have a smoking attachment to which you can add chips for phenomenal flavor.”

As far as accessories go, Panick suggests a basic good utensil selection of stainless steel long-handled spatula, tongs and turning fork. Supplement that, he says, with a basket for seafood and vegetables. “Use a flat-surface grilling tray for fish,” he adds. Rymdeika recommends a probe-style thermometer for checking the doneness of your grilled products.

Jewels Quelly is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and the chef/owner of AngelFood Personal Chef Service and Catering Company, which serves western New Jersey and The Lehigh Valley.

Jerked Pork Chops

Jerk Ingredients:
2 cups chopped scallions
½ cup olive oil
2 habanero chiles, stemmed and chopped
2 Tablespoons dried thyme
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon ground allspice
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
8 boneless pork loin chops,
about 1 ½ inches thick

Make jerk seasoning by combining all ingredients in a food processor. Puree until a coarse paste forms. Spread the jerk seasoning on the pork chops and massage into the meat (wear gloves to protect your hands). Place in resealable bags and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 and up to 12 hours.

Preheat a gas grill to high; leave one burner off. If you are using a charcoal grill, build a fire and let it burn down until the coals are glowing red with a light coating of white ash. Spread the coals in an even bed on one side of the grill. Clean the cooking grate.

Remove the chops from the bag and brush off any excess marinade. Grill the chops over direct heat for 2 minutes on each side to mark the chops. Move the chops to the cooler side of the grill and continue to grill over medium indirect heat until the pork is completely cooked but still tender, another 5 to 6 minutes per side. Serve on a heated platter or plates.

Makes 8 servings.

Source: Grilling by The Culinary Institute of America ($35 Lebhar-Friedman Books).

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