The imagery can be deceiving. Carefree men and women, lording over flames at a beach, campsite or in a backyard, and often aided by a propane-powered metallic apparatus the size of a small Chevy. A few shifts of the spatula, a few sips of a chilled High Life, and before long, plates of burgers, salmon and skewers are cooked to perfection for a gathering of salivating guests.
But anyone who’s rubberized a porterhouse, mistakenly applied lighter fluid like Homer Simpson or scorched an entire patio dinner knows better. Simply put, it’s not as easy as it looks. There are plenty of things to consider if you’d like to go from functional grilling personnel to certified grillmaster. The methods. The heat. The equipment. Knowledge of all could mean the difference between a succulent meal or a pair of singed eyebrows.
Luckily, there are plenty of simple tips — or as the kids are now saying, hacks — to help you toward grilling proficiency. And in a place as charcoal-strewn as Buffalo, there are talented chefs to pass on valuable instruction to those who’d like to cook like pros — and look reasonably relaxed while doing it.
1. Stop flipping out
Compliments of: Chef Michael Dimmer, Marble & Rye
Maybe it’s poor direction or nervous compulsion. Ask Chef Dimmer and he points to the bad on-screen example set by shirtless bros of ’80s party movies. Either way, beginner grillers can’t stop repetitiously flipping burgers, steaks and the like while they’re sizzling on the grill — and they need to stop. According to Dimmer, once the heat is correct on the grill, chicken, pork chops or Marble & Rye’s popular burger blend should be allowed to cook — whether over charcoal, wood or embers of either — with minimum movement. This will result in a pleasing final product, albeit without the grill flair of Judge Reinhold in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
Hot take: “You get the grill hot in the beginning stages for a reason — to get good searing to take place,” says Dimmer. “Don’t ruin all of your hard work and wait time by
not letting it do its job.”
2. Put a lid on it
Compliments of: Chef Ed Forster, The Dapper Goose
When he’s not busy perfecting red snapper or lamb shanks inside his Black Rock kitchen, Chef Forster likes to camp, cook in his backyard or turn his conventional charcoal grill into a smoker — or smoky dehydrator. By simply adding wood chips atop burned-down charcoal and covering it, grilling enthusiasts can safely smoke a pork shoulder overnight; or alternatively, get the heat down to 100-140 degrees and dry out root vegetables like beets or parsnips, and grind each into a smoky seasoning for future use. Either way, it’s using the grilling aftermath to the utmost.
Hot take: “It’s a great way to get extra legs out of your charcoal and preserve these vegetables for a longer period,” says Forster.
3. Turn up the heat
Compliments of: Chef James Roberts, Toutant
Because of his limited free time away from slinging fresh shellfish, Chef Roberts likes to make sure his at-home meals are special. That means getting his grill as hot as it will go before throwing on his family’s favorite sausages, veal chops or fat ribeyes for quick cooking scenarios. According to Roberts, such a heat-heightened method gives home grillers a more consistent gauge of cooking time for certain items and, with a good instant digital probe thermometer, a better chance at regularly duplicating perfection.
Hot take: “Too often, I see [home-cooked items] with no real grill flavor, just barely cooked through over low heat,” says Roberts. “Cooking with fire should be fun and a little daring, and impart some flavors of char and smoke.”
4. Split your grill in two
Compliments of: Chef Brad Rowell, The Grange Community Kitchen
Hamburg honcho Chef Rowell does a lot of his Grange cooking inside the elaborately tiled wood-fired oven prominently featured inside his village restaurant. But when it’s time for home grilling, he rolls out his working-class Weber kettle model, adds fireplace-heated charcoal to one side, and leaves the other side empty — and considerably cooler. Why? So he can get a sear on his entrée and sides on one side, then a covered, controlled smoke (with the addition of a small smoking box of wood chips) on the other, and all on the same diminutive grill. Not a bad way to utilize minimum grate space and resources for grilled perfection.
Hot take: “This is how you get the perfect char but are still able to control cooking times and temperatures,” says Rowell. “This works great for chicken wings, steaks, or summer vegetables like zucchini and eggplant.”
Story topics: Food + Drink