From backyard barbecues to family dinners on a warm summer night, grilling brings a whole new experience to the way you enjoy the food. Among the most popular fuel choices for grills are gas and charcoal. Each of these imparts a different flavor on the food and has unique advantages and challenges. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at how to choose the perfect grill, as well as what you need to know about each for a pleasurable grilling experience.
Gas grills are valued for their convenience. There is no messy handling of charcoal and they warm up much faster. This makes them a good choice for people who head out to their patio or backyard when they want to cook family dinners. Here is what you need to know about gas grills.
Step 1: Get the Propane Ready
The first step in using a gas grill is connecting the propane. Most use a screw-top connection where you screw the gas line to the propane. Once it is tightly secured, twist the knob that turns the propane ‘on’.
Step 2: Igniting the Grill
With most gas grills, igniting the burners is as simple as turning on the stove. Turn to the ‘ignite’ setting (this usually clicks) until you hear the ‘whoosh’ sound of the flame lighting. Then, turn up or down to adjust the level of flame and heat.
Step 3: Cooking on the Grill
When you are using a small gas grill, the cooking process is fairly easy. Turn the grill down if the food is burning instead of cooking through and turn it up to achieve a char on the outside. You can also create a 2-zone or 3-zone cooking area, with one of the burners on a high temperature, the second on a medium temperature, and the third on a low temperature to keep food warm once it has cooked through. Here are a couple tips:
Always make sure you have enough propane to finish grilling. Monitor your gauge closely to know when to pick more up. It also isn’t a bad idea to keep a second propane tank on hand in case you run out.
Try to avoid lifting the lid too many times while you are cooking. While it can be tempting to monitor your food and fiddle with the grill, the indirect heat used to cook on a gas grill quickly depletes when the lid is opened and all the cool air rushes in.
Some of the most common problems that happen when a gas grill is not cleaned properly include gunk build-up in the burners that stop your grill from lighting, rust accumulation on the gas burners, and build-up of grease and cooking gunk that can cause flare-ups. You should clean your grill at least every few months of grilling season, depending on how often you use it and how dirty it gets. All you need is warm soapy water (and more for rinsing), an old sponge and rag, and a grill brush.
Start with the grill grates, using the grill brush to remove any gunk. If needed, you can use hot, soapy water to make cleaning easier. Don’t forget to remove the grill and clean the underside as well. Next, remove the burner protectors and give them time to soak in the warm, soapy water. Remove as much build-up as you can with the sponge and set to the side. Then, use the sponge to clean the burners, either by removing them or cleaning them in the grill.
To deep clean your grill, keep going and take out the plates. Soak these in hot, soapy water. Scrub the plates clean and then remove the tray from the bottom of the grill and clean that too. Finally, wipe the inside and outside of the grill using a soapy rag. Wipe with a dry rag and it should be clean again. Once you are done and the different parts are dry, you can reassemble your grill.
Gas lines and connections may need to be replaced over time, as you notice wear and tear. Some other parts that you may need to replace include the flavor briquettes, grill grates, ignitor collector box, and ignition as needed. You can significantly reduce upkeep by keeping the grill covered when not in use.
Charcoal is known for the smoky flavor that it imparts on food, but it also requires more maintenance than a gas grill. This happens because of the release of ashes and smoke residue as the coals are burned. Here’s what you need to know.
Step 1: Getting Set Up
Charcoal can be started using a chimney, charcoal fire starter, or lighter fluid. The chimney option is ideal for people who want a natural method of lighting their charcoal because it uses paper. This is said to impart a more natural flavor than petroleum-based lighter fluid or fire starter.
You will also need to choose charcoal. Briquettes should be used when you want the coals to burn hot for a longer period of time, like when you are cooking a roast or a whole chicken. The ideal choice for ceramic grills is natural lump charcoal, which produces the least ash. The other most common option is hardwood lump charcoal, which creates the smokiest flavor on the food.
Step 2: Lighting the Grill
If you are using a chimney, you will put newspaper inside the chimney and place the charcoal on the grate on top. Light the newspaper and as it burns, the charcoal will catch on fire. To use lighter fluid or fire starter, you position the charcoal, add the lighter fluid or fire starter, and then light it. Keep in mind that the type of charcoal you use affects how quickly the grill is ready to be used—some require you to let the charcoal burn until white, so it is safer for cooking.
Step 3: Create a 2-Zone Cooking Environment and Start Grilling!
One of the best ways to use a charcoal grill is creating a 2-zone cooking environment, which is also called indirect grilling. This means that you position the coals near one side of the grill. If the food starts to cause flare-ups or it is burning instead of cooking all the way through, you move it to the other side where there is less heat exposure and it cooks at a lower temperature. This lets one side of the grill be used for searing and the other side to complete the cooking process. Here are a couple tips:
Beware of flare-ups when using charcoal, which happens when the fat from meat drips down and causes a burst of fire on the grill. Keep a squirt gun of water handy to stop your food from burning if you have a flare-up.
Adjust vent holes to kill or increase oxygen exposure. Oxygen increases the temperature of the fire, so you should open them when you want hotter coals and close vents when you are trying to decrease the temperature.
Nobody wants to eat food from a dirty grill and you don’t need much to clean it—just a bucket of warm, soapy water, some water for rinsing, a grill brush, an old sponge, and a steel wool sponge.
Start with the old sponge and wipe down the lid, which usually accumulates grease and smoke from the cooking process. Then, use the grill brush and some muscle power to give clear out the gunk that has accumulated on the top and bottom of the grill grates. You can use soapy water if you need to but be sure to rinse the grates well if you do. After the grates are removed and cleaned, use the steel wool to scrub the inner bowl of the charcoal grill, where ash, grease, and dripping tends to build up. Use the sponge to wipe away any remaining gunk. Finally, dispose of any ashes left behind in the ash pan and use a rag to wipe down the entire grill.
If soap and water won’t do the job, as happens when it has been a while since the last clean, you can use baking soda and water to safely clean your grill. A combination of lemon juice and baking soda can also be used.
Charcoal grills typically do not have any connections or wires that needed to be replaced over time, unless you use a model with a gas ignition that helps light the charcoal. The grill grate should be replaced every 1-2 years, depending on its condition. You can make it last longer by keeping the grill properly covered when you are not using it.
Whether you prefer the smoky flavor imparted on food by a charcoal goal or value the convenience of a gas grill, proper maintenance, cleaning, and usage can improve your grilling experience. It also doesn’t hurt to check out tasty recipes for advice from the experts on grilling!