Nothing says summer like the smell of meat charring on an open grill. Cooking food with fire taps into our most primal instincts, but that isn’t to say grilling is simple if you don’t know what you’re doing. Follow these easy tips to elevate your status from grill novice to grill master next time you fire up the barbecue.
PREHEAT THE GRILL.
Don’t make the mistake of slapping your steaks on the grill as soon as possible. If you just lit your fire, the grill’s grates still need time to heat up even if the air above them feels scorching hot. Cool grates end up sticking to food, which means you won’t get those satisfying grill marks we all associate with a perfect steak. To prevent this, cover your grill immediately after lighting it and give the grates 5 to 10 minutes to warm up.
USE THE TWO-ZONE TECHNIQUE.
No matter how awesome it looks, cooking your meat directly over the flame isn’t always the best choice for grilling. Separate your grill into two zones by either crowding your charcoal to one side or using a weaker flame if you’re cooking with gas. Having an area for direct and indirect heat allows you more temperature control as you grill. It also makes it possible to grill thinner cuts of meat alongside thicker, fattier cuts, which are best cooked for longer periods of time at lower temperatures.
USE WOOD CHIPS.
The best way to impart a distinct, smoky taste to your food is by adding wood to the mix. Heat up the charcoal in your grill like you normally would then place a layer of wood chips or chunks on top. When the wood stops flaming and begins releasing steady streams of smoke, that’s how you know the grill is ready to go. Using this combined cooking method ensures you get the natural flavorings from the wood without sacrificing any heat. And remember that different wood varieties, like hickory, cherry, and mesquite, will come through in your meat in different ways.
OIL YOUR GRILL.
Greasing up a grill isn’t as simple as drizzling vegetable oil into a pan. But if you have an onion on hand, there’s one easy trick you can use to oil your grill fast: chop the veggie in half and dip the flat side in oil. Use this to rub down the grates of the grill to make sure your meat comes off clean when it’s time to get cooking.
LET YOUR MEAT REACH ROOM TEMPERATURE.
If you immediately transfer your steak from the fridge to the grill, you’ll end up with meat that’s unevenly cooked. Take your steak out about 20 minutes beforehand to give it sufficient time to warm up to room temperature. When you slice into the finished product, you’ll find a more consistent color and temperature throughout.
SPATULAS ARE NOT FOR PRESSING.
It can be tempting to press your spatula into a steak or burger patty and watch the delicious juices sizzle out the sides. But trust us; that moisture belongs in your meat, not at the bottom of your grill. Resist the press and you’ll be grateful you did when it’s time to take that first bite.
IT’S BETTER TO GO UNDER THAN OVER.
No one wants to eat raw beef or chicken at a barbecue. But when it comes to cooking meat on the grill, it’s best to err on the side of underdone—at least at first. Slice into the center of your meat to check its “doneness” before serving. If it’s not quite there yet, you can always toss it back on the grill for a minute or two. There’s no hope in rescuing an overcooked piece of meat.
FOIL IS YOUR FRIEND.
Tin foil and grilling go together like backyards and summertime. Make sure you have a roll on hand when grilling vegetables like potatoes, zucchini, and corn on the cob. Foil can also be used to keep shrimp, chicken wings, and even popcorn from falling through the grates as you cook. And here’s the best part: cleaning up afterwards is as easy as crumpling up the foil and tossing it away.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO FLIP.
One of the most pervasive myths surrounding grilling is that steaks need to be left alone after hitting the grill. The idea is that this gives them time to develop a proper sear on the outside, but you can produce the same results by flipping your meat multiple times. This method also helps your steaks to cook faster and more evenly.
DON’T CLOSE THE GRILL AFTER DINNER.
Savory dishes like meat and veggies aren’t the only items that can benefit from a few minutes on the flame. Grilling caramelizes the natural sugars in food, which makes it a great way to prepare fruit. Add a set of grill marks to your peaches, pears, and watermelon and you’ll never look at dessert the same way again.
CLEAN YOUR GRILL.
Cooking on a dirty grill is one way to guarantee that the best part of the meat ends up on the grate instead of your plate. Set aside time to clean your grill after you’ve finishing cooking when the hardware is still warm. A quick scrub-down with a wire brush should be enough to eliminate most leftover residue from the grates. It’s also a good idea to take the grill apart once or twice a year and perform a deep clean with soap and water.
Before you fire up that barbecue, be sure to review these helpful Grilling Safety Tips.