But it isn’t only the winter’s dust and grime on your equipment that could interfere with a fun and healthy outdoor meal. Food cooks differently on the barbecue than in the kitchen, as anybody who’s done it even once can tell you. If you don’t get it right, the meal can turn out unappetizing, or worse, can make you sick.
I would advise beginners to stick to barbecuing foods that are perfectly safe eaten raw, but are nice when cooked. Learning how your grill works will be less stressful that way, whether it’s a top of the line temperature controlled gas cooker, an old fashioned kettle grill, a little hibachi or a disposable tin foil tray with charcoal. If you don’t have a thermostat, you have to learn to judge when the coals are hot enough to cook with, and whether they will stay hot long enough for what you want to cook. You need to learn to judge how close to put the rack to the coals, and other details of the process. It isn’t really hard, it just takes practice. Heck, my mom used to do whole turkeys in the fancy gas grill.
Once you’re comfortable with the equipment, you can progress to more complex things, such as foods that are cut in different thicknesses, so take varying amounts of time or heat, and meats that must be fully cooked to be safe, such as pork or chicken. Parboiling is one way to help ensure that the meats will cook properly on the grill–but please only do it if you’re barbecuing near a kitchen.
Parboiling is just boiling in fresh water until food is partly cooked. Cut-up chicken is a particularly good candidate for this method. Simply cut the meat into serving portions, place in a large saucepan, cover with plenty of fresh cold water and bring to a full boil. You can add seasonings to the water if you like, just as you would for making stock or soup. But you only boil the chicken for about 20 minutes, at which point you remove it from the water to a tray and transfer as quickly as possible to the grill to continue in your preferred manner, basting with a sauce or sprinkling with seasonings. DO NOT let the partially cooked meat cool down partway at room temperature or warmer and then resume cooking later. That would be a shortcut to food poisoning.
You will be left with a pan of mildly flavoured water, which may or may not have a bit of rendered fat in it. You can use this in the same way as any other stock, although it won’t be strong. It probably won’t be worth preserving for later use, but I find the water left from parboiling is ideal for making rice on the day (especially Spanish rice), or adding to a soup or gravy.
Extra-fat bratwurst also respond well to parboiling before grilling. And of course, parboiling can precede ordinary oven cooking any time of year, cutting down on the time you need to run that larger appliance.
Have a happy and healthy barbecue!