• By the Culinary Institute Of America / Associated Press
  • Tuesday, June 29, 2004 9:00pm
  • Life

othing beats food hot off the grill for summer eating, especially on the Fourth of July, with a traditional menu of steak and potato salad.

“As you prepare to grill, designate parts of the grill as ‘hot spots,’” suggests chef Bob Briggs, associate director for continuing education at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

“Divide the grill into two zones of varying heat intensity: a very hot section to be used for quickly searing foods, and a moderate- to low-heat section for slow cooking and holding foods.

“These zones allow you to control the speed of doneness and coordinate various elements of your meal.”

If your grill is wood- or charcoal-fired, set aside an area for igniting fuel, which is generally too hot and smoky to cook foods over. You may also allocate zones for different types of foods, to prevent an undesirable transfer of flavors. Begin cooking after the fire has developed a white ash.

Special woods, including mesquite, hickory or apple, are often used to give a specific flavor. Hardwood chips, herb stems, grapevine trimmings and other aromatics can be soaked in cold water, then placed on the grill fire to create aromatic smoke.

Follow these easy steps for surefire results on the Fourth of July:

* Put the seasoned food on a preheated grill to mark the food and begin cooking it. The best-looking, or presentation side, of your food should go face down on the grill. When the food comes into contact with the heated grill, marks are charred onto its surface.

To get the traditional “crosshatch” design from a second charring, gently work a spatula or tongs under the food and give it a quarter turn (90 degrees).

Any sauce used to accompany a grilled item should be prepared separately. Because many barbecue sauces contain sugar and burn easily, it is important to partially cook the food before applying the sauce. As the food finishes cooking, the sauce glazes and caramelizes without burning.

You can apply a single coat of sauce to each side of the food, or to build up a thicker coating of sauce, you can brush the food repeatedly with light coats of sauce.

* Turn the food and continue cooking to desired doneness.

Because many foods cooked by grilling are relatively thin and tender, they do not need significant cooking time after they have been turned. Thicker cuts may need to be moved to a cooler portion of the grill to prevent their developing a charred exterior while they are cooked to desired doneness.

* Evaluate the quality of the finished grilled food.

Properly grilled foods have a distinctly smoky flavor, which is enhanced by a small amount of charring and by the addition of hardwood chips or other aromatics. This smoky flavor and charring should complement the food’s natural flavor, not overwhelm it.

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