Hey everyone, and welcome to the fourth installment in our Grilling 101 series. Seeing as how we’ve already covered most of the basics of grilling, as well as several common misconceptions about the craft, I figured that today would be a good time to talk about some of the essential tools to always have whenever you’re planning to work a grill. Many of these tools might be commonly known to you, but in many cases people aren’t using the right tool for the right job.
Tongs: THE most important piece of equipment that you will need, tongs allow you to work with food without bringing their hands too close to the heat source. Tongs are essentially an extension of your own hands; choose long-stemmed that feel comfortable and are easy to flip food. You need to have a couple of pairs of tongs with you at any given time (or at least be sure to be washing them frequently during BBQ) as you need a pair of tongs to use on raw food product (especially if chicken is being cooked) and one for cooked product. This will reduce any chance of cross-contamination and assure that you are following the best safety precautions. It is simply a good habit to have a pair of tongs for each individual job that you have on the go on your grill at any given time.
Spatula: Used to lift food off of grills and to prevent sticking. Choose a spatula that has sharp edges and enables you to easily get under the food that you wish to turn. I have a variety of spatulas in my kit and choose based on the size of the product in need of flipping. You will require a wide spatula (I often use two) when grilling fish or any other larger delicate items.
Brushes: You will need; a basting brush to baste product during cooking or to apply sauce to your food before finishing – I prefer silicone to synthetic as they are less likely to leave traces in the food when basting. Silicone is also much easier for cleaning, as it can do directly into the dishwasher, rather than the long drawn out cleaning process for natural / synthetic bristle brushes. You will also require a grill brush to clean of the grates of your grill before and after grilling. As previously mentioned, cleaning your grill will eliminate many of the problems of the food sticking and you will reduce the risk of flare-ups. I use a solid metal cleaning tool, rather than a wire bristle brush for cleaning my grill when hot and a synthetic bristled brush for cleaning my cool grill prior to heating. If you use a wire bristled BBQ brush for cleaning, please be sure to replace the brush when the bristles begin to ware down. You certainly don’t want any of the wire bristles getting into any of your beautifully grilled food now. do you?
Instant Read Thermometer: This simple tool is the one that is least used by most backyard BBQ enthusiasts. It allows you to determine the internal temperature of the food and takes the guessing away from determining whether or not you food is properly finished cooking and ready for eating. To get the most accurate reading, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat and avoid touching bone (which conducts heat and will give an inaccurate temperature reading).
Mitts/Gloves: Worn on a chef’s hands to protect them from heat, which allows them to interact with food much closer to the heat source. Many people like to use oven mitts for this purpose, but I find them too cumbersome – instead, I’ve replaced my oven mitts, both at home and at the shop, with Pit Mitts that give me both dexterity and protection from heat whenever I’m cooking.
Some of the most important tools for your personal toolkit can be found in your spice rack, pantry and refrigerator, as it is here that you are going to be finding the ingredients that you are going to use to flavouring your creations. The most common flavouring methods are dry-rubbing, marinating and saucing.
A dry-rub is a combination of dried herbs and spices crushed together and applied to the meat prior to cooking. The rub creates a flavour packed outer layer (crust or bark) on the meat and although it is called a rub, it’s best applied by sprinkling over meat or by rolling meat into the mixture after being slightly oiled to ensure that the rub adheres to the meat and the oil reduces potential for sticking to the grates.
Marinades are blend of oil, acid and herbs used to infuse flavour and tenderize meat before grilling. They can be simple or complex, the choice is yours. Many people use beer, wine, lemon, lime, cider vinegar, rice vinegar or any other acid as the base of the marinade to help break down and tenderize the meat. From here there are numerous combinations that you can come up with to make your marinade work (herbs, spices, honey, teriyaki, soy, sugar, etc.). This is your chance to play around with flavour profiling to give your food that special signature that makes it yours.
Everyone is familiar with BBQ Sauce, no doubt we’ve all got a number of them in our fridge / pantry at the moment. BBQ sauce is the quickest and easiest way to apply flavour to our meat while grilling. The key is to apply the sauce at the end of the cooking process (or after the food has been removed from the grill altogether and tossed in a bowl like you do with chicken wings). The reason for the late application of the sauce is simple – the sugars caramelize on the grill; if you sauce too soon, the sauce ends up burning. Sauce at the end or off of the grill completely, you get the flavour of the sauce infused to your finished product.
As with everything, practice makes perfect. I hope that you’ve been applying some of the information that you’ve been getting from the BBQ101 blogs and have been perfecting your grilling this spring. You will be well on your way to mastering the art of grilling.