Common Grilling Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
Although grilling has long been thought of as the “man’s domain,” there are plenty of reasons why both men and women would want to get out in the sunshine, drink a cold, frosty beverage, and do some grilling.
Consider the extra energy it takes to cool the house in the summertime when the oven and stove are both on. Save some money and take the heat outside.
One of the most compelling reasons to grill, however, might be the social perks. Families and friends are often so busy that nobody eats together anymore. Pull out the grill, though, and everybody gathers around.
Grilling brings family and friends together. Whether you are cooking on a gas grill or a charcoal grill, get out there and get grilling.
Grilling is not only one of the oldest forms of cooking, it also has great benefits in today’s world as well. Grilling is a direct heat, dry cooking method that, when done correctly, can result in a perfectly seared exterior and a moist and juicy interior.
Grilling is a quick cooking method and a very healthy way to cook. It requires very little added fat, and it makes food taste wonderful. As an added bonus, foods can acquire those professional-looking grill marks—the marks that set you apart as the Master of the Grill.
Unfortunately, for every beautiful piece of grilled fish, meat, fruit or vegetable pulled off the grill, countless pieces have come to an overcooked and unsightly end, all because the cook was practicing how NOT to grill. This section will lead you through all the mistakes people can make when grilling, and how to avoid them.
Mistake #1 – The Dirty Grill
Many people look at a grill covered in greasy, sticky bits of food and scary black stuff and say: “that adds more flavor”.
What it does is make your food stick. A dirty grill does not get as hot as a clean grill. This inhibits searing and causes food to stick.
Most of the gunk covering your grill is made of proteins, and protein is what glue is made of. Protein sticks to protein. Guess what proteins don’t stick to? Hot, oiled metal.
Start with a clean grill—that’s what they make grill brushes for. The best way to start with a clean grill is to end with a clean grill.
It’s much easier to clean a hot grill, so if you clean your grill with a grill brush while your meat is resting, you will be met with a clean grill on your next outing.
If your grill is really dirty , place a large piece of aluminum foil over the grate, lower the lid and turn up the heat. After a few minutes, most of the scary black goo will have burned off.
Make sure you also clean out your drip pans in your gas grill or your ash catcher in your charcoal grill.
Once your grill is clean, make sure that you let it heat up for at least ten minutes before putting food on it. Then, apply some canola or other neutral oil to the grill using a clean rolled up towel held in long tongs. Wait another minute or so, and then put your food on the grill..
Mistake #2 – The Cold Grill
Here’s one scenario I often hear about: home cooks get their coals or heat to the perfect point, put the grate over the coals and then slap on the meat. This is what happens: their food gets stuck.
This is why it happens: all metal, no matter how smooth to the eye, has microscopic pits and crevasses in it. These are the perfect little nooks and crannies for proteins in your cooking food to get down into and glue themselves to the metal.
Give your grill a good 10 minutes or so to heat up over the coals before putting on the food. This gives the metal a chance to heat up and expand. The expansion helps to close all the microscopic divots in the metal making a truly smooth cooking surface.
Mistake #3 – The Un-oiled Grill
Your grill grate is clean; your grill grate is hot. You put your food—especially a protein, like meat or fish—on the grill, and it immediately sticks. Even with the metal hot and a lot of those little microscopic crannies closed up, your food is now stuck!
Starting with a clean grill + lubricating the grill with a little oil = seasoned grill = food doesn’t stick.
Just like your grandmother’s cherished cast iron skillet, years of proper use and care will season your grill, giving it an almost non-stick coating.
Many people advocate oiling the food, but that takes more oil and won’t help season the grill grate. Take a clean towel tightly wrapped and dipped in canola oil and use long handled tongs to rub a light coat of oil on the pre-heated grill grate.
Mistake #4 – The Over-Crowded Grill
You have steaks, burgers, dogs and brats covering every square inch of your grill grate, and you have a flare-up. Where do you move the meat to keep it from charring?
You could move some food temporarily to a plate, but then you end up with temperature issues – you don’t want your food to cool down in the middle of the cooking process.
You could just let the flare-up flare, but that deep char is really not what perfect grilling is all about, besides, carcinogens have been identified in deeply charred meat. What do you do?
Just as overcrowding a pan is not good for browning meat—you end up with a steam rather than a sear, overcrowding is the enemy on the grill. To adjust to flare-ups and to be able to move your food around from hotter to cooler parts of the grill, it’s best to keep a good one third of your total grilling area clear.
Remember, even as heat is transferred from the grill to the food, it is a two-way street. The food cools down the grill. This is why grill marks are more pronounced on the first side of the food rather than the flip side.
When it comes to grilling, heat is your friend, so make sure there is plenty of free space on the grill to move the food so the grill has a chance to heat up again. That’s one way to try and equalize those grill marks.
Mistake #5 – Not Ready for the Flames
The USDA does not want you to ever leave meat out on the counter. Many chefs will say that it is necessary to let food come to room temperature before cooking.
The reason for this is two-fold: putting cold food on a hot grill will actually bring down the temperature of the grill temporarily, and you could have some problems with sticking. The second problem is with heat control in the food itself, especially when dealing with a thick cut. If you put a cold piece of meat on the grill, the inside will still be cold when the outside is done.
Of course I don’t advocate leaving meat out in the hot sun, or even in a kitchen, all day to come to room temperature. What I do advocate is giving the food some time on the kitchen counter (depending on the thickness) to let it warm up a bit—up to 30-45 minutes or so for thinner cuts and longer for larger, thicker cuts and roasts.
Refrigerators hold food at temperature of about 40 degrees, and a rest on the counter will take the chill off, leading to a tenderer, more evenly-cooked end product. If you are concerned about bacterial growth, rest assured that grilling will take care of that problem in short order. If you’re still concerned about it, follow the USDA recommendations.
Mistake #6 – The Constant Mover
You put your food on the grill; then you move it. Two seconds later, you move it again. Then you flip it, move it, flip it again, move it again. Spray some water at a flare-up, and poke at the food.
Then you move it. Then you…you get the idea. At the end, you are left wondering why you don’t have beautiful grill marks on your food and why it doesn’t have a good sear.
Heat is amazing – it transforms food, but even the relatively high and direct heat of the grill needs some time to work its magic. Put the food down on the grill grate, and give the heat time to give a beautiful sear. Give the grill grate time to imprint those grill marks.
While I’m not saying to walk away to check your e-mail, I am saying to watch carefully, but trust that the heat will do its job. Even fish can stand to be on the grill for a good minute or so before being moved, so relax and let it happen.