Grilling is a relatively fast method of cooking over a fire employing high heat. Smoky flavor can develop, especially at the surface, though it rarely penetrates. Surfaces are usually browned by the high heat of the fire or the grill.
Since pieces of food are smaller, the smoke or browning effect can be strong. Browning and searing unlock rich and sweet flavors that frequently do not exist when food is cooked at a lower temperature. Because of this, grilling is not just for hamburgers, steaks, and chicken. It works very well for fish, vegetables, and even bread.
Gas is the most convenient way to grill. But one can develop a higher heat with a charcoal grill. And the combustion gases have less moisture, so one can really sear a surface well. A charcoal grill will also have space for wood chips which will impart some smoke flavor to the grilled meat. On the downside, charcoal grilling is inconvenient. It requires much more serious preparation and attention.
Broiling, we should mention, is basically grilling upside down. If the piece of food is exceptionally oily, grilling may cause uncontrolled flare-ups. A flare-up occurs when fat from the food drips into the fire below and ignites. It is the burning fat that gives grilling and barbeque its characteristic smell, so some amount of flare-up might be desirable in grilling. Too much, however, can burn the food. Because broiling keeps the fat away from the fire, there are fewer flare-ups.
There is another interesting advantage to broiling: it is easy to cook a relatively thin piece of meat from both sides at once. This is done by preheating a very heavy cast iron skillet or griddle to a very high temperature, say 450 F -500F, placing the flat piece of food in on the griddle, and placing it in the broiler. The heat in the cookware will cook the one side while the fire cooks the other. This is an ideal way to cook salmon fillets. It should work nicely with certain steaks and chops.
Grilling is distinct from barbeque because in grilling it is the searing of the surface that gives the characteristic flavor; in barbeque it is the slow smoking that does this. Grilling is done at high temperature and with relatively small cuts of meat. Barbeque, on the other hand is done at lower temperature with large cuts of meat. It is easy to mix these two up, especially when one is doing something like making a rotisserie chicken without barbeque sauce. It is not a classic grilling technique, so perhaps it is barbeque.
The difference is crucial to understand when one is preparing to purchase equipment. If one is going for smoky flavor at any cost, one will purchase something designed to do just this. If one is going for a general purpose easy to use tool with which to cook food outside one is looking at a gas grill.
Steak is a classic grilled food. A properly grilled steak can be highly flavorful, well browned, and tender and juicy. Overcook it and it becomes inedible. Normally, a perfectly cooked steak will be medium rare, with some pink in the center.
Frankly, chicken breast is too dry to grill well. And chicken dark meat pieces can be tricky because they are on the large side. But one can press a grill into pseudo-barbeque mode and use it to make pretty good barbequed chicken.
It turns out that grilling is a pretty good method for cooking a number of vegetables. Grilling concentrates the flavor of vegetables, develops sweetness, and browns them nicely.
Corn grilled in its own husks has a flavor different from corn boiled in water. The husks prevent the vegetable from getting burned. A pretty good discussion of this can be found at Taunton's Fine Cooking , although I am skeptical that any corn can be done in five minutes time. Another recipe using aluminum foil allots 30 minutes. My guess is that anything less than 15 will result in corn a little less than fully cooked. But this is a matter of taste. I have some relatives who like sweet corn just barely heated up, while I can appreciate it roasted to a slightly brown color.
Eggplant takes on a nice smoky flavor when it is grilled. Slice it about 1/2 inch thick. Salt it and let it rest for 15 minutes. Heat up the grill. Blot off the salt.Brush both sides lightly with olive oil and pepper lightly. Grill at a moderately high temperature, about 425, for seven minutes per side. Adapted from this recipe.
Make a vinaigrette dressing with:
Grilled eggplant can be best if it is allowed to cool to just about room temperature, serve with dressing and fresh chopped flat leaved parsley.
Eat well and prosper.
Copyright S.R. Brubaker 2002 - 2006.