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Let Spring come so we can get to the Grillin'

By Kevin Grzyb in Food on Apr 29, 2005 5:56PM

2005_04_kettle.jpgIn a grand gesture that we hope will usher in the warn weather, Chicagoist has broken out the wire brush and gotten to work on one of our favorite spring-cleaning chores: scrubbing and prepping the grill. We live for those long summer evenings when we come home from work while there’s still daylight and crank up the radio to some fine jazz or the Cub’s game, pour a glass of wine/ pop open a beer, fire up the coals and get ready to enjoy the evening, and a fine dinner on the porch. Grilling is great, there’s no doubt about it. The flavor is incomparable and if you do it right, you can limit the amount of cleanup to a few bowls and plates.

Some of our neighbors swear by the ease of use and convenient control of their fancy gas grills, but we are fire purist and believe that grilling yearns for a charcoal fire. It’s all about the flavor, baby. That gold and umber streaked sear on a perfect pork tenderloin and the deep charred flavor of asparagus grilled with nothing but a little oil, salt & pepper, then dashed with a fresh squeeze of lemon right before serving. YUM.

2005_04_grill_lodge.jpg.jpgWhen one thinks of the ubiquitous charcoal grill, there’s a good chance that the picture conjured is that of the kettle type grill, made by Weber (located in Palatine, IL, no less), that is a most common porch and backyard ornament around Chicago. You may remember the Bears helmets on the lions at the Art Institute during the 1985 season? Weber made those. There is a good reason that the kettle grill is so popular; it works. They are sturdy, easy to use, easy to clean and reasonably priced (at the base model, you know you’ll pay more when you add the ‘bells an whistles’). Chicagoist has a couple of grills. We have the big kettle for larger roasts or big birds (like turkeys, not Big Bird, that would be bad) or if we’re feeding a whole lotta people, but for the day to day, family dinner we have our baby. Our baby is a beautiful piece of work, a cast iron grill from Lodge that has some seriously cool features wrapped into an odd design. The grate on our grill is quarter inch cast iron and can be adjusted above the charcoal which allows for searing big, beautiful char marks on a juicy steak or chicken breast right over the charcoal and then raise the grate up on the notched stain less steel post to give the food time to slowly cook through. This grill has gotten way more expensive in the last couple of years, but it may still be worth the investment, because this thing is solid and will last years.

As far as charcoal, Chicagoist swears by hardwood charcoal and our electric charcoal starter. Hardwood charcoal starts faster and burns hotter than briquette type charcoal, which makes it ideal for searing. Hardwood charcoal has always been around, but you used to really have to look for it to find it, now it has gained enough popularity that you can find in most places that sell grills or grilling equipment.

2005_04_chimney_starter.jpg.jpgOnce you get your charcoal, you need to get that fire started. Please, please, please for the love of all that is good - STOP USING LIGHTER FLUID. We know, it’s easy, it looks cool and it really helps you exercise the whole ‘me cave man, make fire, cook dinner’ thing, but since you bought the prepackaged boneless, skinless chicken breasts at Jewel, well…you’re cover is blown. Lighter fluid makes the food you grill taste terrible. Really, really terrible. Two palatable alternatives are an electric starter, which we love, and the chimney starter. The drawback to the electric starter is obviously that it’s electric, so not good on a camping trip, but in the backyard or on the porch you’re on extension cord away from hot coals. The chimney is also neat, pile in charcoal, crumble up newspaper, light a match and let it go to town; fifteen to thirty minutes later, hot coals.

Then bring on the meat (and vegetables). We love the fact that entire meals can be cooked on the grill (grilled pineapples and mangoes make an awesome and healthy dessert). The art of which is timing. Getting everything to cook and finish at or near the same time can be tricky, but with practice you’ll get it, or eat dinner at 9:45 like we sometimes do.

2005_04_starter_electric.jpg.jpgAside from the grill, the charcoal and the ignition system there are, like in the kitchen, a million customized gadgets that companies will try to sell you for your grilling convenience. Most of them suck. Some things you need other things you don’t, everyone cooks their own way, so the equipment used varies. In general, a sturdy metal spatula and tongs with long handles are a must have for flipping and moving things around the grill. A grill basket for fish and vegetable is not a true necessity, but it can become one once you start using it. The other tool that gets the lion’s share of use is the wire brush. Scrape the grill grate before and after cooking keeps it clean and saves scrubbing time.

Chicagoist hopes that the great and powerful deities of the grill hear our humble plea and stop teasing us with this faux spring, so that we can get outside and cook.

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