It’s time to bust out the grill! But before you start grilling, make sure everything is set up to make it as easy as possible to fire up delicious meals every time. So read through my top 10 grilling tips and prepare for the tastiest summer you’ve ever had.
A barbecue is a great way to spend time with friends and family, all while sharing beautifully cooked and flavored food together. Whether you’re looking for something fun to do with the kids, a way to cook outside, or you just want to try a new recipe, grilling can make it happen.
The sun, the smoke, the smells. Grilling can be one of the greatest pleasures in life, but it can also be a bit tricky to master. And so, with the grilling season upon us, here’s everything you need to know to get the best results with your next BBQ feast.
I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 grilling tips. In no particular order, read on for my tips to become a grill master.
Grilling Tips #1 – Preheat the Grill
The first of my grilling tips has to do with temperature. One of the keys to perfect grilling is to preheat your grill. If you’re planning on grilling, make sure to preheat your grill and let it hold at your desired temperature for at least 15 minutes before throwing the food on.
The preheat time will depend on your grill. If you’re using a gas grill, 15 minutes is usually sufficient (see tip #5 for a note on weather affecting things).
If you’re using charcoal, it is a little more obvious that preheating is necessary. There are specific tools and methods for lighting and prepping the charcoal. And it can take a bit longer. So find a good charcoal chimney and choose your method to know exactly how long it will take you to heat your charcoal.
Pellet grills can be a whole separate ball game. Most have digital or physical controllers that let you set the exact temperature you are looking for. In my experience, these pellet grills typically take about 20 minutes to fully preheat. Though, if you are using it to smoke meat then you can likely add it on before everything is fully warmed up.
Also, make sure to not actually go by the temperature gauges placed in the lids of many grills. They’re usually fairly cheap, inaccurate, and aren’t located near where the food would actually be cooking.
Grilling Tips #2 – Brush the Grill Grates or Food with Oil
Of all my grilling tips, this one seems to be the most controversial.
I say to brush the grill grates with a high smoke point oil like avocado, peanut, canola, or sunflower oil. A lot of places have suggested this as a way to combat food sticking to the grates. But I am not sure that it really helps with that.
However, in my experience, it does help give your food some exquisite grill marks. Count it as a cheat method for making the food look pretty with grill marks. It seems the oil is cooks on the grates and then transfers to the food.
To do this, you’ll want to dab some oil onto a paper towel and then use your tongs to wipe down the grill. Toss the paper towel when you’ve finished. It will likely be black…
To actually help the food release from the grill and be less likely to stick, you need the oil to be on the food itself. Either in the marinade or by coating it right before adding it to the heat. Also, see tip #9 down below for more help keeping food from sticking.
Grilling Tips #3 – Use Long Utensils
One of my favorite grilling tips is to use long utensils. Long utensils make it easier to move food around on the grill. It also allows you to easily flip over and handle food without getting too close to the heat. And it is easier to reach items that are placed towards the back of the grill.
I’ve been burned before by using tongs that couldn’t easily reach the back of the grill. So I had to reach in too close to the flames. Spoiler alert: the grill can get really hot. And I’ve lost some arm hair too many times to risk it with shorter cooking utensils.
Typically when grilling I prefer to use long-handled stainless steel grilling tongs. And then if I need a backup or assistance for some large items on the grill, I will use a large spatula/turner thing to help me. The tongs give me great control of picking up and moving things around without a high risk of puncturing the food. Because that tends to lead to juices flowing out and potentially dried out food.
The following is my favorite all-around grilling utensil and the backup turner/spatula:
Just make sure that you find tools that you like working with. Preferably ones that are long and reach where you need them to go.
Grilling Tips #4 – Get to Know Your Grill’s Hot Spots
Knowing the hot spots on your grill is essential when grilling to help you get an even cook every time. Every grill is unique. So you’ll have to learn what parts of your grill tend to run hotter or colder than the rest.
You can slowly learn about your grill’s hot spots over time as you cook. However, you can run also an experiment of sorts to find out where the hot spots are.
Use the bread test. This simple test will show where your grill is hottest.
To run the test, preheat your grill to medium heat for 15 minutes. Then place slices of bread to cover the whole grate surface (it doesn’t need to be 100% edge-to-edge coverage). Let the bread cook for 2 to 5 minutes and then turn off the grill and flip the bread over to see where the bread is the most and least toasted.
The darker the color of the bread, the hotter that section of your grill runs. As you can see in my before and after, the left side of my grill has some large hot spots.
I highly recommend using some cheap white bread for the test. It won’t cost much, and it will show the results of the test the best.
Once you know the hot spots on your grill, you can adjust your cooking to get an even cook. Take a photo of the results of your bread test so that you can refer back to it later.
Then use this information when cooking to move food around and manage the grill. Put the thickest piece of meat near the hottest part of the grill. Move items that are nearly cooked through to the coldest spot of the grill so they don’t overcook but can stay warm.
Grilling Tips #5 – Check the Weather
Wind, rain, lightning, snow, and cold weather can all make it miserable or dangerous to go out and grill. However, grilling can work in a lot of different weather types. It doesn’t have to be perfect, clear blue skies to cook outside. As long as you are prepared and willing to brave the elements.
Don’t get discouraged if the weather isn’t perfect for grilling. Just be sure to look at the forecast so that you know what to expect and plan accordingly. It is best to know beforehand rather than the moment you step outside to start preheating the grill (hey, it’s tip #1!).
It’s also important to know how the weather that day may affect your grilling. A colder day may mean longer cooking times. Or the need for something like this thermal insulation blanket to help insulate from the weather.
So, besides just looking ahead and planning for your own comfort, look out for wind. Heavy wind can be one of the biggest enemies for proper grilling. The heat can easily be pulled out of the enclosed grill and make it very difficult to cook anything properly.
If the weather is a bit rough out and you don’t want to grill outdoors, you can still grill indoors. You can use a countertop grill like the George Foreman grill, or a quality enameled grill pan on the stovetop to get a good result. Or, you can even use your oven.
Grilling Tips #6 – Use a Meat Thermometer and Know Your Temperatures
This is one of the most useful grilling tips, especially for a novice. An instant-read thermometer is essential when grilling. This will allow you to know when your food is done to your liking and to safe food-handling standards.
Nobody likes food poisoning.
So, use a thermometer to make sure everything is cooked to safe temperatures without overcooking everything to a burnt crisp. Once you are more familiar with cooking different things, it may be a little less necessary to use a thermometer but I still tend to bust it out all the time.
There are tons of options for meat thermometers. Bluetooth, apps, smartphone alerts, and a whole heap of other fancy gizmos. But all of those fancy additions make things very pricey.
And all you really need is an accurate instant-read thermometer.
I’ve had enough success with this cheap ThermoPro TP15 instant-read thermometer that I have purchased it twice. But you can also upgrade to the highly-rated Lavatools Javelin or the ultra-luxe Meater Plus bluetooth thermometer.
For some of the most common meats, take a look at these links for an idea of temperature ranges and doneness to have an idea before you get grilling:
- USDA Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart
- Best Beef Recipes: Beef Temperature Chart
- What’s Cooking America: Internal Temperature Cooking Chart
Grilling Tips #7 – Try to Keep the Lid Closed
It is always tempting to take a peek at the food while it is cooking.
But opening the lid allows all of the trapped heat to escape from the grill. With it closed and contained, all sides of the food can cook instead of just the one closest to the flame. It’s why ovens have lights and glass fronts in many cases to allow for peeking without losing heat.
It isn’t the end of the world to open the grill, and you do need to do so in order to check on the food, flip it, move it between hot/cool spots (thanks, tip #4!), and remove it from the grill when done cooking. But try to open infrequently and close it as soon as possible when you’ve finished with whatever task brought you to open it.
This is even more important when using a smoker than a grill.
The smoke that you create with a smoker is what adds that unique flavor to your food, so you want to make sure that the food is exposed to it while cooking. If the lid is open, then you lose the ability to control how much smoke is surrounding the food. Plus, the controlled temperatures typically found inside a smoker will be affected by the opening and closing.
Just let it go low and slow and trust the process.
Grilling Tips #8 – Be Wary of Flare-ups
Dripping marinades, rendered fat, or drippings from the food are all potential sources of flare-ups.
So it’s important to be careful with the food.
When you see a flare-up, you want to move the food away from whatever is burning. If you don’t take care of it, then the smoke and direct flames of whatever is burning can give a very acrid, bitter, burnt flavor to the food. Not tasty. And, at worst, it can also lead to a fire hazard.
If it’s really bad, remove whatever you’re cooking from the grill and put it on a plate or sheet pan. Then once the flare-up is out, continue cooking or choose another cooking method if the flare-ups keep occurring.
To avoid this in the first place, try to keep your marinades, sauces, and other liquids away from the flame. Drain off as much as possible before putting anything on the grill.
If you are scared that might affect the flavor, reserve some marinade before letting it touch any raw food. Then drizzle the reserved marinade over the food once it is fully cooked and off the grill.
Try to keep an eye on the smoke coming from your grill. If there is an abundance of smoke or abnormal color to it, then you may need to attend to your grill and get things under control.
Don’t let a flare-up ruin perfectly good food, or lead to an out-of-control fire.
Grilling Tips #9 – Keep Your Grill Clean
It is important to keep your grill clean. This will help keep the grates in good condition, make food less likely to stick, and protect the initial investment you made in the grill.
You can clean the grill using a grill brush or steel wool.
I use this GrillArt Grill Brush with no exposed bristles so that they can’t break off and get into anything I eat. This provides a simple surface-level clean to get off the biggest pieces left behind. I typically run it over the grill grates at the start and end of every cook. To start, I let it preheat and then scrub. Then when I am done cooking I typically let the grill sit for at least 5 minutes on full high-heat to help burn things off, and then brush it with the grill brush.
You can also do a more thorough deep-cleaning of the grill grates at the start of the season to get everything prepped and ready to go. Most grill grates can be removed from the grill. So you can take them inside and use hot soapy water or your favorite cleaner to scour them clean.
There are some cleaners made specifically for grills and grill grates. Some of them may be helpful at fully breaking up the cooked-on coating and char that you see on your grill.
And don’t just focus on the inside of the grill. Keeping the outside nice and clean will help to avoid corrosion and let you grill for years to come. I usually just use a mix of dish soap and water to clean up the outside of my grill.
Grilling Tips #10 – Use a Sturdy Grill Cover
This final tip is the second one that has to do with the outdoor elements. Because mother nature can be quite powerful. Grilling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors. But it can also cause a bit of a beating to your gear.
Since grilling is typically done outdoors, your grill will often tend to sit unattended for extended periods of time outside. Rain, snow, wind, dirt. They can wear and tear at your grill, reducing its lifespan. And they’ll get your grill covered in a nice layer of dirt and grime. Which no one likes walking out to.
Make sure your grill is covered and safe from the elements.
Keeping your grill under a covered patio or pergola can help, but likely won’t fully protect it. So I still recommend getting a grill cover.
Finding the right grill cover is key to a proper, snug fit. Either search online for your make and model of grill, go to your grill manufacturer’s website, or measure your grill’s dimensions and find a generic cover that will fit.
Recipes to Try Grilling
If you want to enjoy a hot summer meal and grill like a pro, keep all of these tips in mind. These are proven to work for me, but are easily adaptable to suit your preferences.
So, now that you have some of my top grilling tips, it’s time to put your newfound skills to use. Try some of my favorite grilling recipes below – along with a homemade BBQ sauce that will pair with almost anything that you toss on the grill. Happy grilling!