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Flashback Friday: Hot Tips for Cooking Outdoors

June 21, 2013

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Earlier this week, we shared the Almanac Monthly Magazine’s recipe for the Best Barbecue Sauce. Now as we end the week and near the first weekend before summer, we go back in time to The 1999 Homeowner’s Companion for some tried-and-true tips for backyard cooking and grilling!

1. Don’t get rid of that charcoal grill. Although gas grill ownership is on the rise, gourmets tend to favor charcoal flavor over gas for the best all-around flavor. 

2. Respect lighter fluid. The most dangerous grilling goof is the overzealous use of highly combustible lighter fluid, which can lead to serious fires and cause bodily harm. 

3. Always start with a hot fire. Many outdoor cooks lack patience in waiting for charcoal to start, especially when family members are whining for dinner. Briquettes generally take 25 to 30 minutes to reach the desired temperature. Start grilling only when a light gray ash covers the coals. 

4. Stop peeking. Heat escapes every time the lid is removed, increasing cooking time and the chance of flare-ups. Determine the recommended cooking time, watch the clock, and check only when adding coals or turning food. 

5. Let the vents work. The vents on the top, bottom, or sides of the grill are there to help circulate air, yet many outdoor cooks keep the vents closed throughout the grilling process. Open the vents before lighting the briquettes, and leave them open while grilling. 

6. Don’t keep flipping. The rule of thumb when cooking directly is this: Turn only once, halfway through the grilling time. This will help seal in juices and keep burgers from breaking apart. 

7. Reach for the tongs. Grill owners tend to favor a fork for turning meat. In fact, long-handled tongs will do a better job. Using a fork to turn or move meat only releases precious juices and flavor. 

8. Fire and water don’t mix. Don’t use a spray bottle to snuff out flare-ups. Not only can steam vapors cause severe burns, but when cold water is sprayed onto a hot grill, the finish could get damaged. 

9. Use skewers to cut down on serving tasks. Soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes before using them so they won’t burn during cooking. To keep food from slipping off during cooking and turning, use two parallel skewers rather than one. 

10. Buy thick steaks. A steak that is at least on and on-quarter inches thick improves your chances of success regardless of the cooking method. Remove steaks from the cooking source about two minutes before you think they’re done. (The temperature continues to go up as the steak sits off the heat.)

To see if your steak is done, try the touch test: when you touc

h the meat with your finger, if it’s soft and flabby, it’s uncooked or rare; if it’s starting to get firmer and is showing more resilience, it’s medium-rare; and if it’s very firm, it’s medium to well-done. Learn this skill by experimenting. 


Ginger Vaughan has worked for The Old Farmer's Almanac for over a decade and, every spring, thinks about starting a garden. When she isn't enjoying the outdoors (and pondering just where to plant that garden), she can often be found in the kitchen testing out new recipes. She lives in a Pacific Northwest forest on the Puget Sound with Thor and Olive, two English bulldogs who would like to taste test her cooking creations far more often than they are allowed. 

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