Cold grills are no place for burgers and sausages. Without that ample surge of heat to kick off the cooking, food will stick to the grates and you’ll miss out on those coveted grill marks. Even if a recipe calls for medium or low heat, the grill should be preheated first. Lift the lid, fire up the coals or burners, close the lid, and let the grill do its intensely hot thing for 10 to 15 minutes—the internal temperature should reach about 500°F.
Unless you prefer your burgers speckled with burned, crusty old bits of food, a swift sweep of a grill brush over the grates is your second order of business. There’s usually “stuff” left behind after grilling, and, if not removed, it will bind itself to your food, and your food to the grates. So, after a good preheat, grab a sturdy, long-handled, stainless steel–bristled grill brush and give your grates a good cleaning.
Thinner beef burgers tend to cook pretty quickly over direct heat, as do hot dogs, but sometimes you’ll use ingredients that benefit from indirect cooking—think big, raw sausages, or super thick burger patties. In those instances, and many others, a two-zone fire is the way to go. Also, you can brown your items directly above the heat source to get good grill marks, and then slide them onto the indirect, cooler side to finish in gentler, roasting confines.
Yes, it’s more than just a heavy-duty rain shield. The grill’s lid is actually an integral part of the cooking. Leaving the lid on while grilling keeps the interior at a consistent temperature, which makes for better and more predictable results. Also, dripping fat plus too much air whooshing in can trigger flare-ups. Not good. Charcoal grillers, remember to keep the lid vents at least halfway open. All fires need at least some air to keep on burning.
When you put a cold, raw patty on a hot cooking grate, it sticks. As the meat begins to cook, it attaches itself to the cooking grate for the first couple of minutes. If you try to turn a patty during this time, you are bound to tear it and leave some meat sticking to the grate. However, if you can manage to wait four minutes or so, that’s enough time for the meat to develop a caramelized crust that releases naturally from the grate.
Charcoal fires, if left to their own devices, reach their hottest temperatures first and then start to lose heat—that rate is determined by the type and amount of fuel used, and your interference. Refuel your fire every 45 minutes or so to keep the temperature up, and move coals around to get your heat zones in order. Keep the bottom vent free of ash, and the top vent adjusted to your preferred airflow. As burgers cook, the heat pushes meat juices out to the surface. If you let hot burgers “rest” for just a minute or two off the grill before diving in, the juices have a chance to be reabsorbed into the meat, and that makes a better burger.
©2014 Weber-Stephen Products LLC. Tips from Weber’s Big Book of Burgers™ by Jamie Purviance. Used with permission.