Whether you're a grill novice or a seasoned grill master, you may be looking for a way to kick your gas grilling up a notch. While gas grills are convenient and easy to control, they don't get as hot as charcoal grills and sometimes cook unevenly. Enter lava rocks.
Just as their name implies, lava rocks are types of volcanic rocks that are left over after a volcano erupts. Once they cool, lava rocks become hard and are exceptional at holding heat. Because of this, they can help increase the temperature of your gas grill and help cook the food more evenly.
Lava Rocks for Gas Grilling
If you want to use lava rocks, you'll have to convert a gas grill, not a charcoal one. Don't worry, though — it's an easy, straightforward process. But before jumping into what sort of gas grill modifications you'll need to make, it's a good idea to talk about what lava grill rocks are and why you might want to use them. One of the downsides of gas grills is that they don't get as hot as charcoal grills. They also don't impart the same smoky flavor that comes with charcoal grilling.
Lava rocks are a way to change that. Adding lava rocks to your gas grill can help increase its temperature up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The rocks help spread the heat evenly throughout the entire grill so that everything cooks evenly. The lava rocks also burn in a way that's more similar to charcoal, so the finished food ends up having a little bit of that smoky flavor, although not quite as much as you would get from charcoal.
If you're looking for a compromise and a way to get a little bit of the best of both worlds, you can add lava rocks to your gas grill with a few simple steps. First, you'll need an expandable grill grate that covers the full length of your grill's burner. Remove the cooking grates from your grill and secure the expandable grill grate on top of the burners.
Once the expandable grill grate is in place, completely cover it with a single, tightly-packed layer of lava rocks. After the lava rocks are set up, replace the cooking grates. Then, turn the burners on as usual, cover your grill, allow it to come to temperature and cook your food according to your recipe.
Another benefit of using lava rocks in a gas grill is that you can check your food while it's cooking without worrying about the heat escaping. When cooking with only gas, opening the cover allows heat to escape, lowering the inside temperature significantly. But, like charcoal, lava rocks hold onto heat. So, if you like to check on your food during the cooking process, there's no problem.
Cleaning Your Lava Rocks
Just as it's necessary to clean your grill as you use it, you also have to clean the lava rocks. As you cook, and the fat from your food drips through the grill grates, the lava rocks get covered in grease that can burn and leave you with a less-than-pleasing taste on future meals. Cleaning lava rocks is really easy, though. You just have to burn off all that grease.
Allow the grill to cool completely and then flip the lava rocks over so the greasy side is facing down, toward the burners. Place a couple of pieces of aluminum foil on the grill grate to help trap heat and then close your grill. Turn the heat up to high and let it sit, without opening it, for 30 minutes.
It's likely that you'll see smoke as the grease burns off during this process, but don't be alarmed — that's normal. After 30 minutes, turn off the grill and let it cool again. You can check the lava rocks at this time to see if they're clean. If they are, you're done until next time. If not, repeat the process.
Eventually, the lava rocks will break down and you'll have to replace them, but they're generally reusable for at least a few months, depending on how often you use your grill.
Other Tips for Healthy Grilling
But lava rocks aren't the only way to bring your grilling up a notch. You can also follow some of these tips from the American Heart Association for healthier grilling:
- Choose your meat wisely. Opting for chicken breasts, filet mignon or salmon over fattier cuts, like pork ribs, can help reduce the amount of saturated fat and calories that you're taking in at one meal. You can lock flavor into these leaner meats by wrapping them in foil before placing them on your grill.
- Add some veggies. Lots of people immediately think of meat when they hear the word "grill," but grilled veggies are an easy and delicious way to up your intake of vitamins and minerals. Wrap some evenly cut veggies — bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms and asparagus are all great options — in a foil packet with some healthy oil (like avocado oil or olive oil and a little salt and pepper) and throw them on your grill right next to your meat.
- Avoid sugary sauces. According to the Mayo Clinic, there might be a link between added sugar and obesity, heart disease and diabetes; and grilling gives food a distinct, rich flavor that makes using a lot of heavy, sugary sauces unnecessary. Instead of coating your meat and veggies in unhealthy sauces, use dry rubs made of your favorite herbs and spices.
- Keep your grill clean. Removing any leftover pieces of food and grease from the grill grates each time you cook can help prevent burning, smoking and the transfer of bitter flavors to your next meal. Use a grill brush to wipe down your grill after each use for an easy way to keep up with cleaning.
Beaumont Health advises watching your meat carefully and making sure you're turning it continuously to avoid charring it. The char that forms on burned meat contains compounds that have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. It's also a good idea to use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of your meats so you don't have to guess when they're done cooking. This can help reduce your risk of foodborne illnesses too.
- American Heart Association: "Top Ten Tips for Healthy Grilling and Barbecuing"
- Beaumont Health: "Are There Health Benefits to Grilling?"
- Chowhound: "An Easy Hack to Make Your Gas Grill Burn Hotter"
- The Natural Handyman: "Lava Rock and Briquette Etiquette"
- Taste of Home: Deciding Between Charcoal and Gas Grills? Here's What You Need to Know"
- Mayo Clinic: "Added Sugars: Don't Get Sabotaged by Sweeteners"