400- 450 degrees F.: coals burning down and barely covered with gray ash.
375- 400 degrees F.: coals glowing through a layer of ash.
300- 325 degrees F.: coals are covered with a thick layer of ash.
Shopping for barbecue grills these days is like shopping for a car. Lots of makes and models and accessories. There are four basic grills to choose from; gas (propane and natural gas are the most popular), charcoal (for flavor and versatility), pellet (which uses wood pellets such as oak, hickory and mesquite) and electric (fire resistant to dwellings).
Grills Fueled by Charcoal
Natural briquettes: Made of pulverized lump charcoal held together with natural starches.
Composition briquettes: Made from burned wood and scraps, coal dust, camphor, paraffin or petroleum binders. Buy expensive brands as they have less filler, which creates a better taste to your cooking.
Char wood or lump charcoal: Made from hardwoods, such as maple, hickory and oak. Burns down fast but has a very high temperature. The choice of professionals and chefs.
Instant-light charcoal: Lights up very easy. Unlike lighter fluid, which burns off quickly, instant light is soaked through with a petroleum product that release fumes throughout most of the cooking. When you add charcoal during cooking time, it could cause a bitter taste to your food.
Fire Starters for Briquettes
Lighter fluid: Allow it to soak in two to three minutes before lighting. The fluid burns off well before the cooking begins.
Paraffin starters: Environmentally safe, smokeless and non-toxic. Place a couple of pieces under the mound of charcoal and light.
Chimney starters: Preferred choice of the serious griller. It is a steel cylinder with vent holes in the bottom, a grate in the middle and a heatproof handle. Place crumpled newspaper or paraffin starters at the bottom of the cylinder and the briquettes over that. Light the newspaper or paraffin with a long match.
Electric starter: It is a metal coil device that heats rapidly (like an electric stove burner) placed under the briquettes. It ignites them in minutes.
Other Barbecue Tips
Allow 20-30 minutes for the briquettes to get started before cooking. Charcoal grills have vents in top and bottom for adjusting the heat.
When removing the lid to check cooking, lift the lid to the side rather than straight up. Otherwise, the suction may draw up ashes onto the food.
Use tongs for turning meat because piercing the meat with a fork allows the juices and flavor to escape.
Trim the fat on steaks to 1/8 inch. It will reduce dripping that will cause flame up.
Tomato and sugar based BBQ sauces should be added at the end of the grilling time because they tend to burn easily.
If your grill is stored outdoors, a grill cover will protect your grill from the weather as well as keep dirt and insects out of the grill.
Barbecue and Food Safety
When buying meat and poultry, select it last before going to the checkout. Do not mix the two together or with other foods. Place them in separate bags. Place in refrigerator within 2 hours or 1 hour if the temperature is 90 degrees or more. Freeze poultry and ground beef if you are not going to use it within 1 to 2 days; other meats within 4 to 5 days.
Completely thaw poultry and meat before grilling so it can cook more evenly.
Finding the Hot Spots
Lay slices of bread over your grill and let them toast. The slices of bread that toast darker will let you know your hot spots on the grill.
Cleaning Your Charcoal Grill
Use a stiff wire brush to loosen debris from the grill and grates. Then remove the grill and grates to scoop out the ashes from the bottom with a large spoon or cup. With soda water, you can clean the inside and outside of the unit. If the grates are caked with debris, you can use oven cleaner (if grates are aluminum, use soap and water). Hose down the grates and make sure they are clear of any cleaner before using. Coat the grate with vegetable oil to keep from rusting. Clean every time before and after usage.