The oft-disputed art of barbecue has as many forms as pit masters, enough sauces to confuse Carême, and hardware that needs its own truck. The common ground – if it exists – is simply a grill rig and a backyard. What’s that, you say? No grill? No yard? No worries, direct heat barbecue is only a grill pan away.
Picking Out Hardware: Grill Pans
Natural wood charcoal burns at 1,000 degrees. Dome temperature in a grill can push 600 degrees. Those steel grates get wicked hot. Our kitchen rig too will need a healthy dose of heat, and a grill pan to ably conduct and maintain it. A George Foreman won’t cut it. Aluminum pans react with various food products. Nonstick materials scratch and chip. Both limit oven temperature, often to 400 degrees. The metal for the job is cast iron — an amazing conductor, it will maintain heat when the food hits the grill, and only melts at 2,000 degrees. Well seasoned, a cast iron pan imparts rustic, savory flavors to food. Best of all, cast iron is cheap.
Cast iron is always heavy. The ridges should be thick and defined for an optimal sear. High walls are unnecessary. Square pans are a safe bet, but for big grillfests a two-burner grill would be a treat, so go for two grill pans.
Season Everything, Especially the Pan
Cast iron is not stainless steel — it can rust. Seasoning the pan prevents rust and creates a nonstick cooking surface by coating the metal with a carbon film. This film is created by applying a fat, like lard or vegetable shortening, and burning it down to pure carbon. First things first: Open a window, as there will be smoke. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Wash and scrub the grill pan clean, and dry thoroughly by hand and place in the oven. Then apply a thin, even layer of fat to the entire surface, inside and out. Place a sheet pan on the rack beneath of it to catch any dripping fat. Bake one hour, and repeat the process for an even stronger cure. Once seasoned, avoid washing the pan. To clean, simply cover with salt and wipe down. Sprinkling the ridges of your grill pan with salt before you cook will make cleaning even easier. Sound like too much work? Consider enameled cast iron, which is lower maintenance but comes at a higher price point.
Remaking a Classic
Measure a kitchen rig’s worth by how closely — and safely — it imitates a charcoal grill. The atmosphere under that dome is busy. A cooker is no one-trick-pony; the food actually cooks three ways: conduction, convection, and radiation. Piping hot grates put a sear on the meat. Hot air circulates the chamber, fueled by charcoal. And the embers themselves emit direct, radiant heat. Finally, pyrolysis of fat dripping into the fire supplies smoke to deliver the classic grilled flavor.
To recreate this environment we need to get crafty. To begin, top out your oven and preheat the grill pan. We want it wicked hot, just like the steel grates of a hot grill. Season your meat and give it a light coat of oil. The fat makes for charred grill marks. Move the smoking hot grill pan to the stove on high flame, or high heat. Fire your meat (add it to the hot pan). Thirty seconds, turn thirty degrees, another half minute, flip, and repeat.
Turn on the broiler — think upside-down grill — and roast to desired doneness, turning halfway through for an even cook. Notice the beautiful crust? As always, rest your meat. The result: a close substitute for the backyard barbecue. The grill pan gives the sear, the hot oven provides convection, and the broiler finishes with radiant heat. With a hot enough pan, the drippings will even smoke the meat for a real BBQ experience.