Get a Grill On

My over-loved Weber, chimney, grill brush & charcoal tongs

My over-loved Weber, chimney, grill brush & charcoal tongs

When I wrote my first book on grilling back in the day, any comments, reviews, or press about the book referred to me as a “he.” The barbecue was so decidedly Man’s Turf that no one could absorb the fact that me was a “she.” I’m still grilling, and arguing with, uh, mostly male friends about the Best Way to cook a hunk o’ meat.

Important step one is to get the grill going, which will impress those who can’t. I require nothing more than the following items:

1.  A charcoal chimney. You can see that mine has been left out in the rain and generally mistreated, but it keeps on givin’ in spite of it. The original design for this was a coffee can with holes poked in the bottom, so it’s a low-tech object. I was paid to promote the charcoal chimney by a certain billion-dollar lighter fluid company when, for a brief second, California’s smog cops required them to reformulate their fluid. I was dropped like a hot coal when that was accomplished.

2.  A pair of long-handled tongs. Essential for moving coals around. Get a pair and dedicate them to the dirty work.

3. Some decent charcoal. I like mesquite because it cooks hot and can be reused. That same billion-dollar company has some fluid-infused coals, but you can’t shake the chemical taste out of them. Stick with any charcoal, especially hardwood charcoal, that doesn’t have added chemicals.

This exact brand might be hard to find, but there are mesquite and hardwood varieties in most grocery stores.

This exact brand might be hard to find, but there are mesquite and hardwood varieties in most grocery stores

4. A grill brush. Keep the grills clean, which means brush them just before grilling, while they’re hot, and after you remove the food, while they’re hot. In a pinch use wadded up foil gripped with those long-handled tongs.

Allow yourself about half an hour to have a ready grill. If you start cooking before the coals are ready the food can have a charcoal taste or the fire will be too hot at the wrong time.

Put two or three crumpled newspapers in the bottom section of the chimney. One fussy note: newspaper isn’t as “dry” as it used to be, and my guess is the inks are a little less volatile or oilier. I try to use the oldest newspaper I have, which works beautifully.

Two large sheets crumpled up

Two large sheets crumpled up

Open all the grill’s vents, remove the top grill rack, and place the chimney on the coal grate. Load the top with coals.

Pile the coals into the top of the chimney

Pile the coals high in the top of the chimney

Light the paper in the bottom. The paper will start the coals on the bottom, and ignite its way up the chimney. If necessary, add another crumpled newspaper to goose it along.

If smoke is coming out the top, the chimney is still in business

If smoke is coming out the top, the chimney is still in business

As I mentioned, hardwood coals are reusable. When you’ve closed down the grill the coals extinguish pretty fast, preserving some good fire for future use.

Mesquite charcoal, usable for another fire

Mesquite charcoal, usable for another fire

Dump the coals onto the grate when the top coals are flaming. Distribute them evenly on the coal grate, and put the used coals on top. At this point another 10 minutes will give you a great fire.

Coals are ready when they're covered by a nice layer of ash

Coals are ready when they're covered by a nice layer of ash

To start a grill without a chimney, try the newspaper pretzel plus kindling and charcoal method. Roll a full-sized sheet of newspaper into a tube and twist it into a pretzel. Place several of these on the coal grate, pile some dry kindling on that, and place coals on top of the kindling. Light the paper — a nice fire is ready in about the same amount of time as with a chimney.

Paper pretzels, dry kindling and coals for chimney-less ignition

Paper pretzels, dry kindling and coals for chimney-less ignition

Once the coals are ready, replace the grill rack and put the top on the grill, all vents open.  Let the grill rack get hot, and give it another brush-down before you place any food on it. If the grill rack needs a little oil, douse a crumpled paper towel with cooking oil and with the long-handled tongs, quickly rub down the grill. Quickly, before the paper towel ignites! Once you’re grilling, the vents will need to be adjusted to keep the fire in check. Wide open makes the hottest fire, so adjust down from there. Close all the vents and the fire goes out pronto.

Nice ashy fire, good clean grill

Nice ashy fire, good clean grill

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