11 Lessons My Grill Taught Me in 2021

11 Lessons My Grill Taught Me in 2021
Image: Jimmy Hasse,Photo: Claire Lower,Photo: Shutterstock

Buying a Weber Kettle charcoal grill is one of the best decisions I made in 2021. Up until this year, I had been wary of this seemingly dad-dominated community of cookers, but I should have known better: All of my nicest readers are dads.

With my Weber, I smoked a little, grilled a lot, and learned even more — and I’d like to share my favourite dishes (and lessons) with you now, in no particular order. This is what my grill taught me over the past year.

The right meats can help you build your charcoal confidence

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

Sometimes meat is the best teacher a grilling girl can ask for:

The steak helped me get a grasp on what really hot coals look and act like, and the chicken made the importance of two-zone grilling click into place. If you’re also a brand new grill baby, I highly recommend both meats as a good starting point for your own grill journey.

You can smoke an amazing pork shoulder on a charcoal grill

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

This was by far the most intimidating and rewarding thing I cooked all year. Smoking a pork shoulder not only yielded some very delicious BBQ, it made me “get” why dads find the act of smoking so fulfilling:

My first piece of advice? Don’t be intimidated. Though smoking can seem kind of complicated at first, smoking a pork shoulder is one of the easier large-format meat projects you can take on, even on a simple charcoal grill. It’s a forgiving cut that’s hard to dry out, thanks to a large amount of intramuscular fat. I’m sure you could dry it out if you completely ignored the next 2ooo or so words, but you’re not going to do that. You’re going to do just fine.

You can grill a frozen pizza

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

Simply put — These were the best frozen pizzas I’ve ever had:

Grilled, frozen pizza has all the makings of an easy but oddly special-feeling weeknight supper. You can grill multiple pizzas, one at a time, and eat the first at a leisurely clip while the next one is cooking. Grilling a pizza from frozen to hot and crisp takes all of 20 minutes, and the pre-heat time is markedly shorter than your oven’s.

You can and should grill some homemade pizzas

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

Making a good grilled pizza is all about preparation. Once you master that, it’s as easy as (pizza) pie:

Grilling a pizza can be slightly stressful if you’ve never made one before. The best grilled pizzas are made with a very hot grill, and pizza dough browns quite quickly. But just as I am no longer allowing the HBO show “Girls” to deter me from enjoying pizzas hot and fresh from the grill, you are not going to let fear deter you. Adopt a few good pizza grilling habits now, and you will be rewarded with beautiful grilled pizzas for years to come.

You can grill a cucumber

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

This blog made my sister very angry, but she’s a comic book historian, not a food writer, so her opinion doesn’t matter as much as mine (and my opinion is that grilled cucumbers rule):

Cooked ‘cumbers are surprisingly sweet and fragrant, with a heady aroma that’s akin, but not identical to, a zucchini’s. Thanks to their extremely high moisture content, they stay firm over high heat, giving you a spear with a crisp, juicy interior and deeply flavorful exterior. I like grilled cucumbers far more than I was prepared to, is what I’m saying.

A grill can help you embrace Hot Pickle Summer

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

After successfully grilling some cukes, I decided to take it further and grill a pickle (ok, many pickles):

Grilled pickles are to grilled cucumbers as corned beef is to smoked brisket — they both benefit from smoky heat of my Weber, but only one of them is brined. But unlike brisket — corned or not — grilled pickles can be prepared in a matter of minutes.

You should use a salt-free dry rub

Photo: rachelrichardsphotography, Shutterstock Photo: rachelrichardsphotography, Shutterstock

Salt works quite differently from other seasonings, and it should be treated differently:

Unlike salt, a dry rub is meant to sit on the surface of the meat and create a crust of complementary flavours, and it should be applied right before your protein goes in your smoker or on your grill. Their ingredients vary wildly, but most rubs are comprised of a mixture of herbs, spices, chillis, and sugar. The flavour-containing chemical compounds in these ingredients are much larger than sodium chloride, and they cannot penetrate deep into the meat.

You can cook a steak for a crowd on your grill

Photo: Michael Kraus, Shutterstock Photo: Michael Kraus, Shutterstock

Cooking a bunch of individual steaks to varying degrees of doneness is no fun at all, but you don’t have to do that:

If you want a large amount of meat all cooked to the same end point, you can cut the teardrop-shaped piece of steak into two pieces and cook each one to the desired temperature; but if your particular group of eaters can’t agree on what that perfect end point is, you can capitalise on the steak’s uneven shape and cook it all at once for a platter of meat that has everything from rare to medium-well.

Your next steak needs a “board sauce”

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

A board sauce can salvage an overcooked steak, but you don’t have to overcook anything to avail yourself of its magic:

A board dressing is exactly what it sounds like: It’s a dressing that’s made right on the cutting board. You take some olive oil, you take some fresh herbs, and you take some garlic. You chop up the latter two and mix them with the oil in a coffee cup. When your steak is done cooking (whether on the grill or in the pan), you pour the contents of the mug on a cutting board, place the — hot, unrested — steak in that delicious mess, and slice and toss it, mixing the oil with the meat’s juices to create an immensely flavorful sauce. It works really well on large-format steaks, particularly flank and skirt, but you can use it on pork, lamb, and even shrimp (which don’t need to be sliced, just tossed).

You should smoke your turkey the “wrong way” on a charcoal grill

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

This Thanksgiving, I smoked my turkey the “wrong” way, and everyone was delighted with it:

In my house, I am the dad and the mum, the host and the hostess, the feminine and the masculine. I am going to be the one doing the smoking on Thanksgiving day, but I am also the one who will be doing nearly everything else. My stepmom and a few friends will be bringing side dishes, but the men in my life are useless when it comes to cooking of any kind, and cannot be trusted with something as important as the turkey (or the mashed potatoes, or the dressing, or anything other than rearranging furniture and refilling my beverage). I wanted to set myself up for success, with a turkey that could be left alone for nearly the entire cook, without having to worry about the grill getting too hot or the meat drying out.

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