Q: I dislike food with soot or smoke on it or in it although I like well done meat and fowl. Could a charcoal grill work which had a thin metal plate under the grill? This would, of course, be circular, and would have three short arms which rest on the top edge of the charcoal pan permitting smoke and heat to escape between the edge of the plate and the pan. It's not very complicated. Perhaps it has already been tried as in using a large fry pan with a grill bottom, and the fry pan rests on the hot coals.
—Stuart Simon, Chicago
A: Whether it's fast grilling over high heat or barbecuing done low and slow, it is the smoke that gives food cooked outdoors such distinctive flavor, aroma and color. People are passionately in love with smoke, so your question about getting rid of it is an interesting one.
My immediate, flippant response is to recommend junking your charcoal grill in favor of a gas-powered one (I'm a charcoal partisan), but I know gas grills do generate smoke as meat juices, fat and various marinades drip onto the grates during cooking.
So I turned to Elizabeth Karmel, who is also known as the "Grill Girl" or "Queen of the Grill" for her grilling expertise. She said your metal plate idea is a good one; there are grill models out there with such heat and smoke deflectors. But Karmel also offered easy steps you can take right now with your current grill to reduce smoke and soot while cooking.
"The answer is actually very simple ... cook everything using indirect heat,'' said Karmel, author of "Taming the Flame: Secrets for Hot-and-Quick Grilling and Low-and-Slow BBQ" and other grill-themed cookbooks.
Indirect heat, as you may know, involves placing foods next to the hot charcoal or gas jet and using the grill lid to reflect heat back onto the food to cook it. Placing foods, especially fat foods, directly over the heat source will create flare-ups, Karmel said. The flames will deposit soot on the food being cooked. Learn, too, how to extinguish flare-ups. Karmel said putting the cover on to stifle the flames works better than squirting water, which can generate scalding steam.
Since you use a charcoal grill, Karmel recommends putting a drip pan in the center of the grill, placing hot coals on either side, and position the food on the rack directly over the pan. Cover.
As for the coals, Karmel recommends waiting until the coals are covered with a white ash before beginning to cook. Otherwise, the burning charcoal will emit soot. If you need to add fresh charcoal to the grill, Karmel recommends pre-burning those coals, too. Use a chimney charcoal starter in a heavy aluminum pan or a small grill to get this fresh coal fired up, she said.
Karmel is executive chef of Hill Country Barbecue Market in New York City and Washington, D.C., as well as Hill Country Chicken in Manhattan.
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