I’m Scared To Grill

Finally, I have an apartment with a shared backyard where I could get a Weber grill. Not only that, there already IS a Weber grill out there that my neighbor says I can use. And also? I have a bag of charcoal that I bought last year because I thought I could get a Weber grill at my last place, but I couldn’t. So the only thing that’s stopping me from grilling, at this point, is me. I need your encouragement. How do I light those coals if I don’t have that chimney Ina Garten uses? How do I know if I’m making the grill too hot? Once you take the food off, what do you do next–let the coals cool and throw them away? How do you clean the grate? What should I cook first, steak? If you build up my confidence, I promise a grilling post on Monday morning. If you don’t see that post, you’ve totally failed as readers and grilling-enthusiasts.

47 thoughts on “I’m Scared To Grill”

  1. First, steak should be done in a cast iron skillet (see: Saveur). Second, pile up those briquettes into a little pyramid, add lighter fluid, drop in a match until it lights. Put cover over grill and walk away- keep checking back until the flames die down and the coals start to turn to ash. When you can put your hand near the grill for no more than .5 second, its ready. Grill away. Let the coals cool and toss. Clean with a stainless steel scrubber-brush thing. Or just leave it for ‘flavor’. ;)

    1. Do. Not. Use. Lighter. Fluid. Unless, of course, you like steak that tastes like lighter fluid. If that’s the case, go nuts.

  2. Buy the chimney. You can get them nearly anywhere and it makes a stupid task so much simpler (and also means you can start a second batch of charcoal while the first is being used if you’re going longer-haul). Yes, let the coals cool and dump. Clean the grate with steel wool or a grill brush with steel bristles. (Oil the grate before cooking with an oiled paper towel or rag held with tongs. Also, you need some long tongs.) Start with a family pack of boneless skinless chicken thighs, move up to bones and beef once you get a feel for how the heat works.

    I don’t know if Good Eats is up anywhere online, but Alton did several straightforward grill episodes that taught me the basics, and you learn the rest by doing.

    Pick up some corn while you’re at the store. The entire point of a grill is grilled corn, and good corn is edible raw, so any amount of cooking will be safe and educational. Don’t bother with the husk/wrapping crap – clean it, butter it, grill it to a light char, butter it again with salt, hunch over plate and growl at anyone who comes too close. Next time, make elotes and blow everyone’s mind.

  3. I would definitely get that chimney. The lighter fluid you’d have to use otherwise tastes nasty. They’re about ten dollars!!!

  4. Go for it! If you close off the vents as soon as you’re finished cooking it may save the coals enough to use again next time (with some more added).

  5. Chimney, chimney and chimney for starting coals Lighter fluid tastes terrible and is dangerous. “Regular” briquettes are rather meh, use hardwood briquettes for excellent flavor.

  6. You could ask the grill-sharing neighbor to teach you. Start with something easy like burgers. You can do this!

  7. I love my Weber, my chimney, and my near-daily summertime grill routine. Don’t start with steak; start with some nice fresh marinated chicken breasts. Move up to more expensive cuts of meat after you’ve got the technique down.

  8. Lighter fluid??? Pthooie! Only if you like your rib-eye to taste like gasoline… Spring for the chimney (or two, if you’re grilling for a crowd or need a HUGE fire – like for Greek-style grilled leg o’lamb) and get a really good one – should run around $20 – the cheaper ones will burn through the side after a few uses. And try grilled okra!

  9. Might want to test out the grill with some burgers and hot dogs prior to whipping out the good meat. Good luck! It’s intimidating to conquer the grill, but you’ll be pro status in no time. You just need to get used to a grill being REALLY hot in places and cool in places as opposed to your stove that can be pretty easily maintained.

  10. You can make a chimney from a metal coffee can. It works great. Weber website has great recipes, tips and guidance. Both grills will be handy. Cook the entree on one and desserts on the other. Grilled fruit is incredible and can’t forget the s’mores. Perfect way to have a party with the neighbors. Thanks for all of your sharing. You have opened my eyes to new tastes and can’t live without your cookbook. Beth.

  11. I always refer to Steve Raichlen. When it comes to grilling he is the grill guro. I highly recommend a chimney. We use starter sticks that can be bought in the same section where the charcoal. When they are a mixture of whiteish gray and black on top you know your charcoal is ready. Also, here’s a link that hopefully you’ll find helpful for setting up the grill. http://www.bbqu.net/mantra4.html

  12. Abbe @ Abbe's Cooking Antics

    You don’t need the chimney! Pile the charcoal up in a pyramid, insert a few lighter bricks (don’t use the liquid, your food will taste like petrol!), light the bricks. They’ll light the charcoal. Once all of the charcoal is white/grey you can use it to cook. Takes anywhere from 20 – 45 minutes, depending on what charcoal you have. Just use like you would an upside down broiler/grill – we cook steaks for 3 minutes on each side for medium. It’s the only way I can achieve proper *flame grilled* chicken. I LOVE when the sun shines in the UK, it’s the best way to cook/eat/live.

    We’re a bit naughty about cleaning ours. We don’t. We just let the next set of charcoal burn it off, and give it a quick scrape before using again. We’re not dead yet ;-)

  13. The secret to grilling, in my opinion, is marinade. My favorite: flank steak marinated a few hours in oil, minced garlic, soy sauce, red wine or vinegar and oregano. Fab. flavor. Once you’ve tried it once, you will love grilling. So easy when it’s hot and you don’t want to cook in a hot kitchen.

  14. Tip. Took me a long time to realize how important this is: after the charcoal or hard wood is lighted and has a nice dusting of ashes, arrange the coals so there is a hot half of the grill and a cool half. That way you can avoid flareups by moving the meat from the hot to cool spot. If you cook over only hot coals you may end up with meat that is charred due to grease dripping into the hot coals and flashing to flames and burning the meat.

  15. Grilled, marinated kale, and eggplant. Sooo good. And zucchini and my very fav, Pineapple. Tech stuff I don’t know, only that genuine wood charcoal is a must.

  16. An easy topping for your chicken, or a burger: grilled onions. Cut thick slices of an onion (pref Vidalia), and place on an oversized square of aluminum foil. Top with a pat of butter, or a good drizzle of olive oil. Salt and pepper well. Fold the corners of the foil over the onion so that is covered (like a small onion dome). Grill until desired doneness, 15 – 25 minutes. Try not to lick the foil. :)

  17. Weber actually has a series of grilling books that are wonderful, with my favorite being Weber’s Big Book of Grilling (author is Jamie Purviance). I’ve used it so much it’s falling apart.

  18. Wow. so no pressure, or anything!
    I’m guessing you don’t have one, but those charcoal chimneys are indispensable. And inexpensive, as well- I can’t imagine trying to light a charcoal grill without one.
    I don’t know how much that helps, but good luck!

  19. get the chimney at Home Depot, worth it! You put one page of newspaper in the bottom then add the coals. Light and when coals are covered in ash, dump into the grill. No lighter fluid necessary. Make sure you leave the vents slightly open in the bottom of the grill. You can put all coals on one side so you have a hot side and warm side if you need to sear then cook through. The cover on, the grill circulates all the warm air to cook the food. With the cover off it sears food. You can totally add more charcoal to keep the fire going for longer cooking time. Pizza on the grill is great. After the coals are cool, just put them into trash bin. You clean the grate by leaving it over hot coals with cover on and then using a brush to scrape off ash then oil a cloth and wipe. It does take trial and error……………

  20. Oh good gravy… you’re a cook, dive right in. Get some lighter fluid, pile your charcoal in a pyramid, dump on some fluid, throw in a lit match, let it go about a 1/2 hour til the coals are grayish black, spread them out and you’re off!

    How about lamb chops? or shish kebob with marinated sirloin, mushrooms, onions, peppers, squash on skewers. or just steaks if that’s your entry level intro. check out Epicurious for an awesome portobello “steak” sandwich that is a delight! blue cheese stuffed hamburgers! the world is your grilling oyster. don’t be scared – you even tell us about your failures sometimes… be bold! go forth and grill

  21. oh yeah – before you make your charcoal pyramid, put down two double layers of aluminum foil in a cross pattern, pile the charcoal on top. After you’ve finished grilling put the lid on – come back the next day with a garbage bag to easily lift out and dispose of the used charcoal. neat and easy! I can never get my chimney to work properly, it only worked the first couple of times. use one of those metal brush / scrapers to clean the grill. I don’t taste the lighter fluid, but if a chimney will work for you it’s a good enviro-friendly option. I think the antis are exaggerating.

  22. I love how we’re all tripping over each other trying to express just how urgently you need a chimney. But it’s true! They make it SO EASY. Then come the books – every one recommended here is a gem. And I second the vidalia-onions-in-foil recommendation. Soft, sweet, oniony deliciousness. Have fun!

  23. You need to get one of those chimneys. Lighter fluid is dangerous and makes your food taste yucky. The chimneys are cheap and they’re the best thing ever. The hardest part is finding some newspaper because no one reads them anymore. Just make sure to use black and white, no color. Once the coals stop glowing red and turn white, they are ready. Dump the coals on one side, and leave the other side pretty much coal free. Then you will have a hot side and a cool side. If you have a flare-up or it’s getting too charred, just move your food to the cool side and finish it on indirect heat.

  24. Adam, please listen to us and don’t use lighter fluid! Buy a chimney, it’s the best grilling investment you’ll ever make. It makes lighting your charcoal as easy as could be. On that note, be sure to use the lump charcoal instead of that easy light stuff you’ll get a much better flavor and with the chimney starting it up will be a snap.

  25. Tandoori chicken, naan bread, tons of veggies – zucchini, eggplant, red peppers. Instant meal. Grill whatever veggies you’ll want for sandwiches and salads in the week too.

  26. Yes yes yes, get a chimney! I have a Weber and a chimney and lighting the charcoal could not be easier. Also, no lighter fluid! No need with a chimney. I have been grilling for awhile now (the chimney actually got me over my fear of it), and I don’t use the pressed charcoal briquettes anymore. I found that my local hardware store carries bags of lump hardwood charcoal, which is literally hunks of charred wood, not pressed little cubes of blackened wood dust and chemicals. I have found that the hardwood lump charcoal ashes over quicker and seems to burn hotter and longer. And, the flavor seems to have less of a chemical overtone. When I am done grilling, I just close up my Weber but leave all the vents open. The charcoal will burn itself out and turn to dust in the process, which is much easier to clean out than having to dig half-burned lumps out of your grill grate. Re: temperature gauging, I just do this by feel now. There are websites that tell you approx how hot it is based on how long you can hold your hand over the coals from a certain distance. And lastly, if you’re terrified, buy something cheap, light your coals, and toss it on there. Nothing is so depressing as trying a brand new cooking method (especially one you’re scared of) with expensive or hard-to-find ingredients. Get some ground beef and make some burgers, or throw some sausages on there, or put some meat and veggies on skewers (if you use wood skewers soak ’em in water about 30 mins first so they don’t burn), and have at it. My favorite things to grill are burgers any chicken/mushroom/pinapple/hot pepper skewers. With non-intimidating ingredients, get used to working the coals, timing, flipping things over, handling the grill lid, dropping stuff on the ground, losing food through the grates, etc. No matter how cheap it is, almost anything will be delicious once it’s grilled. :) Good luck!! Love your blog; I read it every Saturday morning with my cup of coffee. Can’t wait to see you conquer that fear of the grill.

  27. Delurking for a moment here…..

    1) Lighter fluid is gross… just say no.

    2) Chimney is best, but if you don’t have/don’t feel like acquiring one right now, this works: Take the top “cooking” grate off the grill. Take out the bottom grate that the coals usually sit on. Open the vents on the very bottom. Put a wad of newspaper in the very bottom of the grill. Put the bottom coal grate back on. Put a nice heap of coals on top of that grate. Light the newspaper in the bottom with one of those stick lighter dealies. This usually works dandy for me, and saves you the trouble of transferring the blazing hot coals from the chimney back into the grill.

    Have fun!

    1. Agree that a chimney is best. You’ll learn how to test for heat..be patient and don’t grill on too high heat. Start with the easy stuff like burgers and then just go for it. Wait till you grill pizza!
      Because you are sharing this grill, I strongly suggest that you empty and clean (after cooling,of course) each and every time. Take the time to clean the grill with wire cleaning tool. I replace my grill every year. They are pretty cheap at Home Depot. After a year’s use, it’s nice to have a new one which you should oil and season much like cast iron.

  28. I have to confess — after decades as a mesquite hardwood charcoal fanatic (chimney — get the chimney), I broke down and bought a cheap gas grill on sale. And, um, I love it. So easy. Especially in the summer when it’s too too hot. I know, I’ve given up all my cred.
    Grilling is easy — heat is heat. My biggest tip is when you’re grilling chicken with the skin on, start with it on the non-skin side. Cook it most of the way through that way and then flip at the end to crisp up the skin. That way it won’t burn.

    1. Cooking on apt. sized Weber for 15 years. Chimney for sure. Big Bob Gibson has really easy BBQ book. Think of it like an oven – cover & control heat, before getting fancy using it as a smoker. And timing is important – so planning it out. Excellent project!

  29. The book(s) that really helped me were the Weber Way To Grill books. Just tells you what to do to get the food cooked the way you want, very straightforward.

  30. Kate @ Savour Fare

    I will say, we have a Weber and a cheap gas grill and the gas grill is what has made the difference between grilling almost never and grilling ALL THE TIME.

  31. Cari Weilhammer

    Weber makes a charcoal grill that has a gas starter to get things going. It’s a little more expensive than the basic ones, but it is AWESOME. I do not understand why everyone doesn’t have one. No chimney necessary. It uses small camping propane tanks, which you can get a lot of places. Just turn on the gas for five minutes.

  32. Cari Weilhammer

    Weber makes a charcoal grill that has a gas starter to get things going. It’s a little more expensive than the basic ones, but it is AWESOME. I do not understand why everyone doesn’t have one. No chimney necessary. It uses small camping propane tanks, which you can get a lot of places. Just turn on the gas for five minutes.

  33. There is a lot more attention on charcoal in the comments than I would expect! I love our gas grill, it is clean, no freaky carcinogens in burning substances such as lighter fluid, and clean up is dead easy. Our grill was very inexpensive, it is small and its been used heavily for three years without issue. we have a smoker that we use when we want to develop a smoky flavor, but why should cooking on the grill be harder than cooking in the house? We aren’t cave men. Also, the one or two times I cook over fire while camping satisfies all need for charred food and eyebrows. Take the easy route! Though I am quite intrigued by the green egg….http://www.biggreenegg.com/

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