My goal this summer was to get more comfortable using our outdoor gas grill.
Why? Well, first, it was a very hot summer and until recently, we didn't have any AC so using the stove wasn't an option. Second, I wanted the kids to be able to play outside while I was making dinner. Third, thinking of grilling as a man's job felt uncharacteristically old-fashioned and rooted in gender stereotypes. We share other responsibilities. We both change diapers, do dishes, take out the garbage on garbage day (that's a lie, I take out the garbage only when he's traveling). So why not share the grill?
Yet even as someone who cooks all the time, I was intimidated by the metal chamber filled with propane living in our backyard. I was mostly afraid of burning down our house. But I was also worried about ruining proteins, wasting money, and about whether or not my food would taste good.
Luckily, my husband's a grill master and a great teacher. He handed over the reigns, taught me the basics, and assured me I wouldn't start a fire. If you've been following on Instagram you'll know that it's been quite an adventure. I've tried grilling vegetables, cooking proteins, and even making paella. Some dinners have been more successful than others but along the way, I've learned a lot and I've realized that getting comfortable manipulating the heat of the grill has made me a more competent cook overall.
If you're sick of chopping while someone else has all the fun outside, here are a few key lessons I've learned while wo-manning the grill:
1. Starting a gas grill is like starting a gas stove, not that hard once you know how to do it. My biggest fear was starting a fire or causing a gas leak. But it turns out a gas grill is similar to a gas stove. If you're comfortable using a gas burner inside, the gas grill is not that different. You turn on the gas, ignite the flame, and turn it off when you're done. Each grill is different, so read your user's manual, ask for help, or find a YouTube video to get you started but don't let the fear of lighting a grill keep you inside.
2. Most proteins taste better when you use indirect heat. Gas grills get very hot, ours heats to 500° in about 5 minutes. Proteins, like chicken, pork, steak, and fish will burn on the outside before the inside is cooked if the heat is too high. This means your biggest challenge when grilling is finding a temperature that allows the inside to cook before the outside burns. If your grill has more than one burner, you can use indirect heat to help make sure your food is cooked yet not burnt. For example, if you're cooking chicken breast and your grill has 3 burners, set the outside burners to medium-high and the middle burner to medium-low and place the chicken over the middle burner. The grill will get hot like an oven, but the grates under the chicken won't be as hot (video on setting up indirect heat here). You'll know your chicken is done when the internal temperature reads 165°. Which leads to my next point...
3. Use a digital kitchen thermometer. A digital kitchen thermometer, like this one, can almost instantly tell you the internal temperature of a protein so you know for sure whether or not it's cooked. You can find a list proteins and their appropriate temperatures here. Don't try to be a hero, it's better to use a tool than to guess whether or not something's done and serve under or over-cooked food.
4. Check on everything after 2-3 minutes. Even if you're grilling a large roast and you think it's going to take a while to cook, check on it after a few minutes. Grills are fiery (pun intended), and they have a mind of their own. Sometimes once the cheese starts dripping, the flame will flare up and burn your quesadilla (it was a sad day). And sometimes, one section of the grill is hotter than another, and your children start fighting, and you end up with charred sweet potatoes. Get a babysitter and check on your grill after a few minutes to adjust the heat as needed (I'm kidding about the babysitter but that would help).
5. Don't be afraid to experiment. An outdoor grill has the ability to cook things like an oven (by circulating hot air inside a closed chamber) and also like a frying pan (by heating the item via hot grates) which means things you'd traditionally roast or bake can be grilled and things you'd traditionally sear or pan-fry can also usually be grilled. Don't be afraid to get creative. There's nothing better than making an entire meal on the grill and having almost no dishes at the end.
The summer's been fun but I'm ready for fall. My new goal is to embrace the slow cooker which isn't something I've used often in the past. I'm looking for tried and true recipes that you love. If you have any favorite slow cooker recipes to share please post them below or send them my way - firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope you had a wonderful summer!