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Cooking with Fire II (Grilling)

Once we have made the ideal fire, the next obvious step is to cook something over it.  Steaks, chops, chicken breasts, fish, kabobs and vegetables all come to mind.  Grilling is a very healthy way to cook because much of the fat drops directly off the meat but leaves its flavor behind! 
 
While cooking times will vary, most grilled foods normally cook within 7 – 15 minutes.

Selecting the Right Temperature.

Higher temperatures are used when one wants to sear the meat, which is to seal the juices inside the cut.  Commonly done when cooking meat to Rare or Medium rare such as beef or lamb.  Since high heat will thoroughly cook the outside of the meat long before the inside, cuts that should be cooked thoroughly, like poultry and pork should be cooked longer over a lower temperature. 
 
When using a gas grill, setting the temperature is straightforward, simply set the dial to the appropriate setting.  Getting the right temperature over charcoal or wood is a little more challenging.
 
 On a charcoal grill the temperature is controlled by adjusting the vents at the bottom of the grill.  The more open the vents are, the more oxygen the fire can draw, the hotter the fire will be.  Closing the vents will restrict the oxygen the fire can draw and cool it accordingly.  Close the vents completely and you will essentially “choke” the fire out.  Since I use a lot of charcoal in the course of a year, I save money by choking my fire when I am done cooking and reusing the partially burnt coals mixed with fresh ones the next time I grill.
 
If you’re using a charcoal grill and you want to sear first then and cook longer, such as extra thick steaks or some pork cuts, you should make two different levels of coals on each side of the grill.  For the hot side you will need 3-4 layers of coals and for the cooler side 1 layer should work.   Sear your meat for about 1 minute each side and then move it to the cooler side to finish cooking it.
 
To check the temperature of your charcoal or wood fire, carefully hold your hand, palm down just above the grilling grate and count how many seconds before you pull your hand away:
 
2 seconds = High
3 seconds = Medium-High
4 seconds = Medium
5 seconds = Low

Grilling up Supper!

Steaks  - (Medium high or sear high and cook medium)   Marinade and/or season your steaks if you like (don’t underestimate the convenience and surprising flavor of your store-brand Italian salad dressing).  Inexpensive, tougher cuts are more flavorful but need a marinade to make them more tender, more expensive, tender cuts are often best with a nice dry seasoning (KA-Ranch Dry Rub for Steak) or simple salt and pepper.   In any event, make sure you let the meat come to room temperature before you put it on the grill.
 
The tricky thing about steaks is that they continue to cook even after they are off the grill.  This is why I always make it a point to time the steaks so that they all come off the grill just as people are sitting down at the table.  For a larger group where everyone likes their steak cooked to a different doneness I have been known to actually write out the times to add individual steaks to the grill so that the rare and well done steaks come off at the same time. 
 
Pork – (Medium high or sear high and cook medium)   Sometimes overlooked, there are a lot of options with grilling pork.  Not only are there a multitude of ready-for-the-grill cuts to choose from, they all cook well with exciting glazes and marinades or sprinkled with one of any number of dry seasonings.  One of my favorites is KA-Ranch #1derful Rub.

 
While more stringent legislation and inspections have made pork much safer, it is still wise to cook it to at least 160 º F internal temperature.
 
Chicken pieces – (Medium)  While chicken doesn’t need a marinade to make it tender, a short marinade can add exciting twists of flavors.  Teriyaki, margarita-lime, and Italian herbs with garlic in olive oil make this meat capable of delivering a global experience.  As with the other meats, simple dry seasonings are also abundant.  One that comes highly recommended is KA-Ranch Dry Rub for Brisket Chicken & Ribs.
 
Grilling is only good for chicken pieces or boneless portions that are not too thick.  Large pieces such as a leg will need to cook longer over a cooler fire than boneless/skinless breasts will.  Do not try to cook a whole chicken by grilling it, I will write about how to cook whole birds on the grill in my next blog.
 
Fish - (Medium to Medium High)  It can take gentle skill to grill fish.  Fish is delicate, cooks quickly and easily sticks to the grill grate.  This is why fish is often grilled in an open or closed foil packet with butter and garlic.    If cooking directly on the grate, coat the fish with olive oil.  If the scales are still on, then grill scales down.  So long as you are using a covered grill, there really is no need to turn over most filets, unless it is over 1” thick, even then cooking it a little longer over a cooler fire may be best.
 
Kabobs –  (Medium) A quick word about skewers.  Wooden ones should be soaked in water for at least 20 minutes before putting them over a fire.  Metal skewers have the added property of transferring heat from the fire to the inside of the food impaled upon them.  This can be useful depending upon how you set up your kebobs.  I prefer skewers which are flat because food spins on the round ones, making it difficult to turn over a hot fire.  If you find yourself in a pinch, I suggest making a single kabob using two round skewers in parallel.
 
There is no limit to creativity when making kabobs and they are the perfect menu when you are cooking for a group that has both meat lovers and vegetarians.   “Fruits of the Sea” kabobs which is seafood such as shrimp, scallops, etc. are also very popular.
 
Some of my favorites to add between various chunks of meat are 1½” cubes of fresh pineapple, whole mushrooms coated in olive oil and garlic powder, and onion quarters wrapped in a slice of bacon.
 
Vegetables ( Medium high to medium)   Vegetables are simply fun to grill!  I generally just spray them with olive oil and sometimes a sprinkling of kosher salt or KA-Ranch Texas Seasoned Salt before throwing them on the grill and enjoying their natural, crisp flavor.  Now, one does need to be attentive as they can easily burn if not turned often enough.   Some thicker vegetables may benefit from being skewered so that the inside can cook too. 
 
Baked potatoes fall into this category , they cook in half the time as in an oven and have that nice smoky  grill taste about them.  Given the girth and solidity of a potato, be sure to use a metal skewer or even a clean nail so that the inside cooks too.
 
Sausages & Bratwurst (medium to low heat)  Given that heat makes things expand, it is important to either pierce the sausage casings with a fork or score them with little cuts every 2 inches or so.  Sausages don’t need to be marinated but Germans often soak theirs in beer after piercing for an hour or so before cooking.
 
Cooking sausages slowly and turning them often will allow them to caramelize and not burn.  Place your sausages on the outer ring of the charcoal or on the second tier of a gas grill to keep them away from the most intense heat of your fire.  Using fewer coals or a lower gas setting will have a similar effect.  Ideally cook them for 15-20 minutes.
 
One entertaining fare I like to do is to invite guests to a “Mixed Sausage Grill.”  With a little local sleuthing, you would be surprised to find how many unique sausage varieties are readily available.  A grilled assortment of hot links, summer sausage, bratwurst, and limitless local varieties paired up with some slices of hearty bread and fancy mustards will make for quite a dinner buffet.  Big pots of sauerkraut and potato salad will complement the whole thing nicely.
 
Hamburgers! –  (Medium high to medium)  
No discussion about grilling is complete without mentioning what remains the most popular food to grill.   New and creative hamburger recipes pop up every day.   Despite my love for both burgers and grilling, one should not overlook the simple joy of occasionally tossing a frozen 73/27 factory made patty on the grill with a healthy pinch of KA-Ranch Steak Seasoning.   73/27 refers to the lean/fat content of ground beef.  While many people assert otherwise, it is widely believed that 73/27 makes a most flavorful burger.  In my experience I have had excellent burgers made of 97/3 meat as well. 
 
When cooking burgers, one takes a chance by cooking to rare or medium rare as this will not kill off possible contaminants that only affect ground meats.  As stated earlier strict legislation and tighter controls make contamination very rare, but it must be recognized.
 
Grilling burgers with a higher fat content is best done on a covered grill because there will be significant flaring as the fat hits the coals.  Also, these burgers will shrink up to 25% as they cook.  Very lean beef will need to be mixed with some sort of binder (raw eggs work well) or they will not hold together while being grilled.  They will not shrink as much and flare ups will be minimized.
 
Specific grilling times for burgers are hard to give because of the many variables, frozen/fresh thick/thin hot fire/medium fire.  Practice makes perfect, but a rule of thumb that has usually worked for me is to grill the patties on one side until juices start to form on the top, and then flip them.  Wait a minute or two and then dress them with whatever cheese you might like.  Cover the grill to let the cheese melt nicely and cook for another few minutes.
 
If you fried up some bacon to go with them, my suggestion is to save the bacon grease and use it to lightly brush the inside of the buns or rolls.  After removing the burgers, quickly toast the bread over the coals.  Be careful as bread goes from toast to charred in under a second.
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