How to Cook with Fire

Grilling 101: How to Cook with Fire

Humans have been cooking with fire for eons, and even with the conveniences of modern-day appliances, many would agree that foods prepared with fire offer an extra delicious flavor. Whether you’re using a barbecue grill or cooking over an open flame, we’ve assembled some essential tips and tricks to help you make your best meal yet.

How to cook on a charcoal grill

The popular three-legged kettle grill, with a round shape and domed cover, is great for both direct and indirect heat thanks to the ample cooking area and adjustable vents. Though the following suggestions are for the kettle grill, they’re helpful to owners of other types of charcoal grills as well.

The basics:

  • Make sure your grill grates are clean. Use a wire brush or pumice tool to get rid of cooked-on bits.
  • Empty ashes.
  • Add charcoal, which is available in chunks or chips (chips burn faster). There are a few ways to get your charcoal going:
  • Chimney starter: fill the metal cylinder with charcoal, use paper to light it from the bottom and wait till the coals are ready for cooking, about 10–15 minutes. Pour coals into the grill.
  • Lighter fluid: place charcoal in grill, douse with fluid and light right away. (Note this is a petroleum product and alters the flavor of the food.)
  • Pre-treated charcoal: comes ready to light.
  • Burner bag: light the bag that contains the charcoal. When the bag burns away, the charcoal is ready.

The coals are ready when they turn gray. Spread them evenly for direct heat or push them to one side for indirect heat. Use the vents on the top and bottom to control the heat. For hotter cooking, open the bottom vent; for lower temperatures, open the top vent.

Tip: To keep food from sticking to the grill grates, dampen a paper towel with cooking oil. Using tongs, spread oil on the hot grates.

Important! Be sure to extinguish the hot coals when you’re done cooking. Close the lid and all vents. Allow up to 48 hours for the coals to die out completely. To speed things up, douse with water before closing the lid and vents. When completely cool, wrap the charcoal and ash in foil and place in the trash.

How to cook on a gas grill

For convenient grilling, most newer gas grills are equipped with push-button ignition and heat up quickly (in about 10 minutes). They can be adjusted to cook with direct heat, indirect heat or both at the same time.

The basics:

  • Make sure you have enough propane in your tank. A standard 20-pound tank provides about 75 hours of grilling.
  • Always open the lid before lighting.
  • Open the valve on the propane tank completely, then wait a moment to let the gas make its way through the hose.
  • Press the starter button, then turn all burners on their highest setting to preheat. If your grill doesn’t have a starter button, use a long match or lighter to light the flame. (Always check your owner’s manual for detailed instructions on your particular model.)
  • Clean the cooking grates with a grill brush, pumice tool or ball of foil.
  • Adjust temperature controls as needed, depending on what you’re grilling and the recipe you’re following.
  • When cooking is complete, turn knobs to the off position and close the propane valve completely. When the grill has cooled down, close the lid.

Tip: If you do a lot of grilling, you may want to keep a spare propane tank on hand to prevent running out of gas.

Important! Check the connections on your gas grill regularly for any signs of a gas leak. Spray or dab soapy water at the connection points, if bubbles appear, you may have a leak. Have a professional take a look if necessary.

A few general tips:

  • Use direct heat for things like hamburgers, steaks, chops, fish filets, boneless chicken and vegetables.
  • Use indirect heat for roasts, ribs, whole fish and bone-in chicken.
  • Use tongs or a spatula, rather than a fork, to turn meat over to prevent losing juices.
  • Have everything you need on hand to avoid back and forth trips to the kitchen.
  • Leave food alone until it’s ready to turn. In general, you should only have to flip food once.
  • Use a grill pan to keep smaller pieces of food from falling through the grates.

Open-fire cooking

The most important aspect of cooking over fire is, well, the fire. You want to build it just right for both safety and efficiency. Here are a few helpful tips:

  • Find a safe location. Your fire should be at least 10 feet from tents or anything else that could catch fire. Make sure there aren’t low-hanging branches or power lines above you.
  • Use an existing fire pit if available. Otherwise, surround the fire area with rocks.
  • Mind the wind. Use a large rock to form a shield against the wind, even if it’s just a light breeze. The rock will also act as a kind of chimney. If it’s especially windy, it’s best to skip the fire.
  • Build your fire starting with tinder such as crumpled paper, dry grass or dry twigs. Next, add slightly larger pieces of wood. Once those are lit, add logs in a crisscross pattern and let the fire burn until the wood turns to white coals. This can take up to an hour, so plan accordingly.
  • You don’t need a huge fire for cooking. Save your firewood and create a reasonably sized fire.
  • Always have a bucket of water at the ready!
  • When you’re ready to douse the fire, make sure it’s out completely – even the tiniest spark can cause an out-of-control blaze. Put it out with water, stir the embers and douse it again with water and/or sand. Repeat until thoroughly extinguished and cool.

Equipment for open-fire cooking:

For basic grilling, cook burgers, steaks, fish or veggies directly on a grill grate. You can even use your grill grate as a cooking surface for a frying pan, Dutch oven or saucepan. A grill basket can be helpful, too. When possible, choose cast iron as it distributes and retains heat most efficiently.

Other useful accessories include tongs, a spatula, long-handled spoon, digital meat thermometer and grilling gloves.

Now you’re cooking with fire – it’s time to light that grill!

How to Cook with Fire

Grilling 101: How to Cook with Fire

Humans have been cooking with fire for eons, and even with the conveniences of modern-day appliances, many would agree that foods prepared with fire offer an extra delicious flavor. Whether you’re using a barbecue grill or cooking over an open flame, we’ve assembled some essential tips and tricks to help you make your best meal yet.

How to cook on a charcoal grill

The popular three-legged kettle grill, with a round shape and domed cover, is great for both direct and indirect heat thanks to the ample cooking area and adjustable vents. Though the following suggestions are for the kettle grill, they’re helpful to owners of other types of charcoal grills as well.

The basics:

  • Make sure your grill grates are clean. Use a wire brush or pumice tool to get rid of cooked-on bits.
  • Empty ashes.
  • Add charcoal, which is available in chunks or chips (chips burn faster). There are a few ways to get your charcoal going:
  • Chimney starter: fill the metal cylinder with charcoal, use paper to light it from the bottom and wait till the coals are ready for cooking, about 10–15 minutes. Pour coals into the grill.
  • Lighter fluid: place charcoal in grill, douse with fluid and light right away. (Note this is a petroleum product and alters the flavor of the food.)
  • Pre-treated charcoal: comes ready to light.
  • Burner bag: light the bag that contains the charcoal. When the bag burns away, the charcoal is ready.

The coals are ready when they turn gray. Spread them evenly for direct heat or push them to one side for indirect heat. Use the vents on the top and bottom to control the heat. For hotter cooking, open the bottom vent; for lower temperatures, open the top vent.

Tip: To keep food from sticking to the grill grates, dampen a paper towel with cooking oil. Using tongs, spread oil on the hot grates.

Important! Be sure to extinguish the hot coals when you’re done cooking. Close the lid and all vents. Allow up to 48 hours for the coals to die out completely. To speed things up, douse with water before closing the lid and vents. When completely cool, wrap the charcoal and ash in foil and place in the trash.

How to cook on a gas grill

For convenient grilling, most newer gas grills are equipped with push-button ignition and heat up quickly (in about 10 minutes). They can be adjusted to cook with direct heat, indirect heat or both at the same time.

The basics:

  • Make sure you have enough propane in your tank. A standard 20-pound tank provides about 75 hours of grilling.
  • Always open the lid before lighting.
  • Open the valve on the propane tank completely, then wait a moment to let the gas make its way through the hose.
  • Press the starter button, then turn all burners on their highest setting to preheat. If your grill doesn’t have a starter button, use a long match or lighter to light the flame. (Always check your owner’s manual for detailed instructions on your particular model.)
  • Clean the cooking grates with a grill brush, pumice tool or ball of foil.
  • Adjust temperature controls as needed, depending on what you’re grilling and the recipe you’re following.
  • When cooking is complete, turn knobs to the off position and close the propane valve completely. When the grill has cooled down, close the lid.

Tip: If you do a lot of grilling, you may want to keep a spare propane tank on hand to prevent running out of gas.

Important! Check the connections on your gas grill regularly for any signs of a gas leak. Spray or dab soapy water at the connection points, if bubbles appear, you may have a leak. Have a professional take a look if necessary.

A few general tips:

  • Use direct heat for things like hamburgers, steaks, chops, fish filets, boneless chicken and vegetables.
  • Use indirect heat for roasts, ribs, whole fish and bone-in chicken.
  • Use tongs or a spatula, rather than a fork, to turn meat over to prevent losing juices.
  • Have everything you need on hand to avoid back and forth trips to the kitchen.
  • Leave food alone until it’s ready to turn. In general, you should only have to flip food once.
  • Use a grill pan to keep smaller pieces of food from falling through the grates.

Open-fire cooking

The most important aspect of cooking over fire is, well, the fire. You want to build it just right for both safety and efficiency. Here are a few helpful tips:

  • Find a safe location. Your fire should be at least 10 feet from tents or anything else that could catch fire. Make sure there aren’t low-hanging branches or power lines above you.
  • Use an existing fire pit if available. Otherwise, surround the fire area with rocks.
  • Mind the wind. Use a large rock to form a shield against the wind, even if it’s just a light breeze. The rock will also act as a kind of chimney. If it’s especially windy, it’s best to skip the fire.
  • Build your fire starting with tinder such as crumpled paper, dry grass or dry twigs. Next, add slightly larger pieces of wood. Once those are lit, add logs in a crisscross pattern and let the fire burn until the wood turns to white coals. This can take up to an hour, so plan accordingly.
  • You don’t need a huge fire for cooking. Save your firewood and create a reasonably sized fire.
  • Always have a bucket of water at the ready!
  • When you’re ready to douse the fire, make sure it’s out completely – even the tiniest spark can cause an out-of-control blaze. Put it out with water, stir the embers and douse it again with water and/or sand. Repeat until thoroughly extinguished and cool.

Equipment for open-fire cooking:

For basic grilling, cook burgers, steaks, fish or veggies directly on a grill grate. You can even use your grill grate as a cooking surface for a frying pan, Dutch oven or saucepan. A grill basket can be helpful, too. When possible, choose cast iron as it distributes and retains heat most efficiently.

Other useful accessories include tongs, a spatula, long-handled spoon, digital meat thermometer and grilling gloves.

Now you’re cooking with fire – it’s time to light that grill!

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