If you're anything like us, a smoky, perfectly grilled steak is your favorite part of summer. But what's your favorite part of that smoky, perfectly grilled steak? Again, if you're anything like us, it's the crust: crispy but not tough, charred but not burned, savory yet slightly sweet. Delicious as it may be, you don't want that deep crust to come at the expense of the meat inside. Yet when you're grilling something delicate, such as steak, burgers, fish or shrimp, or kebabs, the meat often becomes tough and dry long before the outside darkens. So how can you get the charred crust we all love without sacrificing those juicy insides?
Dial In the Temperature
The key is to grill your food at the right temperature for its size and texture. In general, save low-and-slow barbecuing for big hunks of meat such as pork shoulders or racks of ribs. Meats you want to cook through, such as chicken breasts or thighs, do better at medium-high heat. But for small, rare cuts of meat or fish, a short stint on a scorching-hot grill is ideal. The crust will crisp up in a flash, allowing you to take your grilled steak or salmon off the heat while the flesh is still rare. The only problem: Most backyard charcoal grills just don't get hot enough.
Turn Up the Heat
Here's a simple trick we use to turn an ordinary charcoal grill into the searing inferno we need to get the crispiest, darkest crusts. All it takes is some aluminum foil and a little science. If you've ever sweated in a black shirt on a sweltering July day -- or, lucky you, kept cool beneath a white beach umbrella -- you've experienced the basic principle: Dark or dull objects absorb heat, while pale or shiny objects reflect it. The black, soot-dulled interior of your grill is great at hoarding heat for itself, which means less of it radiates back toward your food.
To turn the heat around, give the dull bowl of your grill a shiny makeover with a few sheets of aluminum foil. If you look at a piece of aluminum foil, you'll notice that one side is slightly more reflective than the other. With that side facing up, lay the foil along the sides of the bowl's interior until you've formed a complete ring. This will reflect back the heat from the coals so that it can rise up to your food. The result: rare grilled steaks, tender seared scallops, smoky fish that's just starting to flake, and all your other favorite charred meats, perfectly crispy and cooked just right.
Watch this trick in action: