If you’ve grilled, you’ve probably burnt food on the grill. Do kebabs with leathery steak and perfectly done veggies sound familiar? Or perhaps a charred-yet-questionably done chicken breast? No more. Today marks the first step on your journey of understanding your gas grill – and as a special bonus, I’ll throw in a whole heap of toast.
Compared to charcoal grills that let you create your own fire pattern, gas grills harbor secret hot spots that can be a nuisance. Buildup and blockages from drippings onto your burners, lapses in production quality, or grates so rusted they’re reminiscent of the finest Alpine Swiss cheese are just some of the things that can affect the heat output of your grill.
How the heck are you gonna figure out where to put your tube steaks? Why, with a loaf of white bread and 90 seconds of your time. Grab a slice and a frosty brew and head outside. We’re grillin’ tonight.
A rainbow should shoot out every time I open it. Photo: Sam Bithoney
Yes, white bread is an excellent tool for discovering the heat zones of your grill. Its lighter color and high sugar content provide you with near instant feedback for what is hot, and what is not. I recommend splurging on a denser country style loaf like Pepperidge Farm or Arnold, and here’s why: softer breads like Wonder and Dave’s Killer Bread contain more moisture, and will stick to and fall apart on your grill. Wait for a sale if you need to, the difference is worth that extra dollar.
Now that you’ve spent many hours staring at the bread selection at your local grocer, preheat your grill for 15–20 minutes on high. Scrape the grates clean and run a wet towel over them to clean off extra funk – this applies to well-seasoned grills and shiny new ones. Once your grill is as spotless as can be, drop the burners to medium and let the heat stabilize for a few minutes. Use that time to wrestle with the twist-tie on the bread bag and get ready: We’re putting that entire loaf on the grill.
Starting from the corner of your choice, fill the grill with your bread. Ask your phone’s friendly digital assistant to set a timer for 90 seconds, mark the time on your watch, or just count Mississippis. Snake the bread around the grill and remember the pattern – once you’ve finished, you’re going to flip over each slice of bread in the same order in which they were placed, starting with that first slice (which is hopefully not on fire).
Photo: Sam Bithoney
Well well well, would you look at that?
Photo: Sam Bithoney
The darker, hopefully not yet burnt pieces indicate higher heat output, while the gently toasted and still soft spots indicate cooler areas. Now you know where you can park a steak when you’re reverse-searing or drop a cedar plank to char and smoke some fish filets. Those cooler spots are obviously great for toasting rolls and buns, but also better for leaner cuts like chicken breast or pork that will dry out on too-high heat for too long. If you’re using your grill frequently, you’ll be able to commit these spots to memory with ease. For the weekend warriors, you might want to snap a photo or make a chart for quick reference. The hand-over-heat test isn’t as accurate as you might think.
And what to do with all that toast? Well, you could slather the lighter slices in compound butter and continue to toast the bread over a medium-heat zone to make croutons for a grilled caesar salad, whip up a quick mayo and make BLTs for a crowd, or just throw a few slices of the finest pasteurized processed cheese food atop them to make a literal grilled cheese sando. And next time you grill, be thrilled with the fact you’re going to be eating an evenly grilled pork chop, and not a bunch of toast.