Barbecue University™

Crash Course on Grilling: The Anatomy of a Grill

Anatomy of a grill

We’re pleased to introduce a new blog series on Barbecue University™. Every few weeks we’ll give you a crash course on a particular aspect of grilling, from essential gear and fuels to the indispensable techniques. Up this week: The Anatomy of a Grill. Master it and you’ll make more informed decisions when buying and using your grill.

Travel Planet Barbecue with me and you’ll find grills of every size, shape, and design. Despite this incredible diversity, all grills share similar features. Know how they work and you’re well on your way to improving your grill skills. What makes a grill?

The firebox: The firebox is where the fire is located. It can be as simple as a stone circle or ember-filled metal box or as sophisticated as the burner manifolds running the width or length of a gas grill. The firebox is where the charcoal or wood burns or the gas glows.

The cook chamber: The part of the grill where the food actually cooks; for most grills the cook chamber is an extension of the firebox.

The grill grate: The grill grate is the proverbial gridiron (yes, this is what gave the football field its name). Place food on the parallel metal bars or wire screen over the fire and watch it grill to perfection. There’s an additional benefit, and that is that the grate gives you a handsome crosshatch of grill marks, contributing to the flavor we associate with the charring that occurs where the meat hits the hot metal. Grill grates are typically made from cast iron (my personal favorite for its branding qualities) or from 1/4-inch stainless steel bars, stamped stainless steel, porcelainized enamel, or thick or thin wire. However, a grate is not essential. On vast swaths of Planet Barbecue, grills do not have grill grates. The food is suspended over the fire in grill baskets or on metal skewers, producing an equally delicious result.

The airflow: Most charcoal or wood-burning grills have adjustable vents that let air in at the bottom or on the side and sometimes at the top. These control the airflow, enabling you to control the heat: Increased airflow gives you a hotter fire. The straw or electric fans used by grill jockeys in Southeast Asia and the Near East to oxygenate the embers of a grill serve the same function.

The lid: The lid is a relatively new addition to grill design, but without it there would be no indirect grilling or smoking. Given how common grills with lids are in North America, you may be surprised to learn that most of the world’s grills do not have lids.

Adapted from Planet Barbecue! by Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing).

Want to know more about the nuts and bolts of grilling? Click here.

Planet Barbecue cover

Also see: Buying a Grill or Smoker? 8 Questions to Ask Yourself