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At some restaurants, I've often seen the cook place something like vegetables onto the grill top, ladle a small amount of liquid on top of them and then cover it with a lid. My assumption is that this is water so that the steam will help cook the food faster, but my fear is that it's just a bunch of oil.

What is this liquid?

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    It's either water or some type of stock (chicken, vegetable, etc.). Just throwing oil on with a lid wouldn't do a heck of a lot. – mrwienerdog Sep 17 '14 at 17:28
  • You will also see them using oil, but probably before the food is there, putting it down across the whole surface so the food doesn't stick. It's pretty obvious - it doesn't produce steam. – Cascabel Sep 17 '14 at 19:04
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What you describe is grill basting - where a liquid is poured onto the grill and covered (with a metal salad bowl or a basting cover) to more evenly cook the food and maintain its moisture. The liquid is added towards the latter half of cooking, as adding it in the first half of cooking has no real beneficial effect. Additionally, the steam will melt cheese more evenly if grilling burger patties.

Typically, this liquid is a stock (chicken or pork stock if cooking chicken, vegetable stock if cooking vegetables and beef stock if cooking beef) or water.

On a personal note, I sometimes dissolve a pinch of salt in the water if I don't have any stock available.

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    We used three: water, clarified butter, and a mix of chicken stock and white wine. Spices varied from none to some. Depending on the food items of course. – Michael E. Sep 17 '14 at 23:55
  • I haven't tried the chicken stock and white wine mixture - will have to give that a try soon. Good deal! – jsanc623 Sep 18 '14 at 14:39

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