Light Thy Fire

Get stoked for summertime barbecues

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Chase Yakaboski

The Vision: Your friends are over for a cookout and, after an hour or so of adult beverages and conversation, you sit down to enjoy a bounty of tasty ribs, mouth-watering steaks and juicy hamburgers with all the fixin’s.

The Reality: The coals don’t seem to be getting hot, but, as time goes by, your friends are. Who knew the kitchen spatula would melt on the grill? When the food finally hits the table, the ribs are chewy, the steaks that looked so perfectly brown on the outside are mooing on the inside and the hamburgers are so burnt and dried out you could use ’em as frisbees. Not to mention, the potato salad has been sitting there so long waiting that a prudent person would give it a pass.

Never fear, the pros are here, sharing advice, tips and tools that will have you grilling like a boss this summer.

According to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association’s (HPBA) biennial survey taken in 2015, 75 percent of us own a grill or smoker and 37 percent planned to buy a new one in 2016. The majority (61 percent) of grill owners use their grill or smoker year-round and 30 percent planned to grill more in 2016 than the previous year.

Bruce Palmer

Josh Cooper may deal in politics by day but can be found slicing, dicing and grilling to perfection by weekend. 

While a mack-daddy grill makes your cookout more impressive, easier and more versatile, it’s entirely possible to create delicious food using a basic charcoal grill, says Tallahassean Josh Cooper. By day, he’s a political strategist and researcher. By night and weekends, he’s an award-winning competitive grillmaster and food blogger (

“I would say everybody should learn how to cook on a Weber kettle grill first, because once you can cook on that thing, you can cook on anything,” he says. 

The first grilling skill is heat control — and the secret to that is basic science.

“The more air, the more oxygen that hits the fire, the hotter the fire is going to be. The less oxygen that you allow to hit the fire, the lower the temperature is going to be,” Cooper says. On your basic Weber, you push those little dampers on the tops and bottoms of the grill to control the air flow. Fancier charcoal grills feature external thermometers, while others take it to the next level with thermostat-like devices that use a fan to keep the heat at a steady temperature — a lifesaver for those who want to cook “low and slow” without having to tend to the grill all day.

The other concept to understand is direct versus indirect heat.

“The idea with indirect is you’re trying to turn your grill into an oven. You’re not hitting it directly with the heat; you’re baking it, basically,” says Cooper. “If you’re cooking something indirect, you’re going to do things that take a little bit longer to cook — ribs, larger pieces of meat.

“For direct, you’re going to want to do things that cook quickly — steaks, chicken, hamburgers, pork chops, hotdogs, sausages … stuff like that, that is more of a sear than a slow cook because it’s going to be ‘hot fast,’ as they call it, rather than low and slow. It’s getting kissed directly by the heat source.”

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