Ever been to a barbecue party where the ‘chef’ placed as much food as he could possibly fit onto the barbecue grill, every so often stabbing the food with a fork and juggling it around so that it cooks evenly? Ever noticed how, within a couple of minutes, the flames start gently flickering under the food, the chef proudly standing back admiring the char grill effect that he’s creating? Ever notice the panic that sets in when the flames suddenly leap up and around the food burning it black on the outside and leaving it raw on the inside?
The difference between great char grilled sausage food and burnt offerings is located in a few smaller precautions. The chef that we have just described made a few fatal mistakes that could easily have been prevented. Before discussing the mistakes though, lets think about the equipment that we are discussing. Even though the same can occur with gasoline like charcoal, gas grills can be turned lower, or away, once the flames begin getting out of control. The flames can also be controlled if the barbecue grill has a tight fitting lid, much like a Weber kettle grill. However most people today appear to cook on an open top barbecue grill with the lid, if it has open. Note that we are talking about a barbecue grill , where the food is cooked directly over the hot coals. True barbecue uses indirect heat with the food completely enclosed as though in an oven. So, the barbecue grill our imaginary chef’s using is an open top, charcoal, barbecue grill.
Now lets take a look at our imaginary chef’s mistakes.
He filled the grate with charcoal along its entire length, providing a continuous heat source, with no area of lower heat to put food if it began to burn. An easy solution is to use the rule of thirds. Envision the grate of your barbecue being in thirds. Fill two thirds of this grill with charcoal and then leave the remaining empty. Cook your meals over the hot coals and if your food is prepared, or begins to burn, or generates out of control fires, move it over to the section over the empty grate. The food will stay warm but will not cook any more (or maybe it will but much more slowly), and wont cause any flare-ups. A further refinement could be had, if you have a large enough grill, by putting a double degree of coals in one third of the grate, a single amount of coals in the center, and no coals in the last third. You now have three degrees of warmth!
A further error was to overfill the grill. Completely filling it leaves no room to manoeuvre the meals. You’re unable to turn it for even cooking and you have no room to move the food into a lower heat. Assuming that you are using the rule of thirds as explained above,, when you start cooking, leave vacant the area of the grill over where you have placed no coals. You’ve then room to transfer the cooked food into. Secondly, do not pack the cooking portion of the grill . Leave room to turn your meals.
Another problem caused when over filling the grill is to use foods that require different cooking times. When the coals are ready to use, they are at their hottest. This is the opportunity to cook small, thin pieces of food which may be cooked in a brief time using a high heat. These include items like sausages, burgers, kebabs and tiny pieces of meat off the bone. Remember that food, like burgers and sausages, drip juices and fat on the charcoal through cooking and it is this that causes flare-ups. So you will need to constantly watch the things of food and transfer them to an area of lower heat if needed (did I mention that the rule of thirds? ) . After the heat has died down somewhat, start grilling food which takes a bit longer to grill such as chops and poultry and meat on the bone. Eventually when the heat is even lower, grill food like fruit kebabs that only require heating through.
Last, but not least, our imaginary chef stabs his meals with a barbecue fork to flip it over. During the first few minutes of grilling, the heat seals the surface of the meat, sealing in the juices. After the meat is stabbed the juices flow out on the coals, causing the meat to dry out and become tough, and creating a flare up which burns the food. When turning food, always use barbecue tongs.
Having a charcoal grill controlling the heat is tough. Instead you want to make certain you cook your unique items of food in the most appropriate time and that you’ve got separate regions of heat. Use the rule of thirds to provide separate regions of heat. When cooking your meals, first grill fast cook food once the coals are at their hottest. Secondly, cook food that requires cooking in a mid temperature for a longer time.