Special Grilling Techniques

Special Grilling Techniques

There are so many great reasons to have a grill on your back patio and to enjoy al fresco dining every chance you get. For one, grills allow you to cook outside during hot summer weather, reducing heat build-up in your kitchen. Just like the old saying says, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!” Well, no one ever said that meant you had to go out to eat.

Grills also get you outside. It’s a change of scene from the dining room and kitchen, and there’s always movement and interest to keep you focused on the moment. Enjoy the fresh air, see the sun, and enjoy your little plot of our green Earth. Sunlight and Vitamin D are good for you!

Backyards and patios are our quiet oasis from the hustle and bustle of our busy lives. In the garden, we unwind and relax. Those aren’t words that many people associate with their kitchens.

Many people are struggling to force their families to unplug and to reconnect with one another, and spending more time outside is a great way to start. The natural relaxation that comes from a change of scene and being outdoors helps everyone unwind a little.

You probably don’t want to eat classic grill food every day. We all want some variety in our diets, be it for health reasons or easing boredom. So, let’s look beyond burgers and steaks and dive into all of the other things you can cook on a propane grill.

Five Misconceptions About Grilling

First, let’s take a look at five common misconceptions about gas grilling and cooking outdoors.

Misconception #1—Gas Grills Aren’t as Good as Charcoal Grills
The logic goes something like this: A purist only uses charcoal to grill their food; the icon of backyard cooking is the kettle-style Weber grill; cooking with charcoal is too much work and too time-consuming to do every night of the week; and grilling should be saved for special occasions, like long holiday weekends and family get-togethers.

This line of thinking negates some important facts. First off, let’s address the flavor issue. If you’re cooking thick steaks or slow-cooking big chunks of meat, charcoal does indeed impart a smoky quality that a gas grill cannot replicate on its own. However, most things you are looking to cook don’t sit on the grill long enough to absorb that flavor.

Furthermore, if you did want to make some authentic barbecue, like a brisket, leg of lamb, or ribs, you can quickly turn your gas grill into a perfectly acceptable smoker. We will tell you more about that later!

None of this is to discourage anyone from purchasing and using a charcoal-fired Weber grill. These grills are incredible workhorses that deliver amazing-quality food. Just lighting the coals is enough to make your stomach start growling. If you’d like to learn more about how to cook with charcoal, check out our “Beginner’s Guide to Charcoal Grilling.”

The truth of the matter is that charcoal grills get used a lot less than their propane counterparts. A gas grill can just be scrubbed clean and turned on. It can be ready to cook in five or ten minutes at the most. Since they’re so easy to light and clean, gas grills are used more often. They are clean-burning and can be used as a replacement for just about everything in your kitchen.

Read more about the differences between cooking on gas and charcoal in our “Pros and Cons Guide.”

Misconception #2—Grills are for Direct-Heat Cooking

Steaks, burgers, and hot dogs are what grill is all about, right? We are not saying that is a bad thing. However, if that’s the limit of the types of food that go on your barbecue, you’re also limiting the functionality of your grill. It may not be the perfect tool for every job, but it’s a versatile cooker that can be made to do almost anything you want it to.

With some trial and error, you can experiment with different burner combinations and with different food placement on the grate. This will help you figure out the details of your grill and how to use it for direct- and indirect-heat cooking. Once you’ve mastered temperature control, you can grill, bake, sauté, roast, or braise.

Once you’ve cracked the code on careful temperature control, you’ll need to pick up some essential outdoor grilling gear. With the right equipment, namely some heavy-duty cookware like a cast-iron set and a good set of cooking thermometers, you can do pretty much anything on your grill.

Misconception #3—Propane Grills Don’t Have Good Heat Control
This misconception is the direct result of cheap grills. The unfortunate truth of grilling is that you get what you pay for. You certainly don’t need the most expensive model, but most people will want to steer clear of the cheapest ones.

The most versatile grills have three or four powerful burners with flame caps to distribute heat and heavy, cast-iron grates. These grills have fewer hot spots than less expensive cookers, and they operate very predictably.

A heavy tight-fitting lid is vital to using a gas grill for other cooking methods. Open hibachi-style grills are fun for parties, but the inability to trap and control heat levels limits their use as multitaskers.

By mastering heat control with the help of heavy cookware and remote-readout thermometers, you can replace your oven and stove-top in your kitchen with your grill. Baking bread, making roasts, or making stews are no problem.

You probably won’t want to cook every meal outside, but the first step is trying to cook complete meals outdoors without relying on your indoor kitchen. Plan some meals that combine your grill-top protein favorites with some new gas-grill side dishes. Take a look at our article “Side Dishes You Can Make on Your Gas Grill” for ideas and inspiration.

Misconception #4—You Can’t Smoke Meats Without a Dedicated Smoker

Indeed, a gas grill isn’t ideal for smoking meats. To properly smoke a brisket or a pork shoulder, you need to keep the heat low for a long time. For smoking, low and slow means 220℉ to 250℉ for eight to ten hours.

With a little practice, it’s not too hard to get a gas grill to do this. Their biggest weakness is their poor-fitting lids which let out a lot of heat. For smoking something, this can be a benefit. Since their burners are usually too intense for smoking, letting a little excess heat out helps keep the temperature just right.

Again, the quality of your grill is a significant factor in how much you can do with it. If you have three or more burners, you should be able to find a burner setting with only one lit that will keep the cooking side of the grill at just about the right temperature. Once you’ve proven you can do this, you’ll just need a smoker box and a drip pan.

Learn exactly how to make it happen in our article “How to Smoke Meats on Your Gas Grill.”

Misconception #5—The Best Pizza is Delivery
If you haven’t tried making a pizza on your grill yet, what are you waiting for? The best pizzas are baked in super-hot ovens very quickly, and your backyard grill is the best spot in the house to make it happen.

You can pick up store-made, ready-to-bake pizza dough or make your own from scratch. Even if you aren’t a baker, pizza dough is pretty simple. With complete creative control, you can make the perfect pie for your family. Do you prefer gluten-free pizza crust? No problem! Do you only need one side white with extra anchovies? Whatever rocks your world!

Hungry for more details? Check out our full-length article on How to Cook Pizza on Your Gas Grill.

Making Outdoor Cooking Easy—Create Your Outdoor Kitchen

To fully utilize your grill, consider setting up an outdoor kitchen. There are several ways to do this, from custom-built entertainment extravaganzas to simple modular units.

If you find yourself with a severe case of grill envy when you look at magazine spreads of celebrity’s backyard kitchens, fear not. You can get the same functionality with less money and work by considering your space and finding practical solutions that fit your yard and budget.

Add Counter Space

Far and away, the most important factor in making outdoor grilling easier and more fun is the inclusion of a cooking or prep area. Even if your grill has side shelves, they are usually small and too low. Instead, look at your nearest mega-mart or hardware emporium for bar-height outdoor patio furniture. You could also look for kitchen islands that are durable enough to keep outside.

The overall goal is to have something to sit next to the grill that will give you space to chop and prepare dishes. If you’re stir-frying or deep-frying, a long counter or bar will provide you with a place to set up your assembly line. These bars often have storage beneath as well, which comes in handy for storing your grill tools and cookware.

Counter-height patio tables can serve double duty as your prep area and eating area similar to counters and islands in your regular kitchen. The only real requirements are that it should be functional for your family and easy to keep clean. Depending on your location, you might want to look for durable, rust-proof items.

Easy Movement

Once you’ve solved the cooking space problem, the next thing you’ll need to address is the traffic flow between your indoor and outdoor kitchens. No matter how much prep you do, you’ll wind up making many trips between the two. Maybe you forgot an ingredient or just realized a kitchen tool that would help with your grilling project. Make the path in the back door and through the house as easy as possible.

When looking at your patio and placing your outdoor kitchen, give some thought to how people are going to use the space both as the entertainer and the entertained. Can you organize it to keep a clear path into the house from the grill and workstation?

Take a look at your entire patio and try to design its usage. Do you have a pool or hot tub? How does it connect to the house? Are there any shared doors or windows with the kitchen? Can you design a pass-through window system, or anything else to make getting in and out easier?

Outdoor Comfort

The next task in perfecting your al fresco dining and cooking experience is to plan for the elements. The primary problems with al fresco dining are heat, cold, and bugs. For the heat, shade is essential. Patio umbrellas or permanent structures like pergolas and shade sails help a lot. For the cold, nothing beats a fire pit!

Protecting guests from bugs is another topic entirely. In tropical and subtropical areas like Florida, screened patios are very popular. Not only do they keep pesky critters at bay, but they also provide a little shade relief in the heat of the day. They reduce the dust and leaves that blow into the patio, reducing cleaning a little bit. That’s helpful if your screened enclosure goes around your pool.

The final touch to make your outdoor area pop is adding ambiance and lighting. String lights are great year-round for adding light and a fun outdoor atmosphere. Imagine the classic look of globe string lights strung in zig-zags over Italian courtyard cafes. Tiki torches are another way to add lighting, and they give a little bit of bug protection when burning citronella oils.

Of course, once you get the hang of dining outdoors and spending more time on your patio, you’ll start to see other finishing touches that you’ll want to add.

You might also find ways to expand on your outdoor kitchen. Everyone cooks a little differently. That, coupled with the different patio and home layouts, means that outdoor cooking areas are customized with whatever the chef needs to make their lives easier. Could you use an outdoor mini-fridge, a built-in brick pizza oven, or an outdoor prep sink? None of these things are very hard to add once you have a rough outline in mind.

The only advice for setting up your outdoor kitchen is to take it slow. Start with a grill and simple counter and add what is missing as you need it. Each time you improve, outdoor cooking will become more and more convenient and fun.

Special Cooking Techniques

There’s no limit to what your gas grill can do if you have the right tools and the patience to perform some experiments.

Cookware

The right tools include heavy-duty cookware. The classic cookware for outdoor cooking is heavy-duty cast-iron. It is practically indestructible, and once correctly seasoned, it will give the best non-stick cookware a run for its money.

Of course, there are always other options. Any pots and pans like stainless-steel or copper can be used on the grill. Dirty grills might mar your otherwise spotless pots, though, so don’t use your best stuff or any family heirlooms.

Many backyard grill masters like using disposable aluminum trays on the grill. They are available in any size at the grocery store, and no one cares how brutal you are to them. There’s no clean up required since you just toss them in the bin when done. Another plus is that you can cover them in foil to make lids. All in all, they’re perfect for the grill.

If you’d rather have a reusable option, look for very inexpensive aluminum baking trays and pans. These have the same versatility as the disposable foil kind, but they can be washed and reused. If you buy a set dedicated to the grill and they get a little charred and discolored, no one is going to mind too much.

Foil Cooking

Aluminum foil is one of the more useful tools for the griller. Tin foil can be used to cover pots, pans, and trays when you want to trap in heat and moisture. When taking meat off the grill, you can wrap it in foil to let it rest. Doing so traps in the moisture and keeps it away from flies and other nasties.

Always pick up the heavy-duty foil at the supermarket. It holds up better to be handled with your grill tongs and being flipped over on the grates. If you accidentally come home with the thin stuff, double wrap it just in case.

Things to Try Cooking in Tin Foil
Tin foil can also be used in place of cookware in some situations. Making foil packets is a quick and easy way to prep meals to cook on the grill. Inside a pouch, you can place loose veggies or delicate items like fish. The foil serves two purposes. Not only does it keep the food together preventing it from falling through the cooking grates, but it also allows food to braise or steam in the packet.

With all of this in mind, you can customize recipes to maximize the flavor potential. Add olive oil and aromatics like garlic, scallion, or citrus to veggies and fish when putting them in a foil pouch. The great thing about this cooking method is that it can be prepared well in advance. Just assemble the pouches and leave them in the fridge until you’re ready to throw them on the grill.

For a speedy and tasty weeknight meal, try making an entire meal in a foil pouch. Combine some chunked stew meat, chopped potatoes, sliced onions and peppers, olive oil, and salt and pepper in a foil pouch. Customize them by adding your favorite herbs and spices or whatever you have a surplus of in your garden or pantry. Seal the sides very well to prevent any juices from getting out and toss on the grill, flipping occasionally. Prepare one pouch per person, and each pouch can be customized based on individual tastes. The key to making these pouch meals work is to pick veggies and meats that will cook at approximately the same rate. Avoid items like fish or shrimp that cook quickly and be sure to cut things that take longer to cook like potatoes and carrots into thin slices.

If you’re hesitant to grill because you’re worried it will be too messy or not come out right, give it a try in tin foil. The foil allows you to cook things on the grill that you would never consider otherwise. Have you ever considered grilling bacon? Without the tin foil, bacon would be a fire hazard, but wrapped in tin foil, the bacon can be cooked to perfection. When it’s nice and crispy, remove from the foil pouch and drain before serving.

Shrimp and scallops cook exceptionally well in foil since you can trap the steam inside. Add some spices and lemon slices, and you’ve got the perfect steamed shrimp in no time. Likewise, you can steam fish, clams, mussels, oysters, or lobster tails in this manner.

Intrigued by the idea of super-easy foil pouch cooking and want some more ideas? Check out this feature from the Food Network with 50 delicious things you can cook in foil on your grill.

Conclusion

Cooking and dining al fresco is a lot of fun. Not only is it a way to expand your cooking knowledge, to get some sunshine, and to enjoy the fresh air, but you will also be able to keep the house cooler in the summer. With a few easy modifications, any patio can become an outdoor kitchen.

Once you start spending more time with your grill and learning its ins and outs, you’ll be a master of the outdoor grilling scene in no time. Soon, you’ll be wonder what you cannotcook on the grill and find a way to cook that, too.