Now that it’s summer, it’s time to give your oven a vacation and break out the barbecue! These tips will help you improve your skills whether you’re new to grilling or you’re a pro at cooking over fire.
1. To make cooking easier, clean your grill thoroughly before and after each use with a sturdy wire brush.
2. Spray or brush the grill with cooking oil to prevent food from sticking. This can be done with cooking oil spray or with a clean rag dipped in oil. Do this only when the grill is cold and be careful when you light it!
3. Preheat your grill for at least 30 minutes with the lid closed. This allows it to reach prime cooking temperature. It also prevents flare-ups because it burns off fats and foods that stuck to the grate the last time you cooked.
4. If you’re using charcoal, arrange all the coals on one side of the barbecue to create an area of direct heat (right over the coals), and indirect heat (away from the coals). Food can be moved to different temperature zones as needed. If you have a gas grill, keep the flame higher on one side.
5. Don’t pile everything on the grill at once. Consider cooking times and temperatures for each item and schedule your firing times accordingly.
6. Leave at least 30% of the grill’s surface area unused. This gives you an emergency evacuation area to transfer foods if they start to burn.
7. Don’t crowd the grill. Leaving space between foods prevents steaming, helps items to cook evenly, and is crucial to achieving the mark of a pro — a delicious caramelized surface.
8. Keep the lid closed. Lifting the lid releases the heat and the smoke that gives food its barbecue flavor. If you’re looking, you’re not cooking!
9. Use extra-long tongs — not a fork — when moving meats. Piercing the meat causes all of the precious juices to escape, drying out your dinner.
10. Not sure if it’s done? Don’t pull the amateur move of cutting into the meat to check (see above)! Get it right every time with an instant read thermometer, or a fancy wireless BBQ thermometer and use a meat temperature chart to help you cook it just the way you like it.
11. Use a special slotted pan or grill basket for cooking vegetables and delicate seafood so they don’t stick to the grate or slip through the holes.
12. Add extra delectable smokiness to your grilled foods with wood chips. Soak hickory, mesquite, or other wood chips in water or apple juice (for sweeter flavor) for 30 minutes beforehand so they’ll smolder without igniting. Wrap soaked wood chips in an aluminum foil packet poked with holes, and lay the packet directly on the on the coals or above the gas flame before adding food to the grill.
13. Brining — soaking meat in a saltwater and spice mixture before cooking — adds flavor and ensures that meat stays moist even if you like it on the well-done side. Brining is, essentially, infusing meat with salt, so be aware that it will increase the amount of sodium in your food. Use sea salt or Himalayan salt, no additional salt is needed during cooking. This quick brine recipe can have your poultry or pork (never beef!) grill-ready in just a few hours. A whole chicken should soak in brine for at least four hours, but smaller cuts of meat, like chicken breasts, can be removed from the brine after two hours.
14. Keep a beverage handy while you grill. It can be used to quickly douse flames if your food catches fire.
15. A little char is what barbecue is all about, but enjoy it in small doses as it’s carcinogenic.