Admit it: Grilling is bad

  • Just because you can cook outside doesn’t mean you should.
  • Your grill is dirty, has poor temperature control, and lets fat drop into the flame.
  • Indoor cooking is better — which is why that’s the main way you cook.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

It’s July 4, and that means backyard barbecues. Who doesn’t like a backyard barbecue? Me, that’s who.

There’s a reason you do most of your cooking inside: grills are impossible to keep clean, they lack good temperature control, and they make worse food than you can prepare in your kitchen.

So I have a suggestion for this July 4: Celebrate the American prosperity with your fine kitchen appliances and make the food for the cookout indoors.

Your grill is filthy

The very first time you use a grill, it’s delightfully clean. Then food touches it. Grills run at high heat, and food burns onto the grates. Like with pots and pans, burnt-on food is tough to remove from grill grates.

But admit it: You don’t even really try. You turn the heat up high, you scrub the grates with a brush so some soot falls into the fire, and you call it clean. If you did that with a frying pan covered in burnt-on food, people would call you disgusting and refuse to eat in your house.

Well, I have news for you: It’s still disgusting. Every time you grill, you’re putting your new food right on top of the burnt old food from last time, so it crusts onto your new food. Ew.

Your grill has poor temperature control

Meats need to be seared to develop flavor. Grills do this, though not as well as a heavy skillet on a hot burner does, since the skillet contacts more of the meat’s surface area. But once you have achieved a sear, more high-heat cooking is just a way to toughen and dry out your meat.

Indoor recipes involve strategies to avoid this: periods of high- and low-heat cooking, or moist cooking. It’s possible to replicate these approaches on the grill, but not with nearly as good control. That means grilling is more likely to lead to overcooking or undercooking your meat than cooking in the kitchen.

Boneless chicken breast is a particular nightmare on the grill, reliably burnt on the outside before it’s done inside. If you want boneless, skinless breasts, bake them in the oven on 350 with some flavorful olive oil, salt and pepper to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. (You are using a meat thermometer, right?)

You’ll thank me later.

Grills have the heating element under the food, which is stupid

Unlike skinless chicken, fatty meats can withstand the grill’s heat because the fat keeps them moist. But there’s a problem: Grease from the meat drips down into the heating element, causing flare-ups. Or god help you if you put a sugary barbecue sauce on the meat — it’s just going to drip into the fire and burn.

Unless you’re cooking using a truly traditional method, most Americans have moved past cooking on open flames. Either you cook on top of a surface that keeps liquid from falling into the heating element — like a pan or a griddle — or you cook with an open heating element that is above the food, like a broiler.

A broiler makes sense. It provides the same sort of open-flame cooking you get with a grill. But it doesn’t make a huge mess because gravity carries the drippings away from the fire. The superior tool is already in your own home!

You secretly agree with me about grilling

People often accuse me of being a contrarian.

Almost always, these people are wrong — I hold the majoritarian position (such as that mayonnaise is good, or that Joe Biden is a good politician who was likely to win the 2020 Democratic nomination) and they are the contrarian ones, clinging to an unpopular view they nonetheless insist is correct.

I was tempted to say grilling is the exception — that in this instance, I am in the righteous minority, not the righteous majority. But actually, I stand with the majority here too.

Perhaps I am the minority when it comes to special occasions like July 4, but what about the rest of the year? You may talk a good game about how you like to grill, but where do you most of your cooking? Almost surely in the kitchen, where cooking is easier and cleaner and produces more consistent results.

Your revealed preference is the same as my preference — for modernity, for sanitation, and for meat cooked to the correct temperature. So stop pretending!

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