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By J.C. Amodea, images submitted by writer
In our slice of paradise, we can enjoy most land and water sports year-round – it’s one of the perks of living in a sub-tropical climate. And even though we can also fire up our backyard grills year-long, it seems that summer is the time to ramp up and upgrade our grilling gear.
The beauty of grilling, for one, eases the amount of time spent in the kitchen, as mom gets to share culinary duties with dad. And, two, when the grill heats up and starts the cooking process, the savory smells waft upward in billowy plumes of scented-smoke that confirms the fact that grilling is hard to resist and impossible to duplicate, searing lasting memories of sumptuous feasts for years to come.
And what better gift idea is there than hooking dad up with a new grill so he can show off his cooking chops to the max? From gas, charcoal, electric and smoker grills that use wood, charcoal briquettes, wood pellets, liquid propane or natural gas, and with price tags from less than $20 to the $1,000 range, there is a grill type and size for every sized wallet.
If you’re on a budget, you can still grill like a boss with minimal equipment. For some die-hard grill masters, a bag of charcoal (get two bags $17.99 at 18 lbs. each; Home Depot) and a can of lighter fluid starts the party.
“You can’t beat real fire. It produces the best taste. If you don’t want to use real wood, go for charcoal – it’s quick and easy. And within 15 minutes the coals get grey ash and you’re ready to lay down your beef, seafood or poultry. Or grill all three and make everyone happy,” said Jeremiah Faust of Cape Coral, who grills three to four times weekly.
“Set yourself up with a cooler, a chair and umbrella if you like, and don’t leave the grill – stay with it, never leave your food. Blast your favorite tunes and enjoy the cooking experience.”
The better cuts of beef, he says, is New York Strip, T-bone, porterhouse and filet mignon. The next level is London Broil, sirloin, then burgers and hot dogs, sausages – it’s all good. Grilling insiders know that using a nonstick grill mats ($9.99 Yoshi Grill Mat; Target) work great for salmon and other fish and veggies, producing the coveted grill marks while protecting from grate fall-through.
“For steaks, season with salt, pepper, garlic powder and a few tabs of butter – simple. Chicken breasts should be pounded and seasoned to taste, or soaked in a marinade and laid over slow coals. Get a bag of shrimp, skewer them alternately with onion, pineapple, slather them with some barbecue sauce; they cook fast,” Faust added.
Affordable and in the portable category, you can nab a basic “Portable Charcoal Grill” for $24.97 (Walmart). Similarly priced at $29.99, both the Cuisinart 14″ charcoal grill with 150″ of cooking space (Walmart) or the Char-Broil tabletop (11,000 BTU) liquid propane gas grill with 190″ cooking space (Target) also feature easy setup.
For under $70 at Walmart, you can find a Jumbo brand 22″ diameter cooking space kettle grill ($59.99), a Kingsford 18″ round kettle grill ($61.37) or an Outsunny brand 19″ porcelain grill.
Jump up to the well-respected Weber brand, synonymous with great outdoor grilling. Available at big box stores, Costco, Ace Hardware and Target, and weber.com, with prices for gas grills ranging from $29 straight up to a wallet-busting $3600 grill center. Weber charcoal grills from 18″- 37″ include three smokers ($219 – $1,999), two, small electric grills ($269-$319), especially suited to apartment balconies where fire is discouraged, and the portable and uber-popular Smokey Joe grills ($34-$70). The Weber SmokeFire wood pellet grills ($999-$1,199) sear, smoke, bake, braise, roast, and cook low and slow.
If charcoal is not your preferred cooking fuel, many are changing over to the use of wood pellets, and they are quickly gaining popularity. With the Traeger brand, featuring wood-fired cooking, you can set the grill to your desired temperature, set a timer, close the lid, and walk away. There is no fire and no need for that water spray bottle to squelch raging flames. The all-natural hardwood pellets travel from a storage hopper via an auger into a fire rod where they ignite. A fan circulates and supplies heat and smoke that circulates the food, while a drip tray under the grill grates catches drippings, eliminating flare-ups. Hardwood pellets come in a variety of flavored hardwood like oak, apple, and the Traeger signature blend of cherry, maple, and hickory, that infuses flavor into whatever you are grilling (20 lbs. $18.99).
Traeger makes three series. At Traeger.com, price points are: The Pro Series ($799.99 – $999.99), Ironwood 650 ($1,199.99), and Timberline Series ($1,799.99). Some have an enhanced controller that uses WIFIRE technology accessible via a smartphone app that lets you monitor and make grilling adjustments. An option of three portable grills ($299.99 – $469.99) is perfect for on the go, for tailgating, the beach, park, or for camping. Home Depot and Ace Hardware also carry the brand. You can also pick up a less expensive, standing Pit Boss wood pellet grill ($336 at Walmart).
In the wood pellet smoker category, Pit Boss 3-Series vertical smoker ($449 at pitboss-grills.com or $334 at Walmart) offers 787 sq. in. over five cooking racks. Cook up to 18 hours and no need to peek, as it has a see-through window and can smoke anything from 150-450-degree temperatures. Lock in the temperature and leave. No charcoal, no propane, no mess, leaves smoking everything from cheese to ribs a winner.
Whichever way you go, and whatever grill you choose, you’re sure to hit big as you serve up grilled-to-perfection meal, every time. And if you’d like to try an authentic Texas barbecue marinade, used by a 100 year-young home cook for chicken, and whose cooking smell will drive the neighbors crazy, then follow the steps below:
Loretta’s Texas Chicken Marinade
In a 9″x13″ pan, gently stir together:
- ¾ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¾ cup jarred lemon juice
- 1 TB oregano
- 1 TB paprika
- 1 TB oregano
- 2 TB salt
- 2 tsp. garlic powder
- Set pan with marinade aside.
- Trim excess fat from 12-15 chicken thighs, keeping one side of each thigh covered with skin.
- Place each thigh into a pan with marinade, in a single layer, skin side up. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about eight hours. Turn each piece over, re-cover, and refrigerate, allowing the thighs to further marinate overnight. The next day, place thighs on hot grill and grill as usual. Take marinade from pan and pour into a small saucepan. After the chicken is cooked, place pieces in a serving dish. Heat the marinade and bring to a boil. Pour some of the hot juice over the chicken; don’t soak the pieces as you will want to keep the skin crispy. Enjoy.
While there is some controversy about the health risks associated with grilling, Medcor Health offers some tips for safer grill use:
1. Clean the grill before cooking. The leftover char from that last cookout contains the chemicals we are trying to avoid.
2. Avoid direct exposure of meat to open flame. “Flame-licked” meats have more carcinogens.
3. Cook your meat thoroughly, but don’t overcook it – use a thermometer to achieve the proper internal temperature. Overcooking and prolonged exposure to high temperatures increase the amount of carcinogens in the meat.
4. Partially cook your meat before grilling by parboiling or microwaving. This limits the amount of time the meat is exposed to high temperatures.
5. Flip meat frequently as it cooks. This reduces the amount of harmful chemicals produced during cooking.
6. Cook lean meats. Remove skin and visible fat before grilling. The more fat on the meat, the more fat there is to drip on coals or open flame resulting in carcinogen production.
7. Remove heavily charred or burned crust from the meat before consuming.
8. Grill vegetables and fruits instead of meat. Vegetables and fruits are not only tasty when grilled, they contain little to no cancer-causing chemicals.
9. Marinate your meat before grilling. Marinades significantly reduce the amount of carcinogens in grilled meats as long as they do not contain a lot of sugar. Rosemary in the marinade seems to be particularly effective.