Friday, July 11, 2014

A Girl's Guide to the Grill

It's grilling season again.  The trusty charcoal grill is out under the pine trees and there is ground beef from our local Polish grocery store (with butcher!) to form into perfect patties.

Sure, that crockpot last weekend was great, but it's time to barbecue:
First, there was a little cleaning up in the garage as the barbecue was brought out of hibernation.
What Scrapple is Made From (explains the chewiness).

But then it was time to light off the coals.  I like a charcoal grill, an old one, just like my Dad used.  I even have a little one for the Crash pad that a friend in Texas sent me.  Gas/Propane have no thrill.  You turn a switch, you turn it off. A Charcoal grill compared to one of those is like comparing a radial engine to a jet engine.

Like a grill, it's easy to teach someone to start a jet engine, anyone with two fingers can do it.  You just need to move a switch from "OFF" to "START" and them remember to move it back to "ON" after a while. Sometimes you don't even do that, as it's spring-loaded back to ON.

To start a round engine you need two hands that can move like a hummingbird on crack. The right hand for the primer, energize and engage switches, the left hand being busy with the throttle, magneto then back to the throttle to control the starting RPM and then for the mixture and. . . .
Even being ambidextrous and nimble isn't enough start a round engine, you seduce it into motion, which requires skill, finesse, patience, a gentle touch and a fair bit if style. Failing that there is curse words. If that fails there is meditation and celibacy.

Why?  For starters (pun intended) there is no computer controlling the fuel/air mixture. If the mixture is too rich you'll end up with parts of the engine that look like wet charcoal briquettes and then it's NEVER going to start. If it's too lean it won't start.  Some of  the pilots would say the mixture is like being married, giving you new ways every day you can be wrong.

Jet engines start by whining a little, then give a delicate girly little "poof"and start whining a wee bit louder. Round engines give a satisfying rattle-rattle, click-click, BANG, more rattles, another BANG, a big manly BELCH, followed by the explosive resonance of  a mechanical FART, more clicks, a bunch of smoke and finally, the serious perfection of low pitched roar. It's the sound that machines should make.

So yeah, I use an old fashioned barbecue.

First - let's get the meat ready. There are some easy steps to get a burger that's bun sized AND juicy.
You want to start with a meat mixture that is not too lean. Venison is healthy and tasty prepared properly, but for the perfect grilling burger I prefer beef. The most flavorful and juicy burgers are not the low fat versions, but simple 80% lean beef.   If you have a butcher that will grind the meat (or grind your own), ask them to grind it using a a coarser grind than the pre-packaged stuff. It's not as dense and it feels juicier, with that slightly crisp on the outside feel in your mouth.

Seasoning - Simple salt and pepper is always good, however. . . .

the Range hamburger  seasoning is pretty  basic but gives the meat a nice smoky flavor that's a bit spicy, but not too much, or too sweet, like some hamburger sauces.

1 and 1/4 pound ground meat
1 and 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon  molasses
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (NOT garlic salt)
1/2 teaspoon onion powder or a small chunk of chopped fresh onion.
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
a small splash of Worcestershire sauce, just enough to moisten and hold the meat together
Good topped with cheese and lettuce, or perhaps Tequila Lime coleslaw with some baked beans
You want to handle the meat as little as possible. The more you squish it around getting the spices blended, the denser your patty will be.  Premix the seasonings together, THEN mix with a spoon. If you've defrosted the meat and it's "wet", add a couple teaspoons of bread crumbs (Big Bro's favorite tip for defrosted meat that was "wet" was to add a packet of  instant maple oatmeal to a pound or a pound and a half of meat, something I never knew for years and his burgers were great!)  If it's a leaner cut, or venison, add a little liquid - olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, BACON FAT (subliminal message), or balsamic, etc.

Let meat sit at room temperature about 30 minutes (but not much more than that).  Why?  Have you ever watched or participated in one of those "Polar Bear" meets where normally sane people jump into freezing cold winter water en masse like demented lemmings? (OK, once, it involved a pool on New Years, a bunch of  pilots, martinis, and it was California so it wasn't exactly FREEZING winter water)

That's a shock to the system.  It's the same if you put your nice burger from the cold fridge onto the hot grill.  You'll just end up with a tough burger.
Yes, my patties look like blood cells. When hamburgers cook, the middle tends to plump up. That makes the toppings slide off and make the burgers shrink. You've seen it, you start out with a nice big patty and when it's done it's half the size of the bun. Burgers WILL reduce as they cook, especially the 80% lean, but the "dent" helps a bit. Make the patty about 15 - 20% wider than the bun, Make the dent about as half as deep as it is wide in in the otherwise "sort of" uniformly sized patty.

OK, now that  your meat is resting, get your grill ready. I like to use a "chimney" to get some hot coals going.  The chimney generates a strong updraft that quickly turns briquettes into hot coals.  It was pretty simple. Put 3 pieces of newspaper in the bottom, pile the coals on top, light the paper, wait 15 minutes. Look down in there, they should be JUST about ready. At 18- 20 minutes, dump them out and you've got hot coals.

Don't have one?  Make one!"

What materials are on hand.  Hmmm.  Cardboard box?  That would be a no?  Styrofoam?  Also a no.  Fruitcake?  The fruitcake itself would never burn, but I'm afraid of a chemical reaction between brandy infused cherries and Coleman fuel. (likely the source of the original  "cherry bomb") So no.
How about some 16 inch non-galvanized duct work?  To the Bat Shop! To speed up combustion, you can use a hammer and a large to punch vent holes in the bottom 2 to 3 inches of the pipe. (You may need to brace the inside of the pipe with a chunk of wood as you punch these holes.)

Even without vent holes, it will still work  Crumple 2-3  of sheets of clean newspaper in the bottom, leaving a few edges sticking up where you can get a match to them. Fill almost to the top with charcoal. Add just a dash of lighter fluid to a few of the briquettes.  Do not soak them with it, the newspaper and the chimney will do the work.

Now step back and wait several minutes Fire Marshall Bill says so.  You don't want vapors on you or in the immediate area when you light it off. 

After a few minutes have gone by, light the paper, stepping immediately away, and wait for combustion..
 Light Off !

When you see white ash on the coals near the top. It's ready to pour out onto the grill

Wait, there's no handle on this thing! 

 Fortunately for us, we have the HOTR Universal Pot Handle Tool

Set the chimney on something non combustible, and away from children, stupid friends or relatives or pets as, it will stay HOT for a while. 

Now that the coals are hot and spread around, it's time to cook. 
Cook the patties "dent" side up first. Once those burgers are on the grill, don't press down on it as they cook. It won't cook faster, it'll just dry out quicker. Try and only flip it once.

Use a meat thermometer to determine doneness,  Some meat will stay pink in the center even when they're hot enough, and fattier cuts can brown before they're fully cooked. Stick the thermometer in the thickest part, it's done when it reaches 165 F.

Have some napkins handy, for these are some juicy burgers.

 "Clear on 2!"
BUT DO NOT FORGET THE LAWS OF BOTH AERODYNAMICS AND  PHYSICS.  If you bend over to set something down, beer will spill.

Partner in Grime - "What happened".
Me - "Immutable Laws of Physics"
Partner in Grime- "That's alcohol abuse you know."

We paused for a moment of silence.


  1. And counting blades... 8-12... :-) And I'll have to try that recipe for the burgers!

  2. Molasses?!?!?! Never would have crossed my mind to put that in my burgers. Will try next time.

  3. Never use a volatile liquid to start a fire.

    Gas, Naptha (Coleman fuel) acetone etc.

    The vapors are very mobile and dangerous.

    Kerosene or lamp fuel, charcoal lighter fluid or diesel are much safer.

  4. What a wonderful post ! My husband usually cooks outside on a gas grill. This makes me see that we should have one of these grills also, and that I should also know how to use it best. The burgers look absolutely incredible,and I could almost smell them from the photos !
    Happy grilling !

  5. It's been said that round engines don't really leak oil-they are merely marking their territory.

  6. If the ducting was galvanized....DANGER

  7. B said...

    Never use a volatile liquid to start a fire.

    Gas, Naptha (Coleman fuel) acetone etc.

    The vapors are very mobile and dangerous.

    Kerosene or lamp fuel, charcoal lighter fluid or diesel are much safer.

    Which is why Brigid said (bolding added by me): "Add just a dash of lighter fluid to a few of the briquettes. Do not soak them with it, the newspaper and the chimney will do the work.

    Now step back and wait several minutes. Fire Marshall Bill says so. You don't want vapors on you or in the immediate area when you light it off.

    After a few minutes have gone by, light the paper, stepping immediately away, and wait for combustion."

  8. I made my chimney out of a coffee can, just cut both ends off and away you go. :D

  9. Wow...those burgers sound delicious, although I, too, have never considered molasses. I'll have to give that a try.

    That being said, I have a couple of thoughts for you.

    First, I can't imagine winter without my grills (I have both types). I view snow as a personal challenge, nay affront, and have been known to shovel a path to the grill mid-blizzard for a good steak or burger. Smoked brisket in mid-February? Yep, been there, done that, can't be beat. This MUST include a beer in hand to appease the Gods of Grilling (bourbon is an appropriate substitute at temps below 20F).

    Second, if you're looking for a little boost for your chimney starter, try an "Eastern Shore Firebomb", which, instead of newspaper, is paper towel that's had a bit of veggie oil added to it. The oil slows down the burn, and the paper towels burn more completely than newspaper.

    Your description of the round engine starting? Yeah, that's a perfect description of me getting started...every bloody morning!

    Thanks for sharing, and...

    Cheers from Maryland's Eastern Shore!

  10. Wine.
    My Dad used to work on the NY,NH & H RR.
    Met one of the chefs from the Waldorf Astoria.
    He suggested making the burgers concave on both sides. Then as it slowly cooked, pouring red wine in the dished sides.

  11. Old NFO - yes indeed.

    Rev Paul - ha!

    Greg - Mr. B. puts molasses in his baked beans and they are the best on the planet, so I tried it in the burgers It worked.

    B -That's why I put the Fire Marshall Bill warning in there to use just a few drops of lighter fluid than let the air clear first. Good advice.

    JaneofVirginia - The Tequila Lime slaw is great on a spicy burger. Mix 1/4 cup mayo, a Tablespoon of finely diced green or white onion, 1 and a half Tablespoons of Tequila and 1 Tablespoon of lime juice, a pound of cabbage and several cracks of black pepper with a pinch or two of salt.

    John Peddie - That is SO true! I've seen an absolute lake under a Convair that had a bad rebreather tube.

    tjorge - so true.

    PPPP - I'm sure he saw that, he was just giving an extra caution for those that might skim over it and not read the whole post

    Larry - we've done that as well.
    Andy - your house sounds like a fun place to be in the winter. I've had friends do the newspaper trick and you're right, it works great.

    armedlaughing - I am SO going to try that.

    For anyone reading this - say a little prayer for my Dad, he's in the hospital with a bad UTI.

  12. Yankees,how cute of you to interchange the words barbeque and grill.Barbeque is meat that has been cooked over a fire;a grill is what contains the fire.
    Prayers for your Dad.

  13. Late to the party.
    Your dad gets a prayer.

  14. First off, prayer said for your dad. Can't hurt, might help.

    I also do molasses in my beans, and love it...just never thought of meat. In an attempt to keep my venison burger moist, I add a fair amount of Worcestershire Sauce, and some BBQ sauce. Next time around a dollop of molasses will be there also.

  15. A Weber and charcoal!!

    Is the only way to grill and in this day of fancy, gas grills, is nice to see I am not the only hold out..

    Cause ya know that charcoal will give you cancer!!

    I use a metal coffee can with holes punched on edges to start my charcoal...

    A bit of lighter fluid, aka Kingsford and away you go..

  16. My favorite round engine quote is this:

    "If there isn't any oil on the ground, you best not leave it - because the engine is probably dry."

  17. The other reason, besides safety, to let charcoal lighter fluid soak in for a minute is that it works better that way. You want it to wick up from the inside, burning wherever it can go into the gas phase in the porous briquet, not just flash off from the surface.

    With a bit of practice you can probably get good ignition with the chimney gizmo alone, and require charcoal starter fluid only if the smell is part of the experience.

    Then patience is key; wait'll the briquets are ash grey by day or visibly glowing by night, but not flaming. (Unless of course direct-flame cooking is a flavor goal.)

    See for instance

    The advanced and/or pathologically thrifty (I resemble at least 50% of that remark) might have slower-cooking items at the ready to leave on the grille after the things that are to be eaten promptly are done.

  18. I would like to mention the most common method of cleansing BBQ grill. All you have to do is leave your barbecue on following cooking after all your foodstuff has been taken out. As soon as you have accomplished this for about quarter of an hour, enable the grill to amazing down for close to five minutes and then use an outdated trowel, or flat piece of metallic and gently scrape equally sides of the grill to take away the sticky challenging residue. Please be aware that ceramic grills can get ruined quite effortlessly if also a lot pressure is used with sharp objects, so be careful with your option of resources.


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