The Thrill of the Grill

​By Terry Oparka

C & G Staff Writer

Summer sizzles

The one thing that professional and amateur grillers all agree on is that their own method/grill/recipe is the best.
And gas vs. charcoal fuels many debates on the best way to barbecue.

Gas grills are the top seller at the Design Expo in Troy, but sales of gas and charcoal grills run 50/50 at Home Depot on Hoover in Warren, according to store officials.

Grills range from simple charcoal models to high-end models that resemble the ranges found in kitchens.

“If you’re absolutely sure that there is nothing like the taste and smell of food cooked over hot coals and that great grilling comes only after stoking and tending a fire, the answer is a no-brainer,” said Home Depot grill “guru” Robert Simmons.

“However, if you are a push-button personality, prefer precision temperature to poking at coals, and abhor ashes, pick out a gas grill and get cooking,” said Simmons.

From the smells that waft across back yards, decks, and patios around town on long summer weekends, everybody’s right.

Ray Hollingsworth, a chef at Loon River Café in Sterling Heights, said the grill of choice is a big drum-style model. He uses a mixture of charcoal and wood to vary the temperature. For slower cooking, he places the food away from the hottest coals, which creates a cross-air flow.

Clean the grill before you start cooking, or the food will stick, said Hollingsworth. He also brushes the grill with oil.

He starts working on his barbecues a couple of days before he plans to cook.

“Season the meat, uncovered, in the refrigerator, with seasonings or a dry rub two or three days before you plan to cook,” said Hollingsworth.

“If you’re using a marinade, a good rule of thumb is to marinade four to six hours per inch of thickness,” said Hollingsworth. “But don’t use fresh pineapple for marinades, they’re too acidic, and the meat will be mushy.”

Hollingsworth urges grillmasters to be creative. “Marinades are acid and oil; use what you have, you don’t need a fancy one.”

If you’re going to splurge, said Hollingsworth, find a good barbecue sauce.

The most important thing is to be patient, he added.

“Except for hamburgers and hotdogs, barbecuing is a slow process. Enjoy the day.”

Anton Anderssen, enrichment instructor for a number of school districts, agrees. Anderssen studied cooking at the Disney Institute in Orlando, Fla., and French cuisine in Marseille, France.

“Grilling is not barbecue,” said Anderssen.

Barbecue is done at a low temperature over an indirect heat, using smoke, and takes all day. Grilling is done over high heat and takes 18 minutes for the majority of items, said Anderssen.

He uses lump charcoal, which is treated wood, that he purchases at Wal-Mart. He tapers it in, from thin to high, to create different cooking zones. He also uses hardwood from trees that bear fruit or nuts.

“Charcoal briquettes burn a bitter flavor into the food, and the lump charcoal carries real flavor.” He cooks chicken on the hot side, fish on the cool side, and red meat in the middle.

One common mistake is putting barbecue sauce on the meat too soon. “It contains lots of sugar and turns the meat black,” said Anderssen.

Anderssen’s grill picks for flavor are chicken with bones and skin, rather than skinless, rib eye steak, and salmon. “Don’t flip salmon, cook it on a low temperature, skin-side down, in a foil oven tray.”

Chicken is usually ready in 18 minutes, said Anderssen. Don’t use a fork to turn burgers, as this allows juices to escape, said Anderssen. Cook burgers quickly to seal the flavor, use medium fat, coarse-ground beef, and use a bit of kosher salt, garlic and black pepper.

You can reach Terry Oparka at