According to the Barbecue
Industry of America (BIA), there are 2.6
billion "barbecue events" in
the United States each year. Our own independent
research shows that 70% of these events
result in inedible hamburgers that look
like hockey pucks, curly hot dogs with
a crust that resembles printer toner,
and more singed arm and eyebrow hair than
I got lighting cigarettes off a gas burner
while toasted on Thunderbird at 3 in the
morning. Never fear, The Hungover Gourmet
Believe it or not, the BIA
has even more fascinating research to
share with the common man, though I certainly
hope none of my tax dollars are going
towards this funding. For instance, here's
a few tidbits gleaned from an afternoon
on the web:
- 83% of American families
own grills, which translates into about
74 million households based upon current
- While the average American
household squirts out an average of
2.5 kids, they also own 1.4 grills.
Believe me when I tell you that Mrs.
Nitrate and I are doing our part to
blow that average off kilter...we have
zero spawn, but three grills. Go figure.
So the weather's warm, and
you've got a taste for some grilled meat
flavored with a hint of hickory. You pick
up some steaks from the local butcher
-- I hope you're lucky enough to have
one and don't resort to buying your meat
from the supermarket -- and you want that
romantic, heady rush that comes from tossing
a few steaks (or chops, or chicken legs,
or filets, or lobster tails...stop before
I fire up the grill now!) on the grill
and drinking in the sounds and smells
of an outdoor meal.
But what if you don't know
the first place to start? Maybe you don't
even have a real grill, just one of those
$5 hibachis from K-Mart that you use for
tailgating at a football game. Well, sit
back, drink in this article, and you'll
be ready to invite some company for your
very own Grillarama in no time.
STEP 1: Select Your
afficionados are a loyal bunch, and you'll
get as many answers to "What kind
of grill should I buy" as you will
to "What's your favorite color."
With that in mind, select from one of
the following (in my order of preference):
Kettle, Gas, or Open.
To put it simply, the Kettle-Shaped
Grill is the Carl Lewis of outdoor
cookery. It revolutionized the concept
of grilling, and brought about its current
popularity. Instead of having to control
heat by raising and lowering the grill,
the precisely-placed air vents in the
cover and bottom provide the necessary
airflow to virtually eliminate flare-ups!
If you've never used any other type of
grill, you simply can't appreciate the
control and even cooking the kettle design
provides. To me, it's the only way to
Now, truth be told, I used
to be a Gas Grill man. (Unfortunately,
these grills tend to attract thieves looking
to stock their own slice of backyard heaven,
so purchase with that in mind. However,
in a wildly fitting piece of karma, the
person that orchestrated the theft of
my gas grill was later shot dead during
a dispute over drugs.) While a kettle
or open grill can take up to an hour to
properly prepare for cooking, the gas
grill is little more than an outdoor version
of your kitchen oven. Fire up the burners,
and the lava rocks (or porcelain-covered
metal bars) are ready to go in next to
no time. Plus, like your oven, the gas
burners allow for even temperature control
that can't be found in any kettle.
However, the gas grill is
not without its drawbacks, theft risk
aside. If you purchase a lava rock version,
you'll find the rocks next to impossible
to clean, which leaves them greasy and
prone to imparting your food with an unpleasant
flavor. Plus, if you're like me and get
into adding wood chunks or chips to the
fire, you'll find it nearly impossible
with a gas grill. Ah, forget all that...turning
on some gas jets just doesn't seem like
Last, and certainly least
on this list, comes the Open Grill.
Once the staple of the school of outdoor
cooking, these contraptions should only
be used in a pinch; like when the kettle
can't make your camping trip.
While the open grill is
considerably cheaper than either the kettle
or the far more expensive gas grill, you
must realize that it's: a) harder
to use; b) more susceptible to
unsightly food-charring flare-ups; c)
shouldn't be used for foods with oil-based
marinades or food with a fat content higher
than fish or poultry (in other words,
forget burgers, steaks, or chops on this
puppy); and, d) can't be used for
the all-important indirect method of cooking!
STEP 2: Accessorize
I need everyone reading
this to promise me that they'll never
wear an apron that says "Kiss the
Cook." (Thanks!) Other than that,
any of the following will come in handy
when grilling up a feast:
STEP 3: Name Your
- Basting Brush:
essential when cooking burgers, steaks,
ribs, chops, or chicken.
- Disposable Drip Pan:
if you're gonna indirect cook, you'll
need one of these.
- Broil Basket:
great for fish and handy for a quick
broiled steak or two.
- Instant-Read Thermometer:
crucial if you get into smoking. If
you're just barbecueing or grilling
you can tell by feeling the meat with
- Skewers (metal or
bamboo): grilling means Shish-Kabobs!
Remember that wood skewers will need
to be soaked before cooking so they
don't char and burn.
- Spatula: get one
with a long blade so you don't inadvertently
toss a burger into the flames.
- Spray Bottle:
if you heed my advice and go for a kettle
grill, your flare-ups will be few and
far between. Still, you'd be advised
to keep one of these puppies on hand
for fat flamers.
- Tongs: Don't get
sucked into purchasing the extra-long
ones they sell at cooking stores and
shops like Reading China and More. The
hairs on your hand might get singed
a tad, but a set of simple tongs be
fine for turning steaks, chicken and
chops on the grill. Remember!
Never use a fork to turn anything on
the grill! Piercing the flesh releases
the juices you're trying so carefully
to keep inside! As Butt-head would say,
"Treat your meat carefully."
isn't an issue that's as hotly debated
(no pun intended) as grill type, but the
type of fuel you use to power your grill
does require some consideration. If you're
using the Kettle or Open grill design,
you've got two basic options: Charcoal
Briquettes or Wood. Me, I'm a briquette
kinda guy. I can't help it. It's the way
I was raised and it's a tradition I'll
pass down to any lil' Hungover Gourmets
that follow in my footsteps.
Here's a brief history...briquettes
were invented by Henry Ford (whose second
most important invention was the automobile)
when he discovered that the wood scraps
from his plant could be smoldered into
flammable lil' carbon chunks. The rest,
as they say, is bbq history. Wood, on
the other hand, was invented by God, Yaweh,
Buddah, Satan, Vishnu, or whatever deity
you subscribe to. Me? I believe in the
one true god. His name is Zargon and he
lives below that lake behind me...
is probably the most popular of the grill
fuels, selling approximately a gazillion
bags per year (all statistics unofficial).
It's probably poltically incorrect to
suggest dousing a towering pyramid of
briquettes with lighter fluid, but that's
exactly how I fire up the grill. Don't
use those briquettes presoaked in lighter
fluid, though. (You know who I'm talkin'
about Match Light!) Not only are they
made by using petroleum additives, but
they're unsuitable for smoking, indirect
cooking or any method that requires a
closed cover. (Yes, I know "they"
say it burns off, but "they"
also said that Vietnam vets weren't exposed
to Agent Orange and no Gulf War GIs were
exposed to chemical warfare or its fallout.)
Follow the simplest method
available: measure out the amount of briquettes
needed for the type of cooking desired
and stack them in a pyramid on the grate.
Soak the briquettes with odorless lighter
fluid and let them set for about five
minutes. Light the charcoal and wait until
a thin layer of gray ash develops. Separate
the briquettes into a single layer (direct)
or layers stacked on the side of the drip
pan (indirect) depending upon the desired
cooking method. Wait until a layer of
gray ash develops before coating grill
with oil and placing on kettle (about
Some cooking -- namely smoking
-- requires the addition of more charcoal
during the cooking process. If that's
the case, pick up a chimney or additional
charcoal pan and prep the coals as needed.
You'll need 30-40 briquettes for an hour
of ooking, and 15-20 for each additional
Then there's wood (insert
Beavis-like laughter here). Romantic as
it may sound to cook your food on a wood-
fueled grill, there are certain drawbacks
that you need to consider. First and foremost
is that wood takes twice as long to get
ready to cook as a fire started with briquettes,
and the fire dies more quickly. Instead,
I'd suggest using the small pieces of
wood for kindling a briquette fire (with
or without lighter fluid), and the larger
chunks for flavoring the fire.
An important note! Don't
use any softwood for kindling or grilling.
It produces an ashy, unplesant taste on
STEP 4: Buy a Cookbook
While I'd love to think
that you'll rely solely on this web site
for your grilling info and recipes, I
know you're too smart for that. Plus,
there's no shortage of great books on
the subjects of grilling, backyard entertaining,
and the like.
& Smoking is part of the Cole's
Kitchen Arts Series, and it's one of my
few indispensible grilling references.
It's a tad more serious than some grilling
books, but that's offset by more than
140 recipes in the course of 127 full-color
pages! Buy this book NOW if you're unsure
about grill types, fuels, additives, smoking,
accessories, or just about anything about
grilling. Actually, I wish I'd had it
last year when I purchased my water smoker.
Our Memorial Day meal was excellent, though
it took a hellaciously long time (duh,
it's a smoker, not a grill) and wasn't
favored by some due to the intensely smokey
flavor. Eh, live and learn. We still smoke
on occasion, though I tend to save this
long, slow style for weekends when Mrs.
Nitrate is on the road with her all-girl
band and softball team. I'd highly recommend
it, plus I use it on a weekly basis when
firing up the grill or water smoker. (ISBN:
1-56426-060-7) I'll give this one a rousing
Daddy-O is a tad more fanciful
and campy than the former, written and
illustrated with a wink of the eye and
a clink of ice on a martini glass (nothin'
wrong wit dat!). Granted, I was ready
to plunk down my $12.95 after getting
a gander at thge book's wonderful collection
of retro trays, aprons, photos, etc. used
as illustrations throughout. That rare
breed of cookbook that you'll enjoy reading,
even if you never whip up "Turkey
Sands with Sassy Apples and Sage Mayo."
(ISBN: 0-8118-0871-8) To purchase Patio
Daddy-O from amazon.com, just follow
the title link.
Last, but not least, comes
the Better Homes & Gardens Barbecue
Book , circa 1956 and without
one ounce of the campy nostalgia of Patio
Daddy-O. This time, they're serious.
Purchased for a buck or two at a recent
flea market, the Barbecue Book is the
ultimate testament to the "outdoor
gourmet" movement of the 1950s. Chauvanist
to the max, get ready for intros like:
"This is Dad's domain. Sit back,
Mom; admire Chef. He has the fascinating
how-to on big steaks, other, juicy meats
that take to charcoal..." Thanks
Mom! (wink!) Now, raise your skirt, drop
your panties and pass the monosodium glutamate.
STEP 4: Cook &
The most important aspect
of cooking -- indoors or out, night or
day, winter, spring, summer, or fall --
is your enjoyment. Here at THG
we stress that imagination is more important
than knowledge, and fun is more important
than both! So fire up the grill, pour
a martini for us, and get grilling!!!
[This article originally
appeared in THG