For about two months now I have been experimenting with my gas grill. Until this spring it has always just been a big, black, shiny contraption in the corner of my patio, used mainly by “guest grillers.” I don’t know why it took me until age 45 to discover how easy and convenient it is to use it. I suppose it was a bit intimidating – maybe I thought it would explode (what with the flammable gases and fire and such – after all, there’s a button on the front marked “IGNITION” in bit letters. Eek!).
Despite my former grillaphobia, it turns out that I really enjoy using it! I’m sure this won’t be a surprise to those who are familiar with grilling, but it really cuts down on dirty dishes and keeps all the heat from cooking outdoors, rather than heating up the kitchen. And, of course, you just can’t beat that flavor.
If by chance you too are a total newbie at grilling, here are 7 super-basic tips you need to know about grilling. (Note, these tips assume that you have a gas grill in good working order.)
1. Open the lid. Crucial step #1 is to open the lid before you turn on the gas. This is a safety issue, and it matters because you do not want propane filling up the enclosed space that’s created by the closed lid. (A bunch of propane in an enclosed space + a spark for ignition = BOOM.)
2. Turn on the propane and light the grill. Hopefully your grill came with instructions – mine are printed right onto the front panel. (If yours are missing, check the manufacturer’s web site – you will probably find an owner’s manual for your grill there which includes the step-by-step instructions.) Even though grills vary, the basic process should be pretty similar for all models. Now that the lid’s open, you can turn on the value that’s on the top of your propane tank. Turn it until it is completely open. That brings propane up into the burners. Then, with my grill, the instructions say to turn on the middle burner (the “ignition” burner), to high, which allows gas to escape through the holes in the burner. Then I hit the ignition switch, which provides the spark to catch the propane on fire. Once the center burner has flames coming from it, the grill is lit, and I can turn the other two burners on to “high” and they will come on as well. At that point, you can close the lid and allow the grill to sit for 20-30 minutes or until it’s preheated to your needs. Preheating matters – don’t skip it.
3. Brush the grates – twice. Once the cooking grates are nice and warm, brush them with your grill cleaning brush to get rid of any charred bits. Then use a basting brush and lightly oil the grates in the area you’ll use for cooking.
4. Use pans or grate for veggies, fish, fruit. If you’re cooking a meat, you can put the food right on the grates. But if you’re cooking chopped vegetables, fish, or anything tender that might break apart and fall through into the fire, use a pan, grill basket or rack, or foil pan to provide a less penetrable surface for foods to slip through.
5. Direct vs. indirect heat. I believe a chef or expert griller would give you better advice about this than I ever could. But, as a brand new grill user, I have had a lot of success with indirect heat. This means burning a fire on one part of the grill but placing your food on another. When the food doesn’t sit directly over the flame, it gives you much more control over how fast it cooks – and also, how fast it burns. You can move food over the flames to get a bit of that awesome charred flavor, but if you’re a new griller like me, you might try indirect heat until you get really comfortable with grilling.
6. Use a kitchen timer and an instant read thermometer. Some packaged foods, like turkey burgers, will give you specific cooking instructions, such as “grill over direct heat for 5 minutes per side.” In that case, use a kitchen timer and just follow the directions. If you’re cooking cuts of meat or poultry, use an instant read thermometer and refer to a list of safe food temperatures.
7. Turn off the propane. Once you’re done cooking, turn off the burners. That will extinguish the flame, but you still have one more step. Before you close the lid and go enjoy your meal, close the valve on the tank underneath the grill. Otherwise, the rest of your propane will continue to leak out, and your tank will be empty the next time you want to get your grill on!
If you give it a go with your gas grill, I’d love to hear how you make out. I don’t guarantee that the tips above will give you tender, juicy, perfectly cooked food, but I can almost assure you that you will not blow anything up if you follow these steps. Anyway I hope you’ll enjoy grilling as much as I have this summer, and leave a comment below to let me know how it goes!
Happy grilling, people!