I’ve been thinking deeply about grilling. I mean deeply! I am working on a new recipe for a milk-braised pork loin that I want to finish over hot coals, with some kind of milky glaze of a kind never yet invented. I was planning on writing about it here, with a recipe at the end, when I realized that a lot of people were asking me grilling questions, and none of them were about bizarre, complicated dishes. They wanted to know how to make burgers; how to make steaks; most of all, they wanted to know how not to screw up, especially with all their friends and family looking on. So I am calling an audible. I will get around to specific guides for burgers, steaks, even roasts. But for now, I want to step in and keep you from screwing up. Call it a grilling intervention. No matter what you are making, if you follow these ten steps, you won’t botch the job; whether it’s prime beef or bulk hot dogs, you can’t go too far wrong if you:
- Think it all through. Here’s what every grill disaster looks like: the meat is cooking away, or on fire, or ready to come off, and you realize you don’t have any plates. Or tongs. Or that there isn’t a table near you. If you are making cheeseburgers, you’ll need cheese, unwrapped, and enough time to let it melt. Plan what you are going to do, in what order, and have the stuff you need at hand so you don’t become panicked and distracted and upset.
- Speaking of upset: nothing is worse than cooking on tilt. Keep your head. this is just a piece of meat. No matter what happens, it’s not the end of the world. Worst case scenario is that you order Chinese food. You can’t grill with your teeth clenched.
- Oil and kosher salt, kosher salt and oil: it goes on everything, on both sides. If you don’t have oil, that’s OK. But if don’t have kosher salt, just put away the coals and order chinese food. Seriously.
- You always want a very hot grill to start out with. If you can put your hand over it and count to three without discomfort, it’s not hot enough. If you can’t even make it to two, it may be too hot. I don’t recommend using gas grills, but sometimes it can’t be helped. If you do use a gas grill, turn it up all the way and close the lid. Eventually it will get sort of hot.
- Always have a cold side and a hot side. Sear up on hot, and finish on cold. Every time, with every food, no exceptions.
- If you don’t have a Weber grill, get one. Then get a Weber chimney starter. No serious griller ever uses gas. I’m sorry. It’s true though.
- I love wood and I love lump hardwood charcoal, but regular Kingsford briquettes will always get the job done. As long as they don’t have starter fluid in them.
- If you’re cooking, cook. Don’t wander away. Don’t watch television. Don’t take on any other assignments. Your job is to cook. Everything else is someone else’s job.
- Don’t bother with thermometers unless you are cooking something bigger than a housecat. Learn to feel doneness by touch. It’s not that hard. And it’s a skill, like driving or masturbating, that will never abandon you.
- Make sure everybody is ready to eat before you put the food on. I can’t stress this enough. Nothing is worse than knocking yourself out to make something right, and then finding that there are kids running around and the table isn’t set or somebody wandered off, or some moron can’t find his beer, or the salad hasn’t been set out yet. People have to be ready to receive hot food. Otherwise you might as well be microwaving. This is probably the single most common grilling mistake I know.
I’m not saying that this is everything you have to know about grilling. It’s not even a start. But if you observe these ten lessons and hew to them faithfully, I promise that you won’t go too far wrong. (And even if you do, there’s always Chinese food.)