Here in Coastal Georgia, the weather usually is favorable year-round for grilling, but there are exceptions.
I’m not in the infantry anymore, so I refuse to stand dutifully by my grill during a wintry rain. That’s why the season I’m most likely to grill starts this month and continues beyond Thanksgiving.
Before I go any further, let me explain the term “grilling.” I’m not talking about barbecue. I realize some folks who were not blessed with Southern accents think grilling and barbecue are the same. A transplant Northern co-worker once invited me to his home for a backyard barbecue. I came expecting smoked ribs, chicken, brisket or pork butt. No — he served hot dogs and hamburgers. That’s not barbecue!
Barbecue requires smoke. In fact, the fire is not supposed to touch the meat, which is cooked for several hours by the 225-250 degree F smoke from hickory, oat, mesquite, apple or pecan wood or, at the very least, charcoal. Grilling involves searing meat over hot coals, sometimes allowing the flames to char your steak, pork chops, chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers just enough to create that campfire flavor.
Another thing I should mention about grilling is the grill itself. If you prefer a gas grill to a standard charcoal grill, don’t sign up for a professional pitmasters competition. I don’t consider myself a professional, but I need all the help I can get to ensure the entrées I serve my family have a genuine chargrilled flavor.
You have to be careful with charcoal grilling, though. I now use Kingsford’s Match Light Charcoal instead of a cheaper brand of charcoal and lighter fluid. On more than one occasion, I thought the fire had gone out in my charcoal, so I tried to add more lighter fluid. My wife once saw me engulfed in a cloud of smoke and flames. The embarrassment of having the hair on my hands, head and face singed was compounded by her blood-curdling scream.
Those using Match Light should ensure their coals are glowing red before cooking any meat. That way, the lighter fluid apparently soaked into each briquette hopefully is burned away.
Several times a year, I check the structure of my Char-Griller and smoker to ensure there are no loose parts. I not only dump the ashes from the last cookout, but I also wipe down the entire grill and smoker for excess grease and muck.
My grill has heavy iron grates that tend to rust. That’s OK. Before any grilling mission, I scrape and brush both sides of each grate with a heavy duty wire brush, and then brush them again with canola oil. When the grill is placed over the burning coals, the fire will purge any impurities and “cure” the grill for cooking.
It’s also a good idea to have an iron fireplace poker to move around hot coals. You’ll also want a spatula, tongs and two-prong fork that are 18-24 inches long. Of these three instruments, I find the tongs most useful. You never want to poke your steak or pork chops with a fork. That’s a grilling faux pas. Use the fork for things like hot dogs or chicken. Use the spatula for hamburgers, fish or certain vegetables, like asparagus.
Usually, I’ll kick off a new grilling season with pork-loin chops as my main entrée. Of course, while I’m waiting for the coals to get just right, I’ll also cook hot dogs and hamburgers. After I cook the entrée, I’ll lower the coals and smoke some chicken wings on the upper grilling rack. These wings will later get quick-fried then rolled in butter and hot wing sauce.
I marinate my pork chops in Italian dressing for at least four hours. When they’re on the grill, sometimes I’ll add Cajun or Creole seasoning or Lawry’s Seasoning Salt. Other times, I’ll smother them with Vidalia Onion BBQ Sauce.
When all the grilling is done, I’ll close the lid and leave the grill sitting on the back edge of the deck. Do not attempt to dump the ashes until the next day. Too many trash cans or backyards have been burned by home chefs who thought the coals were out. Check with your local gardening pro about sprinkling those ashes on some of your ornamental plants.