One of the first things I did when I bought my house years ago was buy a grill, a Weber kettle. To be honest, I rarely used it unless I had guests to help. One of my fears was that one of my big dogs would knock it over. So, I switched to a big stable Weber gas grill and now I'm a dedicated griller. Yes, I prefer the flavors you get with charcoal but life is full of compromises and this feels safer for my household.
What do I grill? I haven't yet experimented with pizza, but I've got the basic proteins down, along with all sorts of vegetables and, yes, fruit. One of my favorite go-to recipes is from Deborah Schneider's book Baja! Cooking on the Edge.
Yes, it's delicious, but it's also ridiculously simple and fail proof: chicken marinated overnight in chipotle, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. I use the marinade for pork and other poultry as well. Accompanied by homemade beans, coleslaw, and homemade tortillas slathered in butter? Finger-licking good.
But, no matter how often I grill, I still feel a twinge of discomfort. After all, we are playing with fire here and it can be dangerous. The dogs still lurk hopefully. I can imagine that others, especially women, may also feel enough of that twinge to simply opt instead for the indoor kitchen. So, I figured, a little coaching was in order -- if not by me, by those who are utterly fearless and knowledgeable.
In other words, I asked for tips from readers and Facebook friends. I had no idea that all the respondents would be women. I don't know if the men are just cavalier about grilling or not interested in sharing (I doubt that, of course), but the women came through.
And, then there's the wonderful Elizabeth Karmel, the author of several terrific grilling cookbooks. I've bought two of them, Taming the Flame: Secrets for Hot-and-Quick Grilling and Low-and-Slow BBQ and Soaked, Slathered, and Seasoned. And Karmel is someone I now know, after meeting her last fall at BlogHer Food in San Francisco. She's a petite grilling dynamo.
Karmel has a new free downloadable publication out, in conjunction with St. Francis Winery & Vineyards, called The St. Francis Girls' Guide to Grilling. It's a nice little booklet with the basics -- perfect for novice grillers (men and women) -- along with wine-pairing tips and recipes. Yes, she's plugging St. Francis, but she's the real deal. You can certainly substitute other wines.
To get a sense of where she's coming from, she's sent me her top grilling directives:
Top 10 Grilling Dos and Don’ts
- Know the cooking methods: direct and indirect
- Do not peek under the lid; every time you lift the lid, heat escapes and the cooking time increases.
- Do not add flammable liquid to the fire; this means, no lighter fluid. Use either crumbled newspaper or fire starter cubes.
- Remember to keep the air vents open, otherwise the fire will go out.
- Make sure charcoal briquettes are grey-ashed before cooking.
- Do not flip more food more than once unless a recipe specifically requires it.
- Do not move or turn meat with a fork; this lets all the yummy juices and flavor escape.
- Control flare-ups with a closed lid, NOT a spray bottle filled with water.
- Use an instant-read meat thermometer. The only fail-safe way to test for doneness. The thermometer reads the internal temperature of meat and poultry in a matter of seconds.
- Know the Grilling Trilogy.
Salt-Crusted Shrimp with Potent Lemon-Garlic Dipping Sauce
PAIRING TIP: Try St. Francis Winery & Vineyards full-bodied Chardonnay with its ripe-fruit flavors, crisp high acid on the palate and rich lingering finish
Grilling Method: Direct/Medium Heat
½ cup best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
Juice from 1 large lemon
Zest from ½ lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 stems fresh oregano
Freshly ground pepper to taste
16 Jumbo or Colossal shrimp in the shell (or frozen black tiger shrimp)
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup Kosher salt
Make the Dipping Sauce: Whisk together the oil and lemon. Stir in the garlic. Take the leaves off the oregano stems and leave whole, add to oil mixture. Let sit for at least 20 to 30 minutes to marry the flavors—or make up to 12 hours in advance. Set aside.
If desired, devein the shrimp with a “shrimp deveiner” or, using a small sharp knife, make a slit about ¼-inch deep down the backs of the shrimp and remove the vein but do not remove the shells. Place the shrimp in a large bowl and toss with the olive oil to coat lightly all over. Just before putting on the grill, sprinkle the salt evenly over the shrimp and toss well to make sure each shrimp is thoroughly coated in a crust of salt.
Place the shrimp in the center of the cooking grate, 3 to 4 minutes per side or until the shrimp is pink and the flesh is opaque (white). Serve immediately with dipping sauce.
Serving Tip: This is my favorite party “ice breaker” appetizer. I place the oil-tossed shrimp in a bowl on a tray with a small bowl of the kosher salt, my tongs, lots of napkins, a platter and the prepared dipping sauce. Once everyone is armed with a cocktail, we hit the deck to start the party. While we are talking, I toss the shrimp in the salt, grill them and place them on the platter. Then the fun begins; everyone takes a shrimp, peels and dips it in the sauce for a fun, casual and interactive appetizer! By the time the shrimp, and our cocktails are gone we are either fast friends or better friends!
Alternatively, you can arrange 4 shrimp on each serving plate and accompany with a small ramekin of the dipping sauce but the girls think serving them hot off the grill is sooo much more fun!
Like I said, I also solicited grilling tips from readers and have a bunch that may surprise you. They're smart and so useful. Thank you to everyone who offered to share:
- Do not use petroleum fire-starters. Do you really want to eat stuff smoked with toxic residue? The chimney firestarters readily available, and work safely and easily. Hardwood, charcoal, or briquettes provide the best flavor. Pam Rider
- Have a second container of gas...or at the very least get yours filled up. NOTHING is worse than being halfway through the perfect grilled dinner and running out. Nothing. Barbara Kiebel
- Don't flatten down the burgers with your spatula - unjuicy hockey pucks! Jenn Felmley
- My advice for newbs is to not be afraid to grill vegetables or fruit. Marinated veggie skewers are delicious and nothing compares to pineapple hot of the grill with vanilla ice cream! Lorena Nava Ruggero
- Be gentle with the meat...don't poke, squeeze or otherwise agitate. Flip only once..soak corn in the cob before grilling..Be patient...good things take time. Valerie Clark
- Don't put the sauce on until the VERY END. Most sauces have some sugar in them, which just burns on the grill. You can cook the meat fully, and then brush on the sauce at the last few minutes to sear it on both sides. Marci Liroff
- A new neighbor--man--showed me a great tip. A halved onion passed with pressure on the heating grill with tongs is a great way to clean the grate and prepare for cooking. I now clean with half an onion after and before each grilling. Remember: there are antibiotic properties in onions (all alliums, I think). Come to think of it, cut lemons would also work. Pam Rider
- If you grill fish this weekend, be sure to grill your lemon halves. They give tons more juice once you heat them up. Plus they look nice with that grill mark on them. Limes work well too. Lorri Allen
Here's to a happy, fiery 4th!