Before we get into the history of the grill, we must first explain the difference between
grilling and barbecuing which are often misunderstood and considered the same.
The origins of the word barbecue have been traced to the Spanish word "barbacoa,"
which was used to describe the meat smoking and drying methods of the natives that
Spanish explorers encountered upon arrival in the Americas. Smoke was originally used
to drive away the bugs that were attracted to exposed raw meat, evidently adding a tasty
flavor to the meat-preserving process.
Barbecue means "low and slow" using an indirect heat source like hot coals and cooking
times are between 2 to 12 hours (up to a day for a whole pig, for instance).
Grilling means uses very high temperatures and direct heat from flames. Cooking times
range between 3 and 30 minutes.
Grilling is a form of cooking that involves dry heat applied to the surface of food,
commonly from above or below. Food to be grilled is cooked on a grill (an open wire grid
with a heat source above or below), a grill pan (similar to a frying pan, but with raised
ridges to mimic the wires of an open grill), or griddle (a flat plate heated from below). Heat
transfer to the food when using a grill is primarily via thermal radiation. Heat transfer when
using a grill pan or griddle is by direct conduction. In the United States and Canada, when
the heat source for grilling comes from above, grilling is termed broiling. In this case, the
pan that holds the food is called a broiler pan, and heat transfer is by thermal radiation.
Foods termed "grilled" may actually be prepared on a hot griddle, or flat pan. The griddle
or pan may be prepared with oil (or butter), and the food is cooked quickly over a high
heat. Griddle-grilling is best for relatively greasy foods such as sausages. Some griddle-
grilled foods may have grill marks applied to them during the cooking process with a
branding plate, to mimic the appearance of charbroil-cooked food.
A flattop grill is a cooking appliance that resembles a griddle but performs differently
because the heating element is circular rather than straight (side to side). This heating
technology creates an extremely hot and even cooking surface, as heat spreads in a
radial fashion over the surface.
The first flattop grills originated in Spain and are known as planchas or la plancha. Food
that is cooked a la plancha means grilled on a metal plate. Plancha griddles or flat tops
are chrome plated which prevents reaction with the food. Some base metal griddles will
impart a subtle flavor to the food you're cooking. Also, with a plancha if you use a low
even heat and a drop of oil you can toast the food and caramelize some of the natural
sugars in the food. Pots and pans can be placed directly on the cooking surface for even
more cooking flexibility. In most cases, the steel cooking surface is seasoned like cast iron
cookware, providing a natural non-stick surface.
Grilling existed in the Americas since pre-colonial times. The Arawak people used a
wooden structure to roast meat on, which was called barbacoa in Spanish. For some time,
the word referred to the wooden structure and not the act of grilling, but this word was
eventually applied to the pit style cooking techniques used in the Southeastern United
States. Originally used to slow cook hogs, different ways of preparing the food lead to
regional variations. In time, other food were cooked in a similar fashion, with hamburgers
and hot dogs being recent additions.
E.G. Kingsford is the inventor of the modern charcoal briquette. Kingsford was a relative
of Henry Ford who saw that Ford's Model T production lines were producing a large
amount of wood scraps that were just being discarded. Kingsford suggested to Ford that a
charcoal manufacturing facility be established next to the assembly line and sell the
charcoal, with the Ford name, in Ford dealerships. After Kingsford's death, the company
was renamed the Kingsford Charcoal Co. in his honor.
George Stephen created the hemispherical grill design, called "Sputnik" by his neighbors.
Stephen worked for Weber Brothers Metal Works, a metal fabrication shop primarily
concerned with welding steel spheres together to make buoys. Stephen was tired of wind
blowing ash onto his food when he grilled so he took the lower half of a buoy, welded
three steel legs onto it, and fabricated a shallower hemisphere for use as a lid and
following some initial success started the Weber-Stephen Products Co.
The outdoor gas grill was invented in the 1960s in Little Rock, Arkansas by William G.
Wepfer and Melton Lancaster while working for ARKLA, the Arkansas Louisiana Gas
Company. Wepfer was Director of Marketing, charged with finding new ways to sell
natural gas to ARKLA residential customers, and therefore bought a basic charcoal grill
and re-designed it in his garage so that natural gas provided the fuel for the grill.
Whether you have a gas or charcoal outdoor grill, there are a few basic things to know to
ensure delicious and successful results. Meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, vegetables and
even desert dishes can be cooked on an outdoor grill and by following a few basic
guidelines and techniques you can cook them perfectly every time.
Although steaks can be eaten rare, hamburgers must always be cooked thoroughly to kill
any bacteria in the ground meat. You can use a meat thermometer or simply cut the meat
in the middle to see if it is cooked enough. For larger or tougher pieces of meat like pork
shoulder and beef brisket, grill them over indirect heat, meaning on a higher grill shelf or
to the side of the grill away from the hottest part. This will cook the meat more slowly and
ensure that it becomes tender. All meat should be thoroughly defrosted before grilling it to
ensure even cooking, but keep it refrigerated until you are ready to put it on the grill.
When grilling chicken, it is important to use a meat thermometer to make sure the inside
temperature is high enough to kill any bacteria. If the pieces of poultry still have their skin,
take extra care not to burn it. The fat from chicken skin, particularly on dark meat joints,
drips down and causes the grill to flare up, which can burn the meat. If this happens, turn
the temperature down if possible, move the pieces to the side away from a direct flame,
and have a spray bottle of water handy to tame big flare-ups if necessary. If you are using
barbecue sauces that contain a high level of sugar, as most store-bought barbecue
sauces do, then brush them onto the poultry only near the end of the grilling time.
Otherwise the sugars in the sauce have a tendency to burn and will leave your grilled
poultry with a bad taste.
Many types of fish are flaky and cannot be grilled whole or they will fall apart. To grill
these types of fish, such as cod and halibut, either use a grilling basket to hold the fish, or
wrap the whole fish in a foil parcel and place this on the grill. For firmer fish like swordfish
and trout, you can place the whole fish, steak or fillet directly onto the grill. Brush the rack
with a little oil first to prevent the fish from sticking and try to only flip it once. Shellfish like
shrimp and lobster can also be placed directly on the grill if they are big enough to not fall
through. Keep your eye on them as they will not take very long to cook. Even big shrimp
will only need a few minutes on each side and are done as soon as they turn pink.
Vegetables can be cooked in several ways on an outdoor grill. They can be chopped into
pieces and skewered to make kebabs, placed in a grilling basket, or wrapped into a foil
package. Large, firm vegetable pieces, like corn cobs, bell peppers and onion wedges
can be placed directly onto the grill, but check and turn them often and baste with oil to
make sure they do not burn. If you are cooking more than one type of vegetable together,
consider the different cooking times of the vegetables. If you skewer a large piece of
onion, raw potato, a mushroom and slice of bell pepper together to cook, the potato and
onion will still be hard by the time the mushroom and pepper are cooked, so it is better to
make separate skewers and start the firmer vegetables first.
If you don't have outdoor space and don't have an outdoor charcoal or gas grill, it doesn't
mean that you should be deprived of that grilling. Counter top grills or grill pans are a
great alternative to an outdoor grill, and they can be used in the dead of winter, in the
pouring rain, or any other time that you're not up to keen cooking outside.
There are several choices when it comes to indoor grills. You can choose an electric
counter top grill which have an electrically-powered heat source beneath metal plates.
They come in two different styles like contact grills, which have a top and bottom grill plate
and close over the food to cook both sides at once, or open grills, which are a single flat
surface similar to a griddle and usually have more surface space, but you'll have to flip
your food to cook the other side. Electric models typically have adjustable temperature
control and some models also have an indicator light to tell you when the grill is hot.
You can also purchase an electric smokeless grill that usually has open grates where the
fats drip through into a water basin keeping the amount of smoke to a minimal, and not
filling up your kitchen. Some models come with a lid eliminating more of the smoke and
splatter. Recently manufacturers have designed stove tops with built in open grate grills
that cook real well but depending upon what you are grilling can really produce a large
amount of smoke nd a good exhaust system is essential so that your home does not get
Another choice is the stove top grill or grill pan. You'll find heavy cast iron models that are
wide enough to fit over two burners, square or round pans that have raised grill lines in
the base of the pan. I find that the two-burner models heat unevenly, since there are gaps
in the heat source, but at the same time gives you the option of having two different heat
settings. A square grill pan, around 11 inches, will provide enough surface space to make
four burgers or chicken breasts at a time, or a couple of nice steaks.
To get delicious grilled flavor from protein like meat, poultry, fish, it's important to start with
the right type of cut. You'll get the best results from thinner pieces of meat, such as flank
steak, chicken breasts that have been pounded to around 3/4 inches, or thin fish fillets
like tilapia or trout. The reason? The thinner the piece, the faster it'll cook. It's also helpful
if the meat is relatively uniform in its thickness so that it will cook evenly.
You're not going to be getting the smoky flavor you would from a charcoal grill, so you'll
want to season your meat. A simple sprinkling of salt and pepper is fine, but I'd suggest
buying or making a spice rub, particularly one that contains smoky-tasting ingredients,
such as dried chipotle or smoked paprika. Evenly sprinkle or rub this into the meat and let
it sit a few minutes before putting it on the grill. You could also use a barbecue, grilling
sauce or marinade, which can be applied around 20 minutes before you're ready to cook.
The easiest way to marinate meat is to put the meat and the marinade in a large zip-top
bag and maneuver it around with your fingers so that the meat is evenly coated. Store the
bag of marinating meat in the refrigerator until you're ready to eat.
Make sure the grill is well heated before you put the meat on. Heat a counter top grill over
medium-high heat and an electric grill to medium-high heat or, if there is a temperature
dial, to around 375˚F to 400˚F. Brush the grill plates or grilling surface with vegetable oil
or spray it with cooking spray, and then put your meat on the grill, at a a roughly 45˚ angle
to the grill lines to achieve the most attractive grill marks. Let the meat cook, undisturbed,
until you can see it looking done along the sides, and when you lift a corner, you can see
browned grill marks on the underside. Then flip the meat over, again setting it at an angle
to the grill lines. Continue cooking until the other side is done, and before you remove it
from the grill, be sure to cut into the meat to make sure it's cooked through.
If you're using a contact grill, be sure to close the grill gently over the food so you don't
compress it and risk squeezing the juices out. Foods cooked in a contact grill will take
roughly half the amount of time they'd take in an open grill, since they are being cooked
simultaneously on both sides, and also since the heat is more enclosed within the top and
bottom grill plates. You can cook just about anything indoors as you can outdoors with a
little care and practice.
Whatever method you decide to use, indoor, outdoor, gas, charcoal, electric or stove top,
you can achieve a level of success equal to that of your favorite restaurant if you keep in
mind what you are grilling and the way you are about to grill it.