Grill-B-Q / Styles
Oh, the discussions that can be held regarding the benefits and styles of the art of grilling. Some claim there are 200 styles of barbecue, while others claim there are even more. But some purists (of which I'm one) believe that all of the styles can be broken down into 2 major styles with about 10 sub-styles. So just follow one of the links below to learn about the major and minor styles of grilling.
Grilling - the art of using direct or indirect heat to cook the food
Smoking - the art of using smoke and very low heat to cook the food
"Grilling. As complex as dating, but usually less expensive."
There are two major divisions of grilling -- heat source and method.
The old "standby" heat source in grilling is charcoal briquettes. The classic hotdog and hamburger grilled over a briquette-fired Weber grill...ah, the good old days. There are other heat sources that are more popular, but not as nostalgic. The charcoal grill has been displaced as the most popular type of grill by Liquid Propane (LP) gas grill. Other common types of heat sources are wood and electric, neither of which is truly suited for cooking the wide variety of foods that charcoal and LP can handle.
For true Barbecue you need to be able to generate a certain amount of smoke to influence the flavor of the foods. This can be done with a classic smoker (see the Style-Smoking page) or by placing wood chips in other types of grills. Barbecue can be done fairly equally on any source of heat, but for the true richness of flavor, a wood fire cannot be beaten. The challenge with a wood fire is the time it takes to get it started and time time it takes to smoke food to the doneness desired.
Gas grills (natural gas or LP) both work well for basic grill foods (hamburgers, etc.) and for the less "enthusiastic" grillers. The ease of using gas has made it the number one choice of the casual griller. LP gas has the inconvenience of the tanks that need to be refilled periodically and natural gas, although more convenient, usually can't get the grill hot enough for some styles of grilling. The choice of LP is probably the smart choice for the griller that wants to cook well, quickly, and without a lot of fuss.
Given a nice gas or LP grill , there are really two choices of grilling method...direct and indirect. Direct is how you usually cook "comfort foods", such as hot dogs and hamburgers. This is where you put the food directly over the heat source and cook it using medium to high heat. Indirect is used with larger cuts of meat where you don't want to char the outside while the inside is still raw. The simplistic way of cooking indirect is to turn on the burners on one side of the grill and place the food on the other.
Direct Grilling is easy-- just crank up the fire, put the food directly over the fire, cook until done. Simple. It is the direct exposure to the heat that cooks the food. Because the food is directly over the coals, it is important to watch closely for flare-ups, because fat from the food can drip directly onto the coals.
The foods you usually cook over direct heat are traditional grilling items: hot dogs, steaks, burgers, fish fillets, etc. Anything that is less than 1.5 inches thick can usually be grilled with direct heat. These are things that generally cook quickly and benefit from the fast cooking on a hot grill. This is also the fastest way to cook on the grill--ideal when time is an issue.
Indirect Grilling is more realistically placed in the "baking" or "broiling" category, rather than the classic "over the fire" method of grilling. This approach needs the "fire" to be built near, but not under the food. On a standard gas grill, this means turning on only part of the burners, placing the food on the grill away from the heat and closing the lid. In essence...an oven. Since the food is not directly over the flame or heat, food will cook more evenly and is less likely to be charred. This is the ideal way to cook foods over 2 inches thick, but of course, this takes considerably more time to cook than direct grilling.
Now charcoal and wood can work just as well as gas. With a charcoal or wood grill you simply build the fire on one side of the grill and cook on the other. When using a charcoal or wood grill to cook indirectly, it's best to build the fire like you always would and then use a small fireplace shovel or something similar to move the tools to the side.
There are basically two methods to smoking -- cold or hot. Actually, these words are a bit misleading, "cold" smoking really has nothing to do with barbecue or grilling...and it's not really cold; "hot" smoking is really done at medium to low temperatures and is just another way of saying barbecue.
Most cold smoking is commonly done for fish, such as smoked salmon. The food is placed so far from the heat that the temperature doesn't exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit. This method is used more for "preserving" than for cooking. Examples are beef jerky and Scottish-style salmon. And for our purposes, it is well beyond the goals of this website.
Now hot smoking is "true barbecue". It's generally done at just above or below the boiling temperature of water...around 200-225 degrees Fahrenheit. Its the combination of medium to low heat and placing the food in the direct path of the smoke. This is usually done with a two-piece cooker (see diagram) with a smoke chamber at the low end and the cooking chamber at the high end. It's almost strictly a "wood" cooking process with many cooks choosing to use various flavored woods, such as oak, apple and hickory.
The delicately subtle flavors of some woods and the overwhelming flavors of others can make the difference when smoking certain meats, cheeses, and vegetables. Here's a quick guide to choosing the right wood...
ALDER is an excellent hardwood of the Northwest. Used by the Native Americans for smoking fresh salmon, this wood creates a soft, well rounded flavor that works well on fish and poultry. It's also excellent mixed with fruit woods to create interesting flavors.
APPLE is an exciting fruit wood that gives off a distinctive flavor. It is very good for game, fish and poultry. This wood also works quite well when soaked in water, then sprinkled over the coals of your BBQ when grilling chicken or steaks.
CHERRY is rich in flavor, yet very smooth. Cherry goes great with all foods. It also gives off a most enjoyable aroma. Try marinating a chicken breast in teriyaki for 15 minutes then smoking with cherry wood chips. You will be hooked!
HICKORY is a classic hardwood that creates a lot of depth in its flavor yet is not harsh. It is a perfect choice when using BBQ Sauce over pork ribs or chicken breast.
MAPLE creates subtle flavor, and is perfect for creating just the right balance of taste in delicate foods. Especially good when smoking cheese and vegetables. Think of this wood as the quiet, dependable one.
MESQUITE is the strongest of the wood flavors. Don't over use or it becomes bitter and will overpower your food. Mesquite is best for smoking ribs, brisket, or similar type of foods where BBQ sauce will be used. Also great for smoked corn cakes.
PECAN SHELLS were made popular by being used for President Bush's Inaugural Dinner. This is really a fun flavor that adds a lot to the taste of pork, game, and lamb. Pecan is excellent when mixed with other woods to provide a well balanced flavor.
WHITE OAK is the backbone of smoking flavor. Oak is widely used in commercial smoking and works well mixed with other woods. Use a combination of oak, apple, and pecan for smoking homemade sausages.