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Times have changed and dining out is no longer an option for most of the country. People are now – more than ever – relying on cooking their own meals and finding ways to enhance the experience. Backyard grilling has always been a great way to combine the joy of being outside while preparing meals that are better suited to outdoor cooking.
There are ways to optimize your backyard grilling experience by having a good setup and accessories that will take your grilling to another level. Grills, smokers, propane cook tops and fresh herbs, give you the ability to quickly and efficiently prepare your whole meal in the backyard. Here are a few suggestions for maximizing your backyard grilling.
For many years I had a charcoal grill but abandoned it to the efficiencies of a gas grill. I love the convenience and immediacy of grilling those burgers and hot dogs without going through the work of getting charcoal started and hot enough to cook. Gas grills are very efficient and improvements in burner design and control allows for slow cooking meats like ribs or brisket while still being able to put a quick sear on steaks or seafood. The generous cooking area of a large gas grill allows ample room for serving family and guests.
While I still use a gas grill, I also keep a charcoal grill – metal or ceramic – as a go-to for certain meats and for the added flavor that only hardwood lump charcoal can provide. Due to the dome shape of the kamado-style ceramic grill, steaks, roasts and whole turkeys cook to perfection as heat is distributed evenly on the top and bottom of the grill which also aids in moisture retention.
The traditional kettle charcoal grill has been a staple of outdoor grilling for over 50 years and continues to be a backyard favorite. The much lower cost of the kettle grill compared to the kamado-style ceramic grill, plus the added charcoal starting efficiency of chimney and electric charcoal starters, make kettle grills a great addition to any backyard grilling setup.
The newest addition to the grilling market has been the pellet grill which is touted as both a smoker and a grill. The pellet grill is powered by electricity and uses pelletized wood for fuel. There are advantages to pellet grills in both ease of use – pellets are fed into a hopper that continually feeds and controls the preset temperature – and they provide a smoke flavoring to any meat or seafood. They also can provide a high-heat searing and cook without smoke in the process. The fuel may be more expensive than gas or charcoal depending on your cooking style.
While some gas grills have metal boxes that can be used to add wood chips to produce smoke for grilling, and both kettle and pellet grills derive their heat source from wood, smokers are truly designed for the ultimate backyard smoking experience.
Smokers are grills but they are used to cook meat using smoke at a slow and low heat for a prolonged period of time. They can be gas, electric or fueled by wood or charcoal. Most true smokers have a container for water or other liquids that keeps the meats moist throughout the cooking process.
Meats that are best suited to a true smoker are pork butt, spare ribs, brisket, whole chickens and even fish like salmon or trout. Adding a smoker to pair with your gas grill can provide you with great versatility in your backyard grilling setup.
A great compliment to any backyard grilling area is either a free-standing or built-in gas or propane cooktop. Having the ability to sauté mushrooms, warm a side of beans or even deep fry fish allows you the versatility to prepare a variety of side dishes and prepare your entire meal outside.
Some gas and pellet grills come with a side burner option which can provide the ability to add the extra versatility that a cooktop can offer. There are also many companies that make grill and cooktops specifically geared to the outdoor market in both free-standing and built-in models.
Fresh herbs are a great complement and flavor enhancer to virtually any dish you can prepare in your backyard grilling area. You can have the ability to add herbs right at your fingertips by adding a small above ground herb garden or by using attractive planters to hold a variety of herbs on your patio.
Most of the retail home stores offer some type of pre-built herb planters but there are many plans for DIY above ground planters that can be found with a quick internet search. If you want to keep it simple, you can purchase attractive container plant holders that can hold several popular herbs. As for the type of herbs to plant, cilantro, basil, chives, oregano, parsley and thyme are all great compliments to main grilling course or used inside dishes.
It used to be the only grilling accessories I used were a good metal spatula, a grill brush/scraper and maybe a meat tong. There is still a need for those basic standbys, but innovative tools for backyard grillers continues to expand every year making grilling easier and keeping your grill in great shape.
Instant read thermometers take away any guess work when preparing grilled foods to the correct temperature. There are several types of instant-read thermometers that can be inserted and left in the meat and attached by either a cable and monitored at the grill or through Bluetooth or WiFi connection allowing you to check the done-ness of the meat from your living room or across town.
Grilling mats are a great accessory for grilling enthusiasts. These mats are designed to lay on the grill rack and some versions can handle heat up to 600 degrees while keeping your grill grates clean. Cooking vegetables, fish and seafood is never messy, and food won’t fall into the grill. You can even fry eggs or bake on the grill mats and they are easy to clean up.
Speaking of clean up, the old standard grill brush is still available, but enhancements have come to cleaning tools for your grill as well. Bristleless brushes, which don’t leave wire pieces on your grill, and wood grill scrubbers, that form to your grill grates with use, have improved the efficiency and time involved in messy grill clean up. Another cleaning tool that I have used and like is stone block made of recycled glass that can be used on either a cool or hot grill for clean-up.
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