I want to get all up in this grill.
June 19, 2013 5:17 PM   Subscribe

I was just given the (very generous!) gift of a charcoal kettle grill with GET THIS a pizza stone, pizza peel, and this brilliant thingy to convert a kettle grill into a pizza oven. I have not only never grilled anything before, I've never been remotely interested in doing so until pretty much today. How can I stop worrying* and learn to love my new grill?

Obviously I want to make some pizza in my new multitasking pizza oven and general fire-oriented food cooking device.

But what else? Burgers, hot dogs, and maybe steak or chicken or something, obvs. I think I'd also like to grill vegetables. I like food blogs, and I know there's a whole section of Serious Eats devoted to this. However, I don't know if I'm at the Serious Grilling level, yet.

Also, beyond what to grill, what are the ground rules, here? I have a wooden porch/deck. Can I use the grill on that, or should it be on concrete? How am I supposed to dispose of the ashes? What kind of charcoal should I use? Is lighter fluid still OK? Are there any other tools I'm going to have to have in order to use this baby? Utensils? How do you even light this thing?

Should we talk about fire precautions? Yes, we should talk about fire precautions.

Links to "durrrrrrr how do I even grill a thing?" websites would be lovely. Most grilling resources I've found tend to assume a baseline level of previous grilling experience.

Things to know: I am a lady, and thus was never inducted into the Secret Mysteries Of The He Man Fire Cooking club. I don't have a particularly well-stocked kitchen. I lived in a dense urban area for my entire adult life until recently and thus have almost zero experience even attending barbecues, let alone actually cooking the food at one. Seriously, we are at, like, Neanderthal Driving A Car level of ignorance, here.

*Note: no actual worrying is taking place, I'm just really fucking clueless about grilling and also enjoy movie references.
posted by Sara C. to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In my opinion, the most important grilling tool is probably a fast digital thermometer- you kind of need one to figure out what's done and what isn't, unless you like eating chicken that's half char and half raw.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:30 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You want this book, despite Bobby Flay's doofy grin on the cover. The whole beginning of the book is basically "durrrrrr how do I even grill a thing?" explaining how you can tell what the temperature of the grillyheat is, what charcoal dealies to use, how to light, etc. And it covers both charcoal and gas so it's still useful if you ever change to a different grill.

Then it's broken up into types of food, like chicken or steak and each section starts with just how to do that type of food perfectly (basic prep, timing, turning/testing) with no fancy recipes. The fancy stuff comes later and we've never bothered with it since plain steaks and whatnot always comes out just right.

Also, you want a chimney starter and some newspaper to get your fire going, not lighter fluid. I think that's in the book too, which Bobby Flay has not paid me to endorse despite how I'm starting to sound here.
posted by dayintoday at 5:30 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

You can find a grill mat at places like Lowe's and Home Dee-pot - it's a large fire resistant mat that goes between your deck and your grill. Pick up a fire extinguisher when you're there, never hurts to have one around.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:33 PM on June 19, 2013

Best answer: All good advice above, especially on the chimney starter. Lighter fluid is for mollycoddlers and half-wits.

You can actually smoke things fairly well on a Weber-style grill. I've done it quite a few times (before investing in a larger grill with a smoke box on it. It's time consuming - on the order of several hours - but the results are mind-blowing good. You're basically just putting a small pile of charcoal (and hardwood) on one side, and putting the meat on the opposite side. The basic rundown is here. One key bit is having a hinged grill so you can drop more briquets or hardwood chunks onto the cooking side. You can do ribs, chicken, brisket, or a butt roast. All are fantastic smoked.

The ashes you can bag up and dump in the trash. You can pick up a decent grill utensil kit most any where. Get a nice heavy spatula, some long tongs and a wire scrub brush on a long handle and you'll be in great shape.

It's a blast, and have fun! Grilling is one of our all time favorite ways of summertime cooking.
posted by jquinby at 5:43 PM on June 19, 2013

Good advice above about a grill mat and a fire extinguisher. An old Boy Scout rule is to run your hands through the ashes to be sure there are no embers left; even a full day later, embers insulated deep in the ashes can re-ignite when you pour them in the trash.

Ask me how I know.
posted by Kakkerlak at 5:50 PM on June 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Also, you want a chimney starter and some newspaper to get your fire going, not lighter fluid. I think that's in the book too, which Bobby Flay has not paid me to endorse despite how I'm starting to sound here.

Chimney starters are great and work well. I still use lighter fluid sometimes, or even a propane torch, depending. How you get the fire going is really the least interesting thing.

The waste can go in regular trash, generally. Make sure it is out, though. I usually throw it away the next time I use the grill.

How many briquets to use and all that will be a matter of experimentation and experience. You can grill on your deck. Of course, keep some space between the railings and the grill. Never leave it completely unattended when lit, of course.

Utensils - A pair of tongs, a spatula and a fork. All long handled. Mitts if you want, but I never use them. A meat thermometer, and a basting brush.

Start simple. Easy things to cook - Frozen burgers. Throw them on. Flip them occasionally. Eat when hot. More complex - take whole chicken breasts and marinade them in an italian dressing of some sort overnight. Put them on the grill, flipping and brushing on leftover marinade occasionally. Grill till they are done (my wife likes them black on the outside, me less so). Dead simple and tasty as leftovers or on salad.

My neighbor cooks roasts and ribs and all sorts of stuff that takes all day. I mostly stick with steaks and chicken. It's one of my favorite things to do, though.

Cooking over charcoal is much different than over propane/NG. There is a measure of unpredictability in the coals. The skill comes in working with the fire you get and that skill only comes with practice!

Have fun. Drink beer. Good luck!
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:53 PM on June 19, 2013

Get a Weber chimney starter for starting the coals, a chimney in general is great for starting coals, but I found paying the little bit extra for the Weber brand worth it as its lasted longer than the cheap one did. My husband can get coals from cold to ready to cook in 15 minutes in that thing with a bit of paper only and no nasty lighter fluid.

Get a good meat thermometer and then just experiment is the best way. With the thermometer you don't have to worry about over cooking so much and pretty much everything will come out tasting good.

Weber also do a very good grilling cookbook, which my husband swears by, but there are a lot of great sites out there that explain the basics if you do a google search or 2. Main thing to remember to get temperature control you need to have a hot side where you stack all the coals for quick searing of meats and a cold side to allow for long slow cooking, though I don't know what you'd do for pizza cooking.

My husband loves to cook marinated pork loin on the grill. Basically marinate a pork loin and cook it long and slow on the grill. He's bugging me to let him do the thanksgiving turkey on the grill so that will be interesting if nothing else. Grilling takes a bit of practice, but as long as you use the thermometer to make sure you don't over or under cook things pretty much everything cooked on a grill tastes great.
posted by wwax at 6:49 PM on June 19, 2013

Let me know if you want some sourdough starter for pizza dough!
posted by Ideefixe at 6:52 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Bob Blumer, who was on Food TV (mostly in Canada... and the internet, if you get my meaning) as "The Surreal Gourmet," has a book called Pizza on the Grill. I don't know his co-author from Eve, but I trust this guy's recipes.

Also, I recommend you subscribe to Slice, the Serious Eats sub-blog about pizza. It gets me excited about pizza every time.

Generally, keep your crusts thin, and parcook them to firmness before adding ingredients. You'll be cooking in temperatures hotter than your oven can go, so things will happen faster. This is an awesome thing, because there's that much less time between stretching the dough and eating pizza.

Grilling in general, you should learn which foods benefit from an even fire, and which ones benefit from having the fire on one side of the grill, and food on the other. An asymmetric pile of charcoal will mean a range of temperatures across the grill, so you can sear in one spot and slow-cook in the other. Finally, get your hand over the grill by about a foot. Your pain threshold will let you map out the temperature variations in a way that will become more intuitive than any manufactured thermometer. (You don't have to go so far as pain, of course, just detect the heat in a consistent fashion, and move on.)

Be safe, know where your fire extinguisher and the nearest cold water is. Don't block your access to either one.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:53 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: On the fire safety aspect, this is really pretty safe and easy. Sure a water hose and an extinguisher would be nice, but plenty do without. I personally have never witnessed a tipping incident and have never seen anything remotely dangerous, but it could happen, so if you're cooking on a wooden area, avoid all trip hazards. If it's on wood, put it in a corner. A sheet of concrete underneath certainly wouldn't hurt, but I don't think it's compulsory.

Also, the BBQ surface gets dangerously hot, so small kids and drunken people really need to watch out. You need somewher to put the hot lid too.

Mostly you want good ventilation so you're not breathing too many fumes.
posted by wilful at 7:04 PM on June 19, 2013

Best answer: A favorite grilled meal:
Small steaks cooked next to thick slices of yams, pineapple, and sweet vidalia onions.

I know next to nothing about grilling. But I used a pizza stone for years.

A) You need to season it before first use. It should have instructions. Please do follow them or you won't be able to chisel your pizza off of it.
B) Do not ever wash it with soap.
C) Learn to roll your pizza out in corn meal. Dominos does this, so if you like their pizza, this won't be as weird as it sounds. It is the best way to prevent your pizza from sticking.

Enjoy! I love pizza made on a pizza stone. Good stuff!
posted by Michele in California at 7:29 PM on June 19, 2013

Steve Raichlen's How to Grill is an excellent resource and full of recipes and tips.

Get some cheap beer and a whole chicken and make beer can chicken. OMG so tasty.
posted by mogget at 7:42 PM on June 19, 2013

Congrats on your new grill! Does it have a temperature gauge built into the lid? If so get some electrical tape and cover up the dial. It's a lying liar, for one thing it's measuring the tempurature at the lid not on your cooking surface, for another thing these gauges are typically super inaccurate, and can waver 50F vs. actual temperatures. As folks have said above, temperature is important, whether you're grilling a steak or pizza at +500F or trying to keep the fire below 275F to smoke chicken, ribs, or a hunk 'o meat.
Now, some people will tell you that you can tell the heat of a grill by how many seconds you can hold your hand so many inches above the grate. These are the same people that will tell you that you can tell how cooked your steak is by comparing it to the feel of your forearm, palm, or elbow. I am not one of those people. The absolute best grilling purchase I've made is a high quality thermometer. Now, an instant read thermometer is super useful for things like steaks where rare to medium can happen in less than a minute, but if you're cooking a full bird (or pizza for that matter) what you want is a dual probe thermometer. One probe rests just over the cooking grate and a second you stick into your meat. Now, if you want fancy, you can get something like the Maverick ET732. This is the one I have, and if asked I would get on national tv and say "yes this item has changed my life". Not only am I more confident in my temperatures and my resultant cook, but because it is wireless and is able to set temperature-based alarms, I can keep prepping inside until the grill gets hot enough to start cooking, or it alerts me to whether my grill is creeping hotter or cooler on longer cooks (when I'm cooking a brisket for 12+ hours, I'll start the fire around 10pm and have the alarm set to wake me if temps go out of the zone) or that the meat has reached its target temperature.

Oh, and yeah don't use lighter fluid. It's bad for you and taints the flavour of whatever you're cooking. If you don't want to use a chimney, you should be able to find natural starter pucks. And use proper hardwood charcoal too! Have fun.
posted by dismitree at 8:26 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Alton Brown's show Good Eats is entirely on YouTube. There are many grilling episodes, and they're all fantastic.

My personal favorite is his grilling pizza episode.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:18 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

The chimney starter is great. I cheat and use Matchlite charcoal sometimes, it's presoaked with lighter fluid and ignites instantly.

My grill is on my redwood deck, but I don't have an overhang. The flames can get pretty high, so make sure that there's nothing combustable above your grilling surface.

One thing is, don't put the barbecue sauce on while the meat is raw, wait for it to be nearly done, especially if it's a sugary sauce.

If you're using wooden skewers, soak them in water for at least an hour so they don't catch fire.

Fruit on the grill is nomtastic! Plums, pinapple...go nuts!

Grilling will keep the heat outside, instead of inside with the hot oven.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:26 AM on June 20, 2013

Best answer: Lots of people have given you great advice above, but on the topic of what to grill, no one has mentioned one of our favourite things: vegetables!

Soft, firm veg do very well on the grill. Slice into 1/2" thickness or so, spray with oil, and grill, turning once. Things like zucchini or eggplant will be ready in 10-15 minutes depending on how much heat they get. Eggplant, however, works best if you slice it, salt it then let it express liquid for half an hour on kitchen paper. This reduces some of the bitterness.

Other veg requires a bit different handling. Asparagus, just mist, salt and grill. Radicchio and endive work well too. Grilling takes away their bitterness and gives them a creamy, delicate flavour. Endive I do whole; radicchio is cut into quarters and misted. A personal favourite of mine is sliced fennel, but not everyone likes the licorice flavours.

The oil mister we use is this one. Easy to use and keep clean. An essential tool for grilling, in my view.
posted by bonehead at 6:39 AM on June 20, 2013

Best answer: We use Mark Bittman's 101 Fast Recipes for Grilling all the time for ideas. It's great when you're stumped for ideas beyond burgers, hot dogs, chicken, brats, steaks.

Also, we made these grilled mussels last week, and OMG (assuming you like mussels) they were the BOMB! Super easy and delicious.

Also, also, I am so jealous of your pizza oven conversion thingus!
posted by mon-ma-tron at 3:12 PM on June 20, 2013

Response by poster: Wow. So much advice. It's almost overwhelming.

I now have a nice shopping list, tons of ideas for stuff to make, and a cookbook or two to purchase.

I'm also feeling much more confident that I can do this, and that there's no arcane secret I'm already supposed to know. (I do think I'll put my grill on the cement part of the yard instead of the deck, though.)

Thanks, everyone!
posted by Sara C. at 4:38 PM on June 20, 2013

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