(NEXSTAR) – Elizabeth Karmel is always ready to debunk “the biggest myth” in grilling.
Karmel, the award-winning chef and cookbook author known as “Grill Girl,” has been grilling and barbecuing for more than 25 years, having shared her tips, tricks and expertise during television appearances on Food Network and in cooking columns for Bon Appetit, Better Homes & Gardens and the Associated Press.
In other words, she’s a veritable grilling guru. But there’s one common grilling practice that she can’t get behind, and unfortunately “a lot of chefs and writers tell people to do it,” Karmel says.
“Oiling the cooking grates instead of oiling the food,” Karmel laments. “This is a rampant grilling mistake that lots of people make. But I’ll tell you why it doesn’t make sense and why it doesn’t work.”
Karmel isn’t exaggerating when she says there are “a lot” of chefs recommending this practice. The internet is brimming with tutorials — from both amateur cooks and professionals — that insist on lightly oiling the grill before placing veggies or meats over the grates. Karmel, however, couldn’t disagree more.
“I can’t tell you how many home cooks have come up to me and explained all their grilling traumas to me, and all I have to say is, ‘Are you oiling the grates?’ I’ll see them again and they’ll say, ‘Oh my god, you’ve changed my whole life.’
“If you oil the food and not the grates, that is going to take care of 60% of your problems,” she adds. “That is the biggest myth I want to debunk, always.”
Karmel insists there are a number of reasons to oil the food instead of the grates, not the least of which is a juicier, better-cooked product. “If you don’t oil your food, all the juices and moisture in the foods you’ve cooked slowly evaporates out,” Karmel says.
For anyone skeptical, she offers up the following experiment: Take two slices of eggplant, one oiled and one not, and season both. (“The salt won’t even stick” to the non-oiled one, she notes.) Place the oiled slice directly on the grill, and place the non-oiled pieces over an oiled section of the grates.
“The slice you didn’t oil is going to slowly dehydrate… it’ll be like a piece of cardboard,” she says. “The other one, you’re going to see all the juices in that cross-section of the eggplant, you’re going to see them steaming and bubbling underneath the surface, and the outside is caramelizing.”
In addition to juicier, more caramelized food, Karmel says that leaving the grates un-oiled will result in fewer headaches later on. “Oil burns very quickly, and it’s sticky when it burns,” she says. “So if you oil the grates and not the food, you’re effectively gluing your food” to the grill, making for a messy — and possibly burnt — meal.
“If you oil the food, it keeps all of the juices inside the food, it promotes caramelization, and it also helps to prevent sticking. So it’s win-win,” she says.