The Beef on Grills and Equipment For The Fourth of July Weekend
When I try to explain to women — my wife, for example — how men's minds work, I'm met with the eye roll. Guys can't be that simple, can they? Well in one aspect, I'm proof positive humans evolved from apes. That is, I love meat ... big honking slabs of meat cooked over an open flame. Bring on the pigs, cows, chickens, whatever: I'll salivate like one of Pavlov's dogs until it's ready, and slather it in any manner of sauce to enhance the experience.
If this sounds like you, or your guy, chances are your household takes grilling seriously. But here's the good news: Grilling has redeeming qualities for the unabashed carnivore. First, it reduces the fats in meats because they escape through the grates as you cook. (Be careful about too much residue dripping into high flames, though. More on that in a bit.) And grilling definitely has its green side. Because grilled food cooks faster, a grill uses less energy — and no natural gas or electricity if you're just using charcoal.
This week, Green Dad looks at ways to enhance and expand your grilling setup and experience. And if green makes you think "Big Green Egg," then I've got news for you: I became a fan just this month, after sampling a pork loin cooked in the thing by one of my grill-obsessed friends. Which leads me to tip one:
1) All hail the Big Green Egg.
The extra-large version of the Big Green Egg looks like it could hatch a baby brachiosaurus: It weighs in at 204 pounds and can cook two dozen burgers. This ceramic contraption updates the clay kamado cooker, which has been around for 3,000 years.
Big Green Eggs are so wildly popular that, as you might expect, knockoffs have flooded the market. But after sampling that pork loin slow cooked for 18 hours in a BGE, I knew I'd tasted grilling Nirvana. The meat was firm and juicy with a crust caramelized to blissful beauty. Selected Ace Hardware stores carry these, as do specialty-cooking stores, but online your only choice is direct from the company. Large models will set you back more than $1,000, but are virtually indestructible. The company doesn't authorize online sales (though you can find them for sale on eBay), in part because these grills are so heavy.
2) Every grill needs a cover.
Unlike your microwave oven or stove, grills get exposed to the elements. Even though Green Dad keeps his grill under a balcony, it still accrued a thin layer of rust over the winter, in part because I didn't cover it. So learn from my folly: Invest a few bucks in a cover to save time and elbow grease, in addition to damage on your cooker. We found this bargain cover for about $20, shipping included. (Update: now about $30 with shipping.)
3) Use the right tools for the job.
I'd be nowhere in my grilling exploits without my jumbo tongs, chef's spatula and basting brush. Cuisinart, renowned for its food processors, makes a great 14-piece tool set we tracked down for $32 on Amazon, compared to $50 elsewhere. That's a sweet enough deal that I'm going to check my grilling implements to see how they're faring. Or, visit Sur La Table, now blowing out grill-related goodies at up to 40% off.
4) Use the magic of spicy marinade for flavor and health benefits.
Most supermarkets sell marinades in a rainbow of funky flavors. And while prepping your meat in them enhances taste, spice-based marinades have a lesser-known benefit: They reduce cancer risk. The American Institute for Cancer Risk reports that HCAs — suspected carcinogens that drip off when meat is grilled over very high heat — can be cut dramatically using marinades that contain spices from the mint family. Even marinades without spices lower HCAs by a modest amount, the AICR reports.
5) Consider the healthy knockout punch of George Forman grills.
The electric George Foreman grill wins raves from nutritionists. The meats you cook won't swill in a multitude of grease, while it also drains fats away. Loyalists swear by how food tastes when cooked on it, and Foreman models are inexpensive enough that you can supplement the gas or charcoal grill in your arsenal with one of these babies. There's even a model that works indoors and outdoors, which means year-round grill goodness. We found one for $59 plus free shipping here.
6) Before throwing out a failing grill, change its parts.A few years back, I was convinced my propane gas grill had bitten the dust. But after some investigation and a quick hardware store trip, I learned that replacing the burner assembly isn't as hard as it might look. (It took me half the time it takes to grill a burger). Need help? The handy website BBQ Depot makes it easy to shop for replacement parts by brand and part type. Most times, this will be cheaper than buying a new grill. And need I mention that throwing out a grill for no good reason adds a visible hump to your local landfill?
7) Know your grill types, and the work involved.
While gas grills are easy to maintain, lugging propane canisters to and from the local hardware store or pharmacy can be a costly pain. Charcoal grills yield that signature taste, but can be messy to clean up and challenging to light. Smokers, fryers, kamado ovens: Know the special capabilities and demands of each before you go out and buy, and never make an impulse purchase on a grill until you've done some homework. For the charcoal purists out there, nothing beats the iconic shape and performance of a Weber grill, first fashioned in the 1952 from buoy parts. Having withstood six decades of grill drills, this charcoal classic can be found for $125, shipping included. (Update: deal expired.)
8) Meating time: It's all about freshness and quality.
Everything I learned about the guy's art of grilling I learned from a grand gal, my momma. Mom was an Italian artisan in the kitchen and taught me that fresh ingredients of the highest quality give cooks a big jumpstart to making a magnificent meal. If you want to know more about how to order meat online safely and for the cheapest prices, my dealnews colleague Mitch Lipka has a handy guide.
After all, we Grill Guys may be carnivores … but that doesn't mean we have to act like savages. For more information on the difference between gas and charcoal grills, check out our guide.