Summer grilling tips

“Summer’s here and the time is right, for grilling all those meats…” (Apologies to Martha and the Vandellas. Which reminds me of the time that a pal said “I don’t know what a Vandella is, but I think I wanna get naked with one.”) Anyway, it’s grillin’ time out there in the backyards, parks and beaches of America. Perhaps you are committed here at the start of barbecue season to up your game, to finally achieve foods coming off the grill that aren’t just consumable, but worthy of uncontrollable bursts of primeval drool. If that be the case, the following tips should help, coming as they do from one of the U.S.A.’s great grillin’ madmen, Steven Raichlen.

Let there be no doubt, Steve is into it. Heck, he wrote a book called Beer Can Chicken, for God’s sake. Probably packs a retractable pearl-handled spatula. So his credential as a Master of Tong Fu is impeccable. Here are some of his basics for anyone who is serious about doing some quality grilling.

First, he neatly dodges the Gas vs. Charcoal question by stating simply that any good grillhead should have both. Yes, he acknowledges that food grilled over charcoal and wood is ultimately unbeatable, due to the smoking that is so integral to the experience, but he also acknowledges that the dependable smoothness, evenness, reliability, and yes, convenience that gas brings to the party means it’s here to stay as a grilling force. So, in the end, why stress out? Get one of each.

As for essential tools of the trade, Steve says you’re a total poser if you don’t have:

1. A good, stiff wire brush for cleaning the junk off the grill grates. Duh.

2. A pair of long-handled tongs, complete with spring-loaded hinge. Only losers turn their meats by stabbing them with juice-releasing forks.

3. A grill spatula. Simply essential for doing tasks for which tongs aren’t quite right, like dealing with fish filets, for example.

4. A long-handled basting brush. Since you, as an aspiring Grillista, are now going to employ basting agents and mop sauces.

5. An instant-read thermometer. Soon, you’ll be able to gauge doneness by expertly poking at the meat. But you gotta earn that stripe. In the meantime, the thermometer is your very good buddy. Takes away a lot of fretting about when to move food from grill to plate.

Another key point—don’t keep lifting the lid to take a peek at the chow! When you’re using the indirect method of grilling, which is the way to go for whole chickens or larger cuts of meat, you gotta keep it covered. Every time you cheat and peek, you add 5 to 10 minutes to the cooking time. Remember, grasshopper, ’Cue Fu at times demands discipline.

Raichlen’s big book is BBQ USA, and in it, you’ll learn how to grill not just meat, but veggies, salads, and desserts. To the patio!