It’s the backyard barbecue, and the heat is on. Hungry family and friends alike are waiting to be fed. Time to grab a cocktail, put on your thinking cap, put your chef cap on over that thinking cap, and get down to Grilling 101.
Grilling is an American pastime, but a surprising number of people get the basics wrong. Below, you’ll find some tips to perfect your grilling game—and avoid the common mistakes you’re probably making right now.
Grilling Tip #1: Know Your Grill
Every grill is different. Know your grill’s blueprint: where the cool, warm, and hot spots are, and specifically, the sections meant for indirect and direct heat. Use these spots to your advantage. You’re essentially creating an oven (indirect) and stove (direct) with your grill. Be mindful of what you’re grilling and the type of heat the protein requires.
For charcoal grills (no judgment here), don’t spread the coals evenly. Instead, create areas for direct heat by banking the coals, then evenly spread the remaining coals for food that requires indirect heat.
Grilling Tip #2: Clean Your Grill…Really
No one wants last week’s burnt chicken remnants charring into the side of tonight’s meal. Let’s keep it clean, fellow cooks.
First, preheat the grill before cleaning. This allows burnt bits to loosen up. After the grates have warmed up, use a wiry grill brush
to scour the surface, brushing loose particles into the bottom —they’ll burn off later. Then, pour vegetable oil onto a towel and rub the grates to remove any particles. This also lubricates the grates for a fairly nonstick finish.
Grilling Tip #3: Give Meat A Rest
Oh, the Great Grill Grapple: do you let the meat reach room temperature before grilling, or toss cold meat directly onto the grill? The better option is to take your protein out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for up to 30 minutes. This allows the muscle to relax and expand to absorb juices and heat evenly.
Grilling Tip #4: Marinate Wisely
If you’re like me, you love citrus with poultry and fish dishes. Problem is, the acid in citrus effectively cooks the protein (think ceviche). Instead of using a citrus marinade on fish, top off the completed fish with the citrus or add while it’s already cooking. Chicken is less susceptible to this effect, but don’t marinate in citrus for more than one or two hours.
And please—don’t baste with your marinade. Raw meat has been sitting in there, for Pete's sake, and that kind of bacteria is not an acceptable addition to any dish. Instead, baste with a new batch of sauce, gravy, or citrus. The flavor will be better at the end.
Grilling Tip #5: Come Prepared, Grill Master
Every respectable griller needs the right tools and setup. You don’t have to go crazy, but using regular kitchen tools (like plastic spatulas or too-short tongs) can be dangerous. Stock up
on the following essentials:
Somewhat troubling apron
- Grill brush
- Mesh grilling basket for vegetables
- Metal tongs, including at least one pair of long tongs
- Plate for raw meat
- Plate for cooked meat
Grilling Tip #6: Know Where To Put Everything
This goes back to tip #1. At this point, you know where the direct and indirect heat is coming from, so start there. Use direct heat for food you want to sear or cook quickly, such as beef or shrimp. Place chicken over indirect heat so it cooks through evenly.
Each heat section should contain food that needs to be cooked for the same amount of time. Kebabs make this tricky, so be sure to separate the protein from the vegetables and fruit, or the poultry and fish from the beef.
Grilling Tip #7: Decide–Lid or No Lid?
As a general rule, leave the lid open for quick-cooking foods to get the char and direct heat, and close the lid when you’re working with a protein that needs more time in indirect heat.
Grilling Tip #8: Pull The Meat Off Just Before It’s Done
“Carryover cooking” means the meat’s internal temperature will rise 5 to 10 degrees more after the meat comes off the grill. Cover the meat with tin foil to trap the heat, then let it rest for 10 minutes. This will also allow the juices to redistribute and reabsorb. Experiment based on your preference for tenderness and get a good thermometer
to know exactly when to take the meat off.
Grilling Tip #9: Embrace “Frilling” (Faux Grilling)
Sometimes the weather isn’t conducive for outdoor grilling. If you still want to conquer that grilled aesthetic, try using smoky spices and sauces instead of oils. Or, to turn the knob up a notch, invest in a grilling pan for the charred grill lines (bonus: easy clean-up!). Our favorites: the Calphalon pre-seasoned cast iron reversible grill and griddle
and the All-Clad grill pan
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