There are just some things that you can’t do without when grilling away from home on park charcoal grills in a local, state or national park.
Those easily recognizable, monument-like pedestal grills situated by pavilions and gazebos have long provided memorable meals and outings for individuals and couples, groups and organizations, sports teams, family reunions, and countless company picnics.
But grilling away from your home setup on a park provided grill can present a challenge.
You won’t have access to your home cabinets or kitchen drawers for those things that are routinely taken for granted and always on hand without so much as a thought. But with a little advanced planning, grilling out on park charcoal grills can be just as easy and enjoyable as grilling at home. Sometimes even better because of the overall experience.
Before heading out to the park for your day trip and grilling adventure, take a few moments to pack these must-haves for grilling out on most park charcoal grills.
- Charcoal: I know, pretty obvious right? But quality charcoal is a necessary item if you’re going to successfully grill your next meal on a park grill. As a fuel source, it comes in many forms to fit the specific needs of your meal choice. Hardwood lump is generally preferred, being easy to light and producing a quicker, hotter hardwood fire with a great aroma. Standard charcoal briquettes are perfect for a more controlled, consistent temperature during your cook and will likely last just a bit longer than the hotter burning lump. For those looking for ultimate convenience, the instant light type charcoal is available as an easy, one-step way to build a quick fire with minimal effort using public park charcoal grills. Just be sure to let the coals burn to a covered, white ashy appearance before putting your food over the fire. This will ensure that the pre-applied accelerant is completely burned off of the coals before cooking.
- Spark it up: A chimney starter using newspaper, matches, a lighter or commercial starter cubes will safely and easily get your charcoal fired up and ready for grilling within minutes. Chimney starters are easy to use and are the safer alternative to the old way of using lighter fluid as an accelerant to flash start a fire. Chimneys are more forgiving to windy conditions as well, proving to be safer by keeping the charcoal enclosed on the sides until ready to distribute in the park provided grill.
- Heat resistant gloves: Don’t take a chance on burning your fingers or hands. Use heat resistant gloves while tending to the fire at startup or when putting the fire out after the grilling is completed. Heat resistant gloves are also very useful for moving and transporting hot cast iron pans, pots, Dutch ovens, and metal kebob skewers. They are useful for getting close to the fire to add charcoal, move the embers around, or to shift the position of the grill grate. Heat resistant gloves will save your hands for more important things, like gripping that barbecue while raising it your drooling jowls.
- Proper grilling tools: A mechanic can’t fix a car without the proper tools, and you can’t whip up your best barbecue on a public charcoal grill without the right equipment. Sturdy, stainless steel tongs, long-handled spatula, and a quality long-handled fork and carving knife are invaluable. If kabobs are on your menu, don’t forget the sturdy wooden or metal skewers for grilling, presenting and serving your grilled fare to your family and friends. A quality grill scraper is a must, but those with wire bristles are known to occasionally lose their bristles, causing potential harm to the unsuspecting diner. Hardwood crafted scrapers have been shown to be a worthy replacement. It is recommended that they be used to clean the grates both before and after your cookout.
- Spray water bottle: This is considered a convenience item when grilling at home, but having one handy for an offsite grilling session on an unfamiliar grill will keep charcoal flareups and hotspots at bay, making your outing more enjoyable and trouble-free.
- Aluminum foil: Aluminum foil is one of those multi-use items that is extremely handy for any outing that includes grilling. It can be used for wrapping and grilling prepacked all-in-one meals, for covering and wrapping any leftovers, dirty utensils or other equipment that you want to keep enclosed, or even to use as a grill grate cover in the event the park charcoal grills isn’t in the condition that you feel comfortable cooking on. And if you forgot that handy grill scraper, aluminum foil rolled into a ball makes a fine grill cleaner. Just use the balled-up foil to scrub and remove the old baked on debris left behind from other grillers.
- A quality cooler: Prepared, ready to grill food is one way to enhance and simplify your park charcoal grilling experience. Whether the food is already skewered, pre-seasoned, or pre-formed into patties, a little prep work before leaving the house will save you time and provide a quicker, more satisfying park charcoal grilling experience. Keep the prepared food at a safe temperature in a quality cooler until it’s ready to use, and then the leftovers will have a safe place to stay while you enjoy the rest of your park stay. Condiments and drinks will also be located all in one place for easy access and transportability.
- Disposable and recyclable aluminum cookware: Make cooking and cleanup even easier on a park charcoal grills by using disposable or recyclable aluminum cookware for one pan cooking and serving convenience. Aluminum pans can be used to separate, cook, serve, pack and store different types of meats, veggies, and breads. Sturdy enough for public park charcoal grilling, but easy to dispose of and recycle should you need to, aluminum pans are a common sense and versatile component to an enjoyable outdoor grilling experience.
- A quality food thermometer: Food-borne illness is no joke, and will forever taint your park charcoal grilling experience as well as your grill master reputation. Make sure that chicken, beef, pork or seafood is safe to eat with a quick temperature check. Instant-read thermometers have become affordable and should be a standard item in any pit jockey’s toolbox, whether at home or off-site.
- Cleanup Items: Trash bags, wet wipes, and paper towels are all perfect, disposable items to have on hand for any park visit, but especially when grilling your meals on park charcoal grills. The old adage about leaving the site cleaner than when you came holds true. Cleaning up is easier when you have trash bags, containers, and cleaning items close at hand. Dispose of the bag in an approved trash receptacle either on-site, in the park approved trash area, or at your home upon return.
When you’re grilling your favorite meals on a park provided public grill, you don’t have the comforts of home to get you through the cook.
But with a little common sense and careful planning, you can pack the necessities that will have your dining guests licking their fingers and smacking their lips while enjoying your food, grilled perfectly on those park charcoal grills while enjoying a day filled with nature and fresh air.
Written by Gerald Dlubala