There’s nothing quite like the smell, sound, and taste of grilled food, especially in the summer. It makes my stomach instantly growl. And there is science behind it: “Flavor on food is developed and deepened when heat is applied. Caramelization, causes roasted vegetables to get sweeter, and meat becomes more savory thanks to the Maillard Reaction or Smoking.”*
So, I’m here to help you grasp the basics of grilling (or beef up what you already know) so any day can become a grilling day for you (with a variety of foods!), on gas or charcoal.
1. Let Your Grill Warm-Up
All grilling gurus agree that a pre-heated grill gives the best results. It sears food on contact and helps prevent sticking. Fire up your grill and let it preheat for about 15 minutes. Aim for 450–550°F for high, 400–450°F for medium-high, 350–400°F for medium, 300–350°F for medium-low, and 250–300°F for low heat.
Gas Grill: Uncover the grill, set the heat to high and ignite the gas. Check and make sure the gas is lit. If it doesn’t ignite, turn off the gas and keep the lid open for a few minutes before trying again.
Charcoal Grill: Light about 50 briquettes in a low pyramid arrangement. In about 30 minutes, they’ll be coated with ash. This is when you’ll spread them in an even layer to begin direct cooking.
(I have very fond memories of my dad charcoal grilling when I was younger, but being the impatient child I was I very excited when my parents finally invested in a gas grill.)
2. Clean Your Grill Grates
It’s easiest to clean grill grates when the grill is hot. After preheating, use a wooden grill scraper to remove any charred bits left over on the grates. Then, do it again as soon as you’re done cooking.
I prefer a wooden grill scraper to a metal bristle one. Small, sharp bristles can break off as you’re cleaning and get stuck to your grill’s cooking surface. The next time you grill, those stray bristles may adhere to food and be accidentally ingested.*
3. Oil Your Grill
Sometimes lean food sticks even with the cleanest of grills. Help prevent sticking by oiling the grill right before the food goes on with a vegetable oil-soaked paper towel. Hold the towel with grill tongs so you don’t burn your fingers. Don’t spray a hot grill with cooking spray or oil!
4. Keep it Sanitary
Move any platter that held raw meat right away and grab a clean one to use when your food comes off the grill. Also, toss any marinade that held raw meat.
5. Keep Food From Falling
A grill mat or stone is great for keeping your food in place while it’s cooking. A mat will keep your grates clean, but still give you rich grill marks. It also allows delicate, small foods to cook without sticking or falling through the grill grates and keeps the flavors of the foods from mixing. We like to use grill stones for deconstructed shish-ka-bob especially!
6. Put a Lid On It!
Keep that lid closed! Peek only when it’s necessary to turn food or check doneness. Every time you open the lid your grill falls by at least 50-100 degrees. Set a timer and be patient.
7. Check Your Meat’s Temperature
Get a meat thermometer to accurately tell when your food is cooked to the temperature you want. Check the meat with the thermometer in the same spot so less juice runs out. Remember, the temperature will rise a few degrees once it’s off the heat.
8. Let Your Meat Rest
Since meat will rise a few degrees once it’s off the heat, let it rest! Allow meat to rest (tented with foil) for about 10 minutes before serving. This lets the juices redistribute evenly for the best and tastiest results.
9. Even Out Your Food
Hot spots are bound to happen with any type of grill so move your food around if you notice things aren’t cooking evenly.
10. Watch for Flare-Ups
Keep an eye on your grill for flare-ups. They occur when fat drips onto the heat and catches fire. You can reduce flare-ups by using a grill mat or cooking with lean meat, trimming off the excess fat, and removing poultry skin. If you do get a flare-up first turn off the gas. If safe, remove the meat from the flare-up and close the lid. If the flare-up does not go down on it’s own after these few steps it is time to grab some baking soda from your pantry and sprinkle it on the flare-up. It is as effective as a kitchen fire extinguisher.
Pro-Tip: Indirect Heat
Indirect heat is a popular technique that many recipes use, especially when you go beyond the regular hamburgers and hot dogs. The Indirect method means that the heat is placed either to one side or both sides of the food. You will use the indirect method for foods that take longer than 25 minutes or are so delicate that the direct exposure to the heat source would dry them out or scorch them.*
Gas Grilling: Indirect cooking requires at least two burners. But, if your grill only has two burners, turn one of them off. Place a drip pan under the area where you’ll be cooking, and grill over the unlit burners.
Charcoal Grilling: Position a drip pan in the center of the fire grate with hot coals spread around or to the sides. Place your food on the grill over the drip pan and cover it to make the grill more oven-like.
So, what is first on your grilling menu? Here are a few of our favorites beyond the classic choices: