Are you a grilling enthusiast looking to up your grilling game this season? Then look no further than high-heat charcoal to fuel your fire. As chefs and grill masters across the country know, there is no substitute for charcoal when you're looking to create the perfect sear and lock in deep flavor, whether you're grilling succulent steaks and chops or serving some juicy burgers and hot dogs. That's because charcoal is made by charring real wood, bringing it closer to its elemental state, which unlocks an array of complex aromas and flavors that you just won't get from cooking with gas.
Sure, gas grills start up fast and burn hot enough to give you decent results. But a high-heat charcoal briquet, like the Kingsford Professional Briquets, marries the best features of gas — consistent, even heat — with the best features of charcoal — superior temperatures and unmatched flavor. Because this charcoal burns hotter than regular charcoal briquets, it advances a series of chemical reactions (called the Maillard reactions) that take place when meat hits the grill. They transform the proteins and sugars on the surface in a way that creates a golden brown crust on the meat and adds lots of roasted, caramelized flavors. Plus "high-heat charcoal allows you to use less charcoal and create a bed of coals that burns longer and hotter," says John Tesar, owner of acclaimed Dallas restaurants Knife and Cut. To help you get the most out of high-heat charcoal this grilling season, here are five tips to get you started.
Pick the Right Cut
To take full advantage of your high-heat charcoal, it's important to pick the right cuts of meat. In general, you want something well-marbled — that is, with plenty of intramuscular fat — such as rib, strip, or skirt steaks; heritage-breed pork; or lamb chops. When it comes to beef, go for USDA Prime, which is the best in terms of marbling. These types of cuts benefit most from a smoking hot grill, which will create a crust quickly, and shorten cooking time, keeping the meat tender and juicy. Most importantly, as the meat cooks, that intramuscular fat will melt all throughout the surrounding muscle and create that sought-after richness and mouthwatering flavor in every bite. And the hotter the fire, the faster that fat will render out.
What About Seafood?
Full-flavored fish like salmon and branzino are excellent choices for high-heat grilling because the bold, smoky aromas from the charcoal complement their natural flavors nicely. Shellfish also benefit from fast and hot grilling—after all, few things are more disappointing than rubbery scallops, chewy shrimp, and dried out clams that have been cooked too slowly and for too long. When grilling shellfish, leave the shell on whenever possible, since the shell contains concentrated flavor.
Vegetables in the Spotlight
Vegetables also shine when cooked with high-heat charcoal. You have plenty of options for vegetable sides that may just steal the show: Make salsas with remarkable flavor using charred poblanos and tomatillos; wake up chips n' dip with smoky, creamy eggplant and make baba ghanoush; or char some corn on the cob and slather with creamy mayonnaise, a squeeze of lime, and crumbled feta.
Master the Fire
"In almost all grilling instances, I recommend creating a two-zone fire by placing all of the preheated charcoal briquets on one side of the grill's bottom charcoal grate, thereby creating a hot zone and a cooler zone," says Clint Cantwell, editor of Grillocracy.com. (This technique is called banking.) "You can start food on the hot side to get the right amount of char, then move it to the cooler side, and cover the grill until it reaches the desired level of doneness." To maintain even more precise control over cooking temperatures, Cantwell says it's important to keep a close eye on your grill's vents, especially the ones directly below the briquettes: "More oxygen means more heat, so you can always dial it down by simply closing those vents partially or fully."
Punch Up Those Smoky Flavors
Cooking with charcoal already infuses your food with plenty of flavor, but if you're looking to punch up the smoky flavors, borrow a trick from the competitive circuit: "You can enhance the undeniable flavor that charcoal smoke adds to food by adding a small amount of wood chips or chunks," says Cantwell. Look for non-resinous wood (such as applewood, cherry, or hickory), and soak 30 minutes before using to create lasting smoke flavor throughout the grilling process.