Summer has many smells – the fresh air of the beach, the scent of newly-cut grass – but for many of us, the most distinctive summer smell is that of our barbecues, hard at work grilling meals for our family, friends and neighbours.
In preparation for grilling season, we talked to Naz Cavallaro, the resident chef and grilling expert for Weber Grills, about how best to take advantage of the barbecue season.
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Grilling versus barbecuing
Is there a difference between grilling something and barbecuing it? You bet – in fact, the difference is huge. “The terms ‘grilling’ and/or ‘grill’ and ‘barbecue’ are more often than not misused.” Says Cavallaro. “Grilling is done over the direct heat of a fire which sears the meat and concentrates the juices on the inside. Barbecue, on the other hand, is the process of cooking meat at low temperatures, often in indirect heat, for long periods of time. The length of time cooked is what makes the meat tender and moist.”
Propane versus natural gas
Tired of having to change your barbecue’s propane tank all the time? Sick of running out of fuel in the middle of dinner prep? You may want to consider installing a natural gas line for your grill, especially if you like to grill throughout the winter. “Natural gas barbecues work more efficiently during the winter compared to propane,” says Cavallaro. “In the cold weather, the liquid propane takes longer to form its gas, whereas the natural gas flows through effortlessly.”
What’s more, natural gas is less expensive than propane by about 18 percent. Installing a natural gas line on your deck can be pricey and you’ll need to spend about $40 to $50 extra for equipment to hook your grill up to the line. However, this is a one-time cost so switching to natural gas will likely still save you money over the long run.
One downside of a natural gas line? You don’t have the flexibility to move your grill around if you change the layout of your patio.Natural gas lines usually have a 10-foot hose range.
Gas versus charcoal
Trying to decide which barbecue method is for you? Ask yourself what’s more important to you: Taste or convenience? “Hardwood fires give you the best flavour, but they are the hardest to deal with as there’s more work involved,” says Cavallaro.”Charcoal cooking leaves you with a distinct, authentic smoky flavour.” What’s more, charcoal grills are simpler and more portable than gas grills, and they’re generally less expensive– however, the fuel is more costly than gas so this can add up over time if you barbecue a lot.
If you decide to go the charcoal route, have patience and practice lots. “Charcoal grilling might take a bit longer to start up on the first few attempts, but it gets easier the more you use it,” advises Cavallaro. As a rule of thumb, light your charcoal 20 to 30 minutes before you’re ready to grill, and give your grill plenty of time to cool down when you're done. “Charcoal can't be simply turned off. You can, of course dowse coals in water but this can be damaging to a charcoal grill,” warns Cavallaro. But, “in the end, Charcoal is worth the effort ... especially for the flavour.”
Can’t deal with charcoal? All hope is not lost – you can add smokey flavours to your gas-grilled meats and while the taste isn’t totally authentic, it still does a good job of replicating that charcoal flavour.
Other barbecuing methods
Do you like your meat moist and tender? Rotisserie cooking is a great option. "The constant turning allows it to self-baste," explains Cavallaro. If you're trying out your barbecue's rotisserie abilities for the first time, make sure everything is perfectly balanced so the spit can turn easily. You should also place a drip pan underneath, and for safety reasons make sure this never runs dry - keep a jug of water nearby just in case.
Planking is another way to get infuse your meat with great flavours. What's more, it's not just for salmon. According to Cavallaro, "Pork goes great on a maple plank and lamb is delicious on alder." You can also try Brie cheese, chicken pieces and burgers on your plank. To take advantage of this method, remember to soak your plank in water for at least an hour, pat it dry and coat it in olive oil.
According to Cavallaro, "the side burner is the most under-rated part of your grill." From veggies to side dishes to seafood to main entrees like curries, the side burner can handle anything, all without stinking up the interior of your house. The side burner is also great for heating up sauces that you plan on serving with your meat.
Finally, if you're looking for a really great way to prepare your meat, consider smoking it. Smoking in an indirect cooking method that adds an incredible amount of flavour and moisture to your meats. What's more, smoked meats make great leftovers ... they're often more flavourful after a few days in the fridge. Smoking is best done with a traditional smoker, but it can also be done with either a charcoal or gas barbecue.
Remember the grilling fundamentals
No matter what method you use, there are still a few fundamental guidelines you need to consider when barbecueing or grilling. Most importantly, keep your grill and grilling tools clean. Practice safe grilling by never letting your flame get out of hand and always keeping a fire extinguisher nearby just in case. Finally, use fresh, quality ingredients - creating your burgers from scratch is easier than you think and tastes about a thousand times better than frozen meats. "Use fresh herbs and spices for mixing rubs and marinades," Cavallaro says. "This helps tenderize the meat and the flavours make the extra time worth it." Cavallaro also suggests using brines to add moisture to meat - you'll be able to cook it for longer without zapping the juices.