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Grilling 101

August 14th, 2012 Cooking

Most of us have that one friend who fancies him or herself the grill master. It seems every weekend in the summer you're invited to a barbecue. While the food may be delicious, have you ever wondered how you can achieve similar results? Grilling up a hockey puck burger may seem easy enough, but there's a lot more to the fine art of outdoor cooking than meets the eye. If you'd like to learn more about how you can spice up your own grilling, here are some tips, courtesy of the Reluctant Gourmet.

1. The basics. Grilling is a similar process to broiling in that both methods involve direct heat - however, the former places that heat below the meat, while in the latter it comes from above. One of the main benefits of grilling is that it's generally a fairly healthy way of cooking, because the fat drips out of the meat and into the fire. If you're planning on grilling up some food, make sure the cut of meat isn't too thick, otherwise you'll burn the exterior by the time the middle has a chance to cook all the way through.

2. Grill prep. One of the most important steps in barbecuing is making sure your grill is clean before starting. A poorly-maintained grill is going to muddle up the flavors of whatever you're cooking, so that delightful salmon may take on the flavor of the steak you made a week ago. The best time to clean your grill is after you've finished preparing food while it's still hot. If you wait until the next time you use it, small flecks of leftover food may fall into the flame and cause a flare up.

Make sure you crank up the heat at least 15 to 30 minutes before throwing the food on. You want that sucker to be nice and hot before grilling. It can be easy to get lazy about this, especially if you have a gas grill, but the results will speak for themselves if you're diligent about heating it up ahead of time.

Finally, understand that not all grills are the same - over time, you'll notice some spots become hotter than others. Take advantage of these when cooking food and keep finished pieces further away from them.

3. Marinade. Marinating your food overnight is a great way to give it a quick flavor boost before throwing it on the grill. Although there are specific recipes for each type of meat, you can start with a simple foundation - like this one adapted from AllRecipes - and add flavors as you see fit.

Begin with barbecue sauce, steak sauce, beer, whiskey and Worcestershire sauce. From here, you can add any fixings you like, such as onions, hot sauce or curry powder. Experiment with different ingredients and see what you prefer!

Marinating is fairly simple - the easiest way to do it is to place your food and the marinade in a large plastic bag and let everything sit in the fridge overnight. You can use a pan, but it's easier to ensure full coverage with something malleable like a bag.

4. How long? One of the most common sources of concern regarding barbecuing is how long to cook the meat. You'll find a number of different guidelines out there, but ultimately it comes down to personal preference. When first beginning your barbecue career, make it a point to check the meat frequently and tap it at various intervals. This is a great way to get an idea of how your food "feels" as it's cooking, which can help you figure out the best amount of time to leave it on the grill.