Tips on how to barbecue with success

May 12, 2004|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Grilling, one of the easiest low-fat cooking methods, can be a centerpiece for warm-weather meals. While the art of grilling may come with practice, here are some pointers for a successful experience.Bring out the barbecue.

Grills need annual cleaning after winter storage. Scour the grate with a wire brush. Spray the grid with oven cleaner and rinse thoroughly. Before each use, apply nonstick cooking spray to prevent food from sticking to the grill.

Stock up on charcoal

Quality charcoal briquettes light quickly and have a long burn life. Store charcoal in a cool, dry area. For instant-lighting charcoal, keep the bag tightly closed to prevent lighter fluid from evaporating.

Use proper tools

Tongs and a spatula help to turn food without piercing it to allow loss of juices. A vegetable grilling basket holds smaller foods. Other useful utensils include a wire brush for cleaning, long-handled tongs and flame-retardant mitts to protect hands.

Get ready to grill

Arrange briquettes in a pyramid at the bottom of the grill. Add about 2 ounces of lighter fluid and carefully light with a match. Charcoal should be ready in about 20 minutes, with 70 percent covered with ash and displaying a slight red glow.

When coals are ready for cooking, spread in a single layer or bank them. Set the grilling grid in place and put on the food.

Food safety

Food safety should be a priority while grilling. If food is handled or cooked improperly, health risks can dampen the experience.

  • Keep meat cold until ready to grill. Do not leave it out at room temperature.

  • Precooked meats can be grilled to add authentic flavor and shorten grilling time.

  • If starting with frozen products, thaw in the refrigerator or microwave. Grill immediately after thawing in the microwave.

  • Do not use the same platter or utensils to handle raw and cooked products.

  • Use a meat thermometer to check internal temperatures. Ground meat should be at 160 degrees, poultry at 180 degrees, poultry breasts at 170 degrees, pork at 160 degrees and steaks at 145 degrees.

  • Once taken from the grill, keep the meat hot until serving in a warming tray or slow cooker.

  • Place leftovers in the refrigerator. Discard anything left out more than two hours.

Grilling safety tips

  • Pick a safe area: Position the grill in a well-ventilated, flat, level surface away from overhangs, deck railings and shrubbery. Keep children and pets away from the grill when in use.

  • Handle charcoal carefully: Never add lighter fluid directly to hot coals since flames could travel up the fluid stream. Instead, place several new briquettes in a metal can and apply lighter fluid. Transfer the briquettes into the pyramid in the grill with a pair of long-handled tongs and light with a match. Use proper utensils for safe handling of food and coals.

  • Put out the fire: Place the cover on the grill, close the vents and allow the coals to burn out completely. Let ashes cool for at least 48 hours, and dispose in a noncombustible container.

  • Before placing food on grilling surface, preheat the grill. Remove charred food debris to reduce exposure to possible cancer-causing substances formed during high- heat cooking.

  • Avoid fire flare-ups by using lean meats and trimming away all visible fat. Raise the rack to the highest position away from the heat and keep food on one side of the grill and coals or other heat source on the other side.

Diversify flavors

Marinades enhance flavors, tenderize and keep foods moist. If you plan to use the marinade later as a table sauce, keep some of the marinade separate from the raw meat and heat when ready to serve.

Try grilling vegetables and fruits: eggplant, summer squashes, bell peppers, sweet onions, Roma or cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, mangoes, pineapple or peaches. Cut vegetables into 1/2-inch slices or large chunks. Brush with warmed, seasoned oil. Turn only once, and grill until tender. Fruit should be halved with pits removed. Grill with the pulp side down.

Cook fish in foil packets to retain natural flavors and protect it from smoke and fire.

Grilling is a great way to spend time with family and friends, enjoy the warm weather and prepare foods in an easy, low-fat way.

Lynn F. Little is family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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