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Fire It Up! Baltimore Style's Essential Grilling Guide

Image via Aleksandarnakic/E+/Getty Images Plus

Grilling season is in full swing, and whether you’re buying your first grill or are in need of a new one, today’s grills offer some dynamic features. Some qualities to consider are the size, fuel, convenience of cooking and time required to prepare the grill for cooking.

To help guide you through the different grill types and explore the most popular models, we spoke with Eric Brown from Watson’s Fireplace and Patio in Lutherville-Timonium and Ray
Mikkonen from Courtland Ace Hearth and Hardware in Fallston.

Grilling expert and Pikesville native Steven Raichlen weighs in with some of his best tips and techniques that have served him well throughout his career. In addition to being an award-winning cookbook author, Raichlen also hosts the TV shows “Steven Raichlen’s Project Fire,” “Project Smoke,” “Primal Grill” and “Barbecue University.” His latest book “How to Grill Vegetables: The New Bible for Barbecuing Vegetables Over Live Fire” (Workman Publishing Company, 2021) offers further ideas for your grilling menus.

Top Four Grill Types

1. Gas and Propane Grills

Gas and propane grills continue to appeal to ease of use. Turn a knob to fire it up, and your grill is ready for cooking. This convenience, combined with easy temperature control, makes gas and propane grills a superb option for direct grilling foods such as hamburgers, hot dogs, sirloins or chicken breasts.

Recommended model: Weber Genesis II

Both Brown and Mikkonen point to the Genesis II series from Weber as the most popular model. The series offers a range of stainless-steel grills that each carry a 10-year warranty. Apart from multiple sizes and colors, the grills also come with different features for you to choose from, including grates, door configurations, storage, a sear station, side burners, warming racks, digital monitoring, alerts and Wi-Fi connectivity so that you can control the grill right from your smart device.

2. Charcoal Grills

If you love the “cooked-over-a-fire” taste, charcoal grills are for you. Although building a charcoal fire at the bottom of the grill takes more time, you’ll get a much bolder, smokier flavor. You can use charcoal grills for direct or indirect grilling, allowing you to cook everything from steaks, burgers, veggies, fish and ribs to briskets, pizzas and pies.

Recommended model: Big Green Egg

Designed as a Kamado-style grill, Big Green Egg products feature ceramic construction, which beautifully retains heat and lasts longer than stainless steel. You can choose from among seven sizes that range from the “mini,” which can be packed up for tailgating or camping, to the double extra-large model, which can handle a full suckling pig and is ideal for crowd cooking. Each grill is gasket sealed and allows you to control the temperature within 5 degrees. Big Green Egg also offers “Eggcessories,” from tools and cookbooks to baking stones and tables.

“These are so versatile,” says Brown. “You can use them as a grill, smoker or oven. You could bake cookies, roast a turkey or cook a lasagna on them.”

3. Wood Pellet Grills

While you can easily cook your typical burgers and hot dogs on this type of grill, foods that require an extended grilling period such as pork shoulders and briskets are a pellet grill specialty. By using natural wood pellets that are ready to go with the turn of a knob, you can combine the smoky flavor of a charcoal grill with the convenience of a gas grill. Pellet grills also offer precise temperature control for grilling.

Recommended model: Traeger Ironwood

After inventing the original wood-fired grill more than 30 years ago, Traegar remains one of the top brands for pellet grilling. According to Mikkonen, the Ironwood series is Courtland’s most popular model. The grills feature insulated sides, which Mikkonen says hold the temperature much better than other models. The series offers two sizes that each come with a dual-positioned bottom grate for improved searing and a pellet sensor that will alert you when the wood pellets are running low. As an added bonus, the series offers “WiFIRE Technology,” which lets you monitor your grill, adjust the temperature and access more than 1,600 recipes through the manufacturer’s app.

4. Smokers

When you want low-and-slow grilling, smokers are the name of the game. These grills cater to long, indirect cooking that results in mouthwatering, fall-off-the-bone meats. You can use charcoal or wood depending on your smoker. Many allow you to load and reload your chips and chunks easily.

Recommended model: Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker

Whether you’re a smoker novice or aficionado, consider Weber’s Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker. The bullet-shaped smoker comes in 14-inch, 18-inch and 22-inch designs. Although charcoal and wood chunks power the smoker, a water bowl between the fire and cooking grates helps regulate the temperature while adding moisture to the smoking chamber. The lid, bowl and center section are porcelain-enameled to consistently retain heat. An adjustable damper allows you to easily control the temperature. Are you cooking multiple large items? The smoker also includes two cooking grates so that you can smoke several foods at once.

Steven Raichlen | Courtesy of Maryland Public Television

Steven Raichlen’s Guiding Principles for Grilling

1. Learn to control the fire. Don’t let it control you.

2. It’s important to leave a portion of the grill unlit to create a safety zone.

If your food burns or cooks too quickly, you can move it there and regain control. I never fill the grate more than two-thirds of the way full.

3. Practice good grill hygiene.

Before you start grilling foods, especially sticky ones, keep your grill hot, clean and lubricated. Start with a hot grill grate and clean it with a stiff wire brush or wooden scraper. Oil it well with a paper towel, which prevents sticking and gives you those grill marks.

“One very common mistake that people make is the difference between grilling and burning. Dark brown is very good, but coal black means you’ve cooked your meat too far. You have to get scientific about this. Use an instant-read meat thermometer, especially if you’re cooking larger foods, like whole chickens, rib roasts or beef tenderloins.”

“You need to understand the two basic grilling techniques—direct and indirect. Direct grilling involves placing the food directly over the fire, which works for items like steak, hamburgers or anything that cooks quickly. Indirect, meanwhile, puts the food next to the fire, on an unlit section of the grill. This section is typically used for larger or tougher meats that take longer to cook, like whole chickens, ribs or beef tenderloin. Certain grills cater to only one technique, while others can handle both.”

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