Summertime is when you need to get out the grill and barbecue everything in sight! Meat, veggies, potatoes, corn, dessert, even breakfast! Whether you’re just throwing on some burgers or doing a full meal on the grill, there are a few basic tips and tricks to make grilled food shine every time.
For the Grill:
- Grill safely. As with any activity there are a few safety tips to always keep in mind:
- Always grill outside and away from railings, eaves, and large branches.
- Make sure to have a fire extinguisher on hand, and know how to use it.
- Make sure the grill is clean (see below). You don’t want grease build up to cause flare-ups. Wire brushes are the traditional choice for grills, but make sure to no absolutely bristles get left behind, as they are dangerous if ingested. Nylon brushes are a great alternative, and crumpled up aluminum foil can work well too.
- Know your grill, take a quick peak at the owners manual and make sure you have everything set up correctly (particularly for gas grills)
- Make sure the grill is clean. The first time you use it for the year you’ll want to make sure to clean it really well. I like to use steel wool, hot water, and a little soap the first time, but you can also get it super hot over the coals and give it a good scrub down with your grill brush or crumpled aluminum foil. A trick to heating the grill grates is to put aluminum foil over them for 10-15 minutes before cleaning. After the first time, just a good brush down with your grill brush should suffice (see above for safety tips). For some extra tips on cleaning gas grills check out these great pointers.
- Have the right tools. While you don’t need specialized grill equipment, you do want to make sure you have tongs, spatula, brush and potentially a good hot pad (depending on your grill). Avoid poking meat with a fork to flip it, as that just releases juices that you want to stay in the meat.
- Avoid using lighter fluid. It can leave a distinct flavor on the food. Even “match light” charcoal can add a more chemical flavor to food. If you’re using a charcoal grill either get a chimney starter or build a pyramid around some newspaper and light the newspaper. If you do use lighter fluid only put it on unlit coals, and keep in mind that a little goes a long ways.
- Grease the grill. Once the coals are ready, dip a paper towel in oil and use tongs to rub the grates thoroughly with oil 4-5 times. This is especially important for more tender foods like fish or dough (like for grilled pizza).
Grilled Berbere Chicken inspired by J.M. Hirsch
For the food:
- Buy quality ingredients. Since there are usually so few ingredients in grilled food, make sure the ones there are are the best quality. Look for the freshest veggies and opt for large, thicker cuts of meat with lots of marbling.
- Marinate it! Grilling just calls for a good rub or marinade. Check out our favorite marinating tips. Your rub can even just be good quality salt rubbed into meat or veggies about 40 minutes before grilling.
- Leave the sauce until last. Grilling meat (or anything) covered in a sauce, like bbq sauce, makes it very hard to keep the meat from charring. Instead, rely on a good marinade or rub for flavor while grilling and brush the sauce on at the very end.
- Don’t play with your food. Ok so there is some pretty heated debate about whether or not you should flip food multiple times, or just flip it once. If you’re the sort of person who grills just a few times a year, we recommend sticking with the flip-it-once method. It’s reliable, easy to predict, and hard to screw up. Once your grates are hot and greased place the meat on, let it cook the recommended amount of time for one side and then flip. If you’re a grill master then you might want to give the continuous flipping method a try. If you’re going to try flipping it continuously you can ignore the above advice about leaving the sauce until last, as here you want to baste as you go, building up a thicker crust of sauce. Leave the meat for only 30 seconds to 1 minute before flipping and only use tongs or a spatula, never a fork. Careful though, if you’re not deliberate with your flipping and basting you can end up with a bit of a charred mess. (There is a great Splendid Table podcast about this method if you want to learn more.)
- Don’t press down on burgers (or anything else). Regardless of where you fall in the flipping debate pretty much everyone agrees on this one. Pressing down on meat may make it seem like its cooking faster but it actually just releases delicious juices and results in dry burgers (not to mention causing unwanted flare ups as grease drips onto hot coals).
- Let it go low and slow. For everyday grilling you can obviously throw it on for a few minutes per side and call it good. But if you have time, try reducing the heat, only putting coals under half of the grill and a foil pan full of water on the other, placing the meat over the water and letting it cook for closer to a few hours rather than a few minutes.
Ready to take your grilling to a new level? Try these pro tips:
- If using charcoal, place a few sprigs of herbs directly on to the coals to infuse the meat with flavor – this is especially good with rosemary and other heartier herbs. With gas (or charcoal too) you can soak the herbs in water, place them directly on top of the grill and the put the meat on top of the herbs while it cooks.
- Use rosemary branches as skewers!
- For a smokier flavor, soak hard wood chips (preferably those specifically for grilling so that you know they aren’t treated) and then place them on top of your charcoal. Closing the lid will result in an even smokier flavor.
- Try grilling pretty much anything! Grilled pizzas are a great way to keep the house cool this summer and are so easy (check out our Homemade Pizza 101 for more info). Our Surprisingly Good Grilled collection has some other great ideas for new foods to try on the grill.
Lemon Parsley Grilled Zucchini inspired by Against All Grain Cookbook
What to grill?
I’m a pretty firm believer that literally anything can be made on a grill (Our CTO Eric and his family have been cooking literally EVERYTHING on the grill recently, including a birthday cheesecake!) but there are definitely some things that are easier than others. We have great recipe collections for grilling of all types: