No matter what time of year it is, it’s never too early or too late to get to work on improving your grilling techniques! Many rookies seem to make the mistake of thinking that grilling requires just a little more skill than lighting a flame and flipping the meat over, but in fact, there’s much more to it than that.
For the uninitiated, “barbecue” is an umbrella term that includes grilling, smoking, and various other techniques. Keep on reading for an overview of the different branches of barbecue technique, and what to look for when buying a gas grill like Nexgril to a trusty and established Weber.
- Grilling techniques
Grilling is used to char the surface of the meat, creating a smoky crust that seals in those delicious juices. Grilling can be performed over infrared, gas, or charcoal, though gas tends to be most common in America. Grilling is best for more tender meats, including ribs, chicken, pork chops, beef steak, and more. Grilling is traditionally performed at a very high heat, up to 500°F, for only a few minutes at a time.
- Smoking techniques
Smoking is very different than grilling, requiring a lot of patience. High-end diners will smoke their meats for a week or more depending on the temperature. For us laypeople, smoking involves using a very low heat, not higher than 200°F, for about an hour. “Cold smoking” refers to cooking between 70 and 90°F for a unique flavor, but must be cured or baked before eating to ensure they have been completely cooked. Chicken breast and sausages are popular choices, but ribs and beef steaks can be smoked as well.
- Cooking with gas
This is the most popular option, and is often believed to be easier to handle. Many expensive steakhouses believe it offers a cleaner flavor than charcoal. Gas grilling is generally preferred for chicken breasts, steak, fish, and roasted vegetables.
- Cooking with charcoal
Charcoal setups are greatly preferred for their ability to sear meat, a process that fully browns the outside without caramelizing those juices that we mentioned earlier. Charcoal also prevents dangerous flare-ups that can result when dripping oils interact with the gas, and are often considered safer to use.
- Cooking with direct heat
Direct grilling uses high heat and places the food you are cooking as close to the heat source as possible, such as right over the fire on those grates you’re so familiar with. This technique is often used for fish fillet, chicken, steaks, pork chops, and more.
- Cooking with indirect heat
Indirect heat places the food next to or above the source of heat, usually on a type of raised structure, and the lid of the grill is left to close to trap in the heat. With a little more patience, you can grill at a safer temperature, closer to 300°F instead of 500°F. Indirect cooking is used for larger and tougher foods that are more likely to burn instead of cook evenly, like brisket or ribs.
- What to look for in a gas grill
A good gas grill is quick and efficient. A steakhouse maven will tell you a fast gas grill comes at the expense of quality, but a regular family will tell you they prefer no other flavor. A gas grill should be versatile enough that you can perform a slow, low-heat smoke or a higher-heat grill if you prefer.
Pay attention to the number and angle of heat diffusers, which vaporize the delicious juices to give you that smoky flavor. Finally, a reputable grill will come with plenty of safety warnings and instructions.