How Does Grilling Work?
We talk a lot about the fine art and details of grilling here at Kick Ash Basket®. But we thought in this post we would step back and ask a basic question: what is grilling? We’ll take a look at the history of grilling, different types of grilling, and why we love it so much.
If you’ve already got your grill, check out our selection of grill accessories sorted by grill type. It’s the easiest way to find Kick Ash Baskets® and cans which make cleanup and prep way, way easier.
Photo by Ihor Malytskyi on Unsplash
History of Grilling
Fire and Food
Once upon a time, all cooking was done “outdoors.” It’s only after people start cooking primarily indoors that outdoor cooking becomes a novelty once again, paving the way for grilling as a recreational activity.
What is grilling, really? On a basic level it’s the application of fire to food. Unsurprisingly, it’s basically the oldest cooking technique that humans have, dating back up to 1.6 million years. Fire originally became a great way to cook food because it’s effective at killing harmful bacteria, and made the consumption of high-protein and nutrient rich meat a lot safer.
People probably first cooked by placing a bird or fish on the end of a stick or skewer, which would have allowed people to hold it over the fire without placing it directly on the wood. There are disadvantages to this kind of cooking, which you know if you’ve ever roasted a hot dog over an open fire while camping. Ash can get all over the food, spreading bacteria again. About 250,000 years ago, the hearth first appeared. It was an outdoor and later indoor cooking adaptation that allowed people to cook food without drowning it in smoke and ash. Smoke can be funneled away from the heat.
Humans first learned to cook in clay pots, and then to make bread on hot stones. Over time, fire and food have become more and more controlled. Open fires led to BBQ pits and eventually ovens built out of stone. By the Medieval period, large ovens and castles allowed royalty to roast massive amounts of meat. Richer houses had ovens that could make bread.
The Modern Grill
Because humans have been tossing around fire and food for a long time, there’s no one place that grilling as we know it today came from. In its current form, as we know it in the U.S. today, grilling started as a suburban phenomenon in the 40s and 50s as the middle class moved into backyards. It really began with the Weber grill, made by the Weber Bros Metal Spinning Co.. The company used to make harbor buoys. One of the owners sliced a buoy in half and put a grate across it, using the lid to control the heat and air flow. The backyard grill was born, and backyards were forever changed.
Grilling also was able to take off in its current form only because of refrigeration, developed commercially beginning in the mid-19th century. This allowed meat to be stored and moved commercially, allowing a greater range of people to gain access to smaller portions and amounts of meat.
History of the Kamado
We’ve already covered the history of the kamado grill in a different post. In the 1970s, Ed Fisher adapted the Japanese kamado grill to make it lighter and less prone to cracking. He then painted it green, creating the classic Green Egg we know today. It comes from Chinese rice cookers that were adapted in Japan to cook meat instead of rice.
Barbecuing and grilling aren’t the same thing. Barbecuing means putting meat over indirect heat for a long period of time, even for days. In the U.S. there are four main regional kinds of barbecue that developed over time: Memphis, North Carolina, Texas, and Kansas City. Memphis is associated with sweeter flavors, North Carolina brings a bit more vinegar, Kansas City has amazing dry rubs, and Texas does brisket really well.
These days, grilling has spread from beyond the traditional regions to become a pastime of the whole U.S.
Types of Grilling
The Fuel Source
There are a number of different types of grills that you can get: we’ve put together our guide to charcoal grills so that you can get something perfect. There are three main types of grills—charcoal, gas, and wood pellet. Gas grills fire up really quickly and are very easy to control. But they don’t have the same smoke and fire that you get from charcoal grills, meaning you don’t get the authentic flavor that people love. Pellet grills have become increasingly popular, which slowly feed wood pellets into an ignition system.
Types of Grills
Kettle grills are smaller, spherical models that are cheap and great for travel use. Barrel grills are good for smoking and longer barbecuing, while ceramic grills are multi-use and perfect for everything from simple grilling to long slow cooking.
Photo by Bevan Kay on Unsplash
Advantages of Grilling
When you cook with really high heat—and toss the top on—you create a zone that can cook meat really evenly. If you’ve ever fried meat in a pan, you’ve probably struggled to get it cooked evenly all the way through without burning one side or the other. Grills use high heat, which allows you to cook meat evenly all the way through with just a few tips and tricks.
Grills can get ridiculously hot, which allows you to use them to cook food in ways that you normally can’t in the kitchen. For instance, you can get your ceramic grill up to 600 degrees to imitate a brick and wood fired pizza oven. At really high temperatures, you can sear the outside of meat really quickly without overcooking the inside. And you can glaze and sear fruits and veggies without completely turning the interior to instant mush. Short, hot cooking times gives you a crisp on the outside while maintaining the texture on the inside.
But grills can also let you hit the other side of cooking as well, the low and slow barbecue. By cooking low and slow, you can allow fat to melt properly and the meat to break down. Tougher tendons and marbled pieces become soft, mouth watering bites of meat. Ceramic grills can allow you to maintain an ideal low temperature for a perfect kick ash brisket or slow-cooked baby back ribs.
Grilling Tools and Accessories
Here at Kick Ash, we sell all kinds of baskets, ash cans, and dividers which make it easy to get more out of your grill. Our most famous product is the Kick Ash Basket, a simple tool that you can use to shake the ash off old coals while maintaining any good coal for the next fire.
Tongs are the essential grilling tool. But they’re basically just two sticks that are conveniently attached to each other so you can manipulate them both with a single hand. Tongs have been around for awhile, with outdoor grilling tongs becoming a common tool around the same time that the grill became popular as a backyard cooking essential. Tongs have been around for thousands of years, originally just metal sticks that could be used to manipulate hot items in the fire while blacksmithing.