By Shane Best, owner of Kentucky BourbonQ and the Staff of A Taste of Kentucky
Grilling is supposed to be fun — and safe. Use our time-tested tips and some common sense to make the most of your grilling experience.
Location, Location, Location
Before you start, make sure that you’re grilling in a safe location. Stay away from buildings and trees, and out of the wind — you want to keep the fire inside the grill.
Keep Your Tools Simple
All you really need for professional results are a metal spatula, a good pair of long-handled tongs, heavy-duty oven mitts, and a strong wire scraper. Invest in a decent brush, too — the cheap ones might be a better buy but they just don’t do as good of a job.
If you’re grilling with charcoal, light your charcoal about 30 minutes before you intend to start cooking, or about half that if you’re using a chimney (see below). To see if your coals are ready to use, hold your palm about six inches over the grill — if you can hold your hand there for only two or three seconds you’re ready to go!
The best way we’ve found to get your charcoal started is to get a chimney — a metal cylinder with a layer of newspaper on the bottom and the charcoal loaded on top in a tight column. About $10-$15 at most stores, once you use one, you will never go back to smelly and potentially dangerous lighter fluid. Light the newspaper at the bottom, and when the charcoal comes up to temperature, simply (and carefully!) pour the coals into your grill. No more lighter-fluid-flavored burgers!
Beware the Wee Beasties
Make sure you don’t invite Salmonella to your cookout — never put cooked meat onto the same plate that that you carried it to the grill on unless you want to spend a long time in the bathroom (or worse) after your cookout. Foods should be thawed or marinated in the refrigerator, not at room temperature, and always served on a clean plate.
Get a Head Start
To speed up the grilling time of slow-cooking food, consider pre-cooking food in the oven or in the microwave. This can make a big difference with dense vegetables and potatoes, and you’ll look like a pro when everything is done at the same time!
It’s All In The Heat
Grills with adjustable racks or charcoal trays are great for controlling your grilling temperature, and the vents are your friend — simply open the vents a bit to turn up the heat, or close them to lower it. If you need to cook different food at different temperatures, spread the charcoal around to make one end of the grill hotter than the other.
Never add lighter fluid to hot coals — the stream of squirted lighter fluid can quickly ignite and cause serious burns, which can be a real damper to any cookout! The safe alternative is to start fresh coals in a separate can, chimney, or small grill. When you add fresh coals as they are needed, you can easily regulate the temperature for prolonged cooking.
Leave Your Food Alone!
Cook with a high heat and turn your food as infrequently as possible — ideally only once. Grilling can give foods a wonderful seared flavor, but if you constantly flip your food over you actually prolong the cooking time and make your food more prone to sticking to the grill.
And never — never — flatten your hamburger with your spatula! In addition to the danger of potential flare-ups, the juice is where all the flavor is — that is unless you happen to like dry cinders of former hamburgers.
Avoid Grill Flareups
Grill flare-ups caused by melting fat on grilled food can result in some nasty burns and quickly turn your food into charcoal. Carefully trim as much fat as possible from meats before grilling them, and if needed, place an aluminum-foil drip pan beneath the meat as it cooks.
Don’t Burn it!
The sugar in most BBQ sauces can quickly burn, so don’t apply them until about fifteen minutes before the food is going to be ready.
Clean It Up!
Your grill will be much easier to clean while it is still hot, so take a moment and scrape it down with a good, stiff metal brush.