Use hand test to see if grill is hot enough

An excited crowd had gathered around booth 193 at the Chicago Housewares Show; I could tell something was about to happen. Then the announcement came: Emeril Lagasse was on his way to autograph and distribute complimentary Emeril Lagasse smoker bags.

A few seconds later, Emeril came strolling in. Flashing a big smile and giving a quick greeting, he then signed and passed out dozens of his smoker bags in mesquite, oak and alderwood varieties.

With my autographed alderwood smoker bag safely tucked into a shopping bag, I edged my way to the booth to learn more about this new item. The smoker bag is a multilayered foil bag with a separate layer of natural flavored wood chips sealed in the bottom.

When food is cooked in it, the smoke imparts a delicious flavor and the food stays moist. The bag is easy to use and cleanup is a breeze. Meat, fish, poultry or vegetables can be smoked in the bags. Since the bags work in both the oven and on the grill, you can smoke foods any day of the week, any season of the year.

I think Emeril is on to something.

With the grilling season in full swing, some of you have related questions:

How do you know whether the grill is hot enough to start grilling? How long does it need to preheat?

How long it takes to preheat depends upon the type of grill that you have. How hot it needs to be depends upon what you are grilling. Most foods will need to start on a hot or medium-hot fire. If a longer cooking time is needed, the food is usually moved to the cooler part of the grill so it will cook slowly without burning.

Most grilling experts use the hand test to gauge the temperature of the fire. If you can hold your hand five inches above the hot grates for no more than two seconds, you have a hot fire. If you can hold your hand there for four seconds, the fire is medium-hot; and if you can hold you hand there for six seconds, you have a medium fire.

I have several recipes for marinades, and the time the food is in the marinade differs in each recipe. Does the length of time really make much difference?

The length of time a food marinates depends upon the strength of the marinade, but more importantly, the type of food being marinated. Marinades contain an acid such as wine or vinegar, and their purpose is to add flavor and to aid in tenderizing. A delicate food such as fish will need to be marinated only a few minutes to an hour. A more dense meat, such as brisket, would benefit by a longer time in the marinating liquid. It is not unusual for brisket to marinate for 24 hours.