Fourth of July Grilling Tips, Part 1

Categories: Homebrew
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With the Fourth landing on Sunday, it's a good time to fire up the old Webster and get to grilling.

But mastering the art of fire, heat, metal, and meat takes serious know how. It also takes time and patience, and an understanding of how this age old cooking method actually works. Without proper technique, your Fourth of July burger bash could turn into a hockey puck hoe down. But fear not, fellow grillers. Charlie's got an in depth grilling rundown to get you up and smoking in no time.

Today: Part 1 -- It's Getting Hot in Herre


Choosing Your Heat Source

If you're like most Americans (nearly 75% in fact), you've got a barbecue grill on your porch or backyard. But what kind of grill you have is another story. Is it the old reliable bucket grill, perfect for outfitting with charcoal? Or a big propane beast, churning out reliable BTUs (that's British Thermal Units, a method of measuring heating capability) across a big cooking surface? Or maybe you've got both like me. Either way, it's perfectly fine: you can turn out great grilled food using either method. But each does have some pros and cons.

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Propane grills do have the benefit of reliability. As long as you've got propane in your tank (we'll get to that in a minute) you're pretty much good to go. The heat these grills turn out is very reliable, and provided you come to know your grill's high and low spots, you can achieve very predictable results easily. Newer models often come with nifty features like a temperature gauge, multiple burner "zones," cast-iron grates for better heat retention, side burners, and multi-tiered grates for warming foods or cooking slow and low. Yep -- you really can't get much easier than the modern propane grill.

On the con side, propane grills don't provide the woody, smoky flavor to foods that cooking over wood or charcoal does. Older models usually don't have as many features and have poor grates or heat spreaders, resulting in lots and lots of heat loss each time you open the lid (or if you keep the lid open, slow cook times in general). Low BTU models can be a real pain to work with. Plus... when's the last time you cleaned your propane grill? Without care, they can get pretty gunky and the grates can get rather nasty (that's true of all grills, I suppose). These grills also tend to break down and rust over time. And it's also pretty easy to run out of propane mid cook session if you're not careful. Check yours out before the big day.

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Charcoal grills, like that good ol' bucket model you've been trucking around to Dolphin's games and parkside picnics for years, have plenty of pros and cons too. The flavor of cooking with real wood or charcoal is unmatched by a propane grill, for example. It'll turn steaks, burgers, chicken, and pork into pure carcinogenic deliciousness. if you've got a little skill with coals, these grills can hold low temperatures much better than propane grills can, allowing for slow cooking methods, though still not as low and slow as an actual smoker (ribs and pork come to mind). This method is also pretty much portable. Small grills are easy to truck around, and charcoal can be lit just about anywhere and is safer to transport than propane. And if you're going to a park or the beach, you probably don't even need to bring your grill -- chances are there's a bunch there already. Finally, cooking with charcoal or wood is manly! Fire, good!

How about the cons of charcoal cookery? Well, to be honest, there are many. Everyone has had the experience of standing around a pile of charcoal with four or five guys just trying to get the sonofabitch lit. Then, of course, there's the problem of heat variance and reliability -- it takes a bit of skill to maintain an even temperature over the course of one grill session. It takes longer to get the coals to the proper cooking stage as well, and a lot longer to cool the grill down if you've got to. Clean up ain't exactly easy, either.

So which to choose? Well, it's really up to you. Do you want to take the extra steps and time to cook with real coals, or do you value the ease and convenience of propane? Once you decide, it's time to...


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