Easy Griller

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Tools

Good grilling starts with having the right tools. Happily, you don't really need much.

Aside from a gas grill, the only tools I use regularly are a long-handled spatula and tongs: both with wooden grips, to show that they truly belong outside. These two implements, together with a sort of two-tined fork, came with the grill. I don't use the fork very much.

Grill

The grill itself doesn't have to be fancy, but it should have enough space to let you choose where you set your food. The way I grill, that means that there should be room for at least a third again as much food as you expect to grill at one time. In other words, if you put six hamburger patties on the grill, there should be room to put two more, with at least a fraction of an inch around each. This lets you either work around, or use, hot and cool spots on the grilling surface.

Your grill should also have a tray or shelf on both the left and right sides, to hold incoming and outgoing plates or platters of food. Those shelves are also where I keep the tong and spatula, and a timepiece, when I'm grilling.

The grill's grease trap should be something you are comfortable using. Mine is a loop, holding a soup can slung under the grill: satisfactorily simple to remove and replace.

Be sure the hood has a handle that you can grasp and open without getting your hand or arm near or over the grill. And, you needn't bother with one of those fancy windowed hoods. They get covered with soot quickly, and are more trouble keeping clean than they're worth.

When you buy a grill, take a look at the instruction manual. There will probably be a section on cleaning the grill that apparently was written by someone with compulsions about neatness.

Don't believe it. It took several sessions with our grill before that factory-fresh taste wasn't in the meat. Even after that, it was a little while before we had what I regard as real grilled taste in the food.

I scrape the grill rack before I grill, so that what I call char from the last session doesn't get on this session's food. From time to time, I also remove most of the residue that builds up inside the grill. That stuff will interfere with airflow if it gets too thick. I make sure to leave some in the grill, however, because I believe that much of the home-grilled taste comes from the charred residue of previous grillings. Without that, you might as well say inside and cook on the stove.

Spatula

This is the workhorse tool, the one that gets almost as much use as the grill itself. Your spatula for the grill should have a sturdy metal blade, with a metal handle at least a foot long, and a large, easy-to-hold grip.

You'll want a long handle, to keep your hands away from the heat of grilling. Even with the relatively long handle on mine, I singe the hair on my hand or wrist at least once a summer. The handle should be strong, too. I'll get to the reason for that in a minute.

A large, easy-to-hold grip is important, because you'll probably be lifting fairly heavy objects. I use the spatula to handle most foods, which means that at times I'm lifting upwards of a pound of meat at a time.

I prefer a wooden grip for the spatula, and other tools. The reason isn't so much practical as aesthetic. A sturdy plastic handle would get the job done, but wouldn't have that outdoor feel to it.

Tongs

I use tongs to turn and move hot dogs, and if necessary to move the grill rack after the fire is lit. Tongs are useful extensions of my hands when something hot needs to be grasped, but I've grilled many meals without using them.

As with the spatula, metal construction and large grips are important.

Fork

This is the tool that folks in commercials use to lift huge sizzling steaks over a grill. I have yet to figure out how to properly use it.

Sticking the fork into a steak and lifting worked just fine. My problem is that, moments after I lifted a steak, the large steak on the end of my fork broke.

Sometimes I was left with a string of two or three smaller steaks, precariously connected.

Sometimes the lower steak sections broke free. If I was lucky, they fell back on the grill. If I wasn't, one of my daughters would calmly take them inside and wash them off.

After a few experiences like that, I gave up and used the spatula.

Everything Else

You'll need a reliable timepiece. I recommend something that lets you see the seconds go by. I don't time grilling down to the second, but I've found that it is handy to be able to see the seconds, when timing intervals of just a minute or two.

An 'outgoing. plate and an 'incoming. plate are important for food safety, and convenience.

What you won't need, if you grill the way I do, are the expensive extras.

A rotisserie looks cool, but is just one more thing to break down.

Meat thermometer? If you can see the thermometer, odds are that you can see what color the meat is. I know that government and educational websites say that one of these gadgets is utterly vital to telling how "done" your meat is, but I've never used one.

Funny thing: those same sites tell you to use a fresh knife each time you cut into meat to see how well done your meat is, or wash the one you use with warm, soapy water. But, they don't say anything about cleaning the meat thermometer.

The list of grill accessories seems to go on forever, starting with things like spice racks and sauce pans, and ending, for all I know, with aromatherapy candle holders, web-enabled cell phones with GPS, and rear-view mirrors.

Those accessories really are not necessary. Grilling can be simple, and I like to keep it that way.

These final two tools aren't used for grilling, but should be on hand. A source of water and a fire extinguisher are needed when good grills go bad. Which brings me to the matter of safety.

Next: Safety

Copyright 2005 Brian H. Gill