A few tips to charcoal grilling

          Grilling with charcoal takes a few minutes to learn the basics but a lifetime to master and mastering cooking skills is something that is more learned by trial and error (burned steaks and eyebrows) than taught.  However, the smoky taste of the food and the compliments on the food by family and friends makes up for the charcoal steaks and burned food I cooked in the beginning.  Here are a few tips I have picked up from experience:

Cooking preparation is key.  Grilling without proper preparation is a disaster waiting to happen.  Trying to prepare food for cooking while the “fire” is going takes one away from the fire, which is dangerous, and it is no fun trying to prepare shrimp skewers while chicken is on the grill.  Get all of the food prep (including and sauces you are going to use) out of the way before you ever light the fire and you will be able to kick back with a cold drink while you casually flip steaks and burgers.

Good charcoal fire technique is important.  I don’t use charcoal lighter fluid since I bought a fire starter.  With the fire starter one puts the coals on top and lights newspaper placed in the compartment underneath.  It slowly lights the charcoal without the “chemically” smell and taste of lighter fluid. 

Also, leave a “zone” on the grill without charcoal to place food that might be cooking too fast.  This zone of indirect heating is also great for cooking ribs over an extended period of time.

A thermometer/timer is a great investment.  One of the smartest items I bought for charcoal grilling is a thermometer/timer combo.  The thermometer has preprogrammed USDA recommended temperatures for meat, chicken, and fish as well as alarms for time or temp.  It eliminates guessing whether the food is done and the stress of worrying about overcooked food.

Once the food is one the grill- Leave the food alone!  One problem I had in the beginning is “peeking” under the hood every couple of minutes or moving the food around.  I have learned to leave the food alone once I place it on the grill and to turn it only when the timer beeps.  I use a 10 minute rule but there are several techniques and philosophies on when and how many time to turn your food on the grill.

          Charcoal grilling can be very enjoyable and an excellent way to bond and “shoot the breeze” with family and loved ones while you casually prepare food and enjoy a summer afternoon.  With a little preparation and know how you can be the star at your next outdoor get together.