"Hey Husband, I'm going to write about grilling this week because Memorial Day is approaching and since I didn't lose those 10 pounds before beach weather and have no use for a hot new bikini (as if), I'll discuss life with our Weber."
"So what should I say?"
"Husband, what should I say?"
"Um... let's see. Start the fire, cook the meat. I don't know. Eat dinner?"
Yep, pulling teeth. Which is why I write and he grills.
A disclaimer first: I can grill, and I will grill if need be, but the husband is good at it and I'd rather he do all that tool-and-fire-stuff while I'm in the kitchen with the side dishes. Grilling is NOT difficult. Once you master it, you get to eat really good food and have the honor of feeling all cave man. Bonus.
In our humble little home, we prefer the standard Weber kettle. Honestly, I've been using charcoal for so long that I have no idea what to do around gas. I know there are nobs and a King of the Hill propane bottle and faux briquets, but it's all sciencey and I'm not good with that.
Whether you use charcoal or gas, there are several steps to follow that will make your grilling life easier and more flavorful.
The most important part in grilling is the same with any cooking technique: You need the right tools. There are 3 of them.
1. A spatula, for burgers and fish.
|Stainless steel tools. Heavy, sturdy.|
3. A grill-cleaning brush.
4. I know I said three. Actually, there are plenty of other really cool tools out there, for kabobs, vegetables, rotisseries and whole fish, but we can talk about those later in the season.
MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT TOOLS: Keep in mind that plastic melts. Your OXO tongs in the kitchen with the black plastic ends will not work. Invest in a stainless steel pair of tongs, preferably with a lock, so you don't argue with it while it's in the open position and drop your pork chop on the patio. The perfect grill brush will look like a weapon and give you a big ouch if you handle the bristles. Don't go for something wimpy. And even if you got a gorgeous set of grill tools from Red Envelope for a wedding gift, you'll find that the plastic head of the grill brush is only useful for cleaning the child's yellow outdoor slide. It is not meant for 700 degree flames.
|A good grill brush should be ugly and painful.|
Of the many methods out there to start your fire, we prefer the chimney starter. It's safe and does the job. We used to have an electrical starter, but I hated tripping over the cord and landing face first in the flower pots. And after a bad storm, we tend to lose power anyway.
Regarding charcoal fluid, I find it smells bad and is an accident waiting to happen (read: "Mommy, look! The bottle goes pee-pee!")
The chimney starter is a cylindrical, aluminum device that has a lower chamber and an upper chamber. You stuff a bunch of crumpled up newspaper in the lower chamber, then fill the upper chamber with charcoal or hardwood. Place the chimney on the lower grate of the grill. Light the newspaper. Nature takes over. After about 15 minutes, pour the coals onto the grate and set the starter aside (preferably away from the plastic slide or other toys lying around).
There are two types of heat when grilling:
Direct heat: The hottest part of the grill, just above the fire. This is where you start many foods to get a good char. The flames may flare up, especially if you have a fatty piece of meat, but don't worry. You'll simply rotate the grate for a minute or less until the flame dies down.
|The empty space in the middle is indirect heat. The two piles of coals on the side are direct heat.|
A clean grill is a happy grill. Remove all the ash from the bottom of the grill and discard, then start fire. After the fire is hot and ready, close the lid for a few minutes to really heat up the grate. You'll need the following:
1. A small bowl with about 1/4 cup oil (peanut, cheap olive or vegetable will work fine).
2. A grill cleaning brush.
|The wad of paper towels is being used with the grill brush, but tongs work just as well.|
4. Grill tongs.
Lift the lid off the grill. Start scraping the grate with the grill brush, removing as much gunk as possible. Now, using your tongs, grasp the wad of towels and dip into the oil. Brush the oily towels across the grate to give them a clean, oiled surface. That's it. Prep is done.
What to cook? Start easy.
Besides the hot dog (pre-cooked/can't screw up), by far the easiest piece of meat to grill is the bone-in chicken breast. They're pretty consistent when they meet fire. And you don't have to concoct any fancy marinades to get a juicy piece of chicken.
A simply grilled chicken breast gives you an open palette when designing your entire meal. Virtually any starch and vegetable will complement a piece of chicken. In fact, when I think about meal plans, I usually start with the vegetables anyway, since they're the freshest portion on the plate.
So, let's begin.
Grilled Bone-In Chicken Breast
Serves 2-3, depending on how big your breasts are (insert bra cup-size joke here).
What you'll need:
2 bone-in breasts
2 tsp olive oil + salt & pepper per breast
1/4 cup peanut or vegetable oil
a disposable aluminum pan
a wad of paper towels
a sheet of aluminum foil to cover the breasts
a meat thermometer
Remove previous ash from the bottom of the grill. Wad up about 3 pages of newspaper and place in the bottom of a chimney starter. Fill the top with 65-70 charcoal briquets (or about 3/4 full) and set on bottom grate. Light a match to the newspaper. After about 15 minutes, you should see grey ash around the coals. Empty the coals onto one side of the grill so that you'll have one side of direct heat and one side of indirect heat. Place the aluminum pan on the cool side of the lower grate. This will catch any drips and keep you grill cleaner. Place the top grate over the fire, then close the lid.
Meanwhile, prep your chicken breasts by rubbing about 2 teaspoons olive oil per breast, and a healthy dose of salt and pepper for seasoning.
Before you place the chicken on the grill, take your grill brush and brush it back and forth over the top grate to remove any previous char and/or food. Using your tongs, dab the paper towels in the bowl of oil and stroke back and forth over the grate to oil the surface.
Now place the chicken breasts, bone-side down, over the direct heat. You'll want them nicely browned, about 5-8 minutes. Remember, if any flames flare up, simply rotate the grate until the fire dies down, then rotate back over the flame.
Flip the chicken, skin-side down, and brown for 4-5 minutes. Again, you may get a flare-up.
Now move the chicken pieces to the indirect, or cooler, side of the grill. If the breasts have a really thick side (they usually do), you can place the thicker side closer to the direct heat.
Place the aluminum foil over the breasts and lightly squeeze. You don't need to fully cover the breasts, just enough to tent them. Close the lid. Open the vents on the lid, keeping the vent on the cooler side of the grill (this way, the heat will pass over the meat as it escapes up through the vent. Science!).
Check the temperature after about 20 minutes. The internal temperature of a chicken breast should be 165. Once you hit 165, you can place the breasts over the hot flame again for a minute or two, with the lid open, but it's not necessary.
I know this seems like a lot of steps, but it's really quite easy. And the chicken will be the most flavorful, juicy piece of meat you can imagine. Enjoy!