Even if you consider yourself a true grill master, you’ll want to check out these expert tips to ensure you’re grilling like a pro!
1) Invest in the right tools.
Nothing speaks amateur like trying to flip burgers with that short, little spatula you have in your kitchen. Not to mention the burned knuckles. Invest in a grill-length spatula, tongs, and a metal cleaning brush. Also, because there’s a vegetarian in every crowd, buy a grill basket to keep the veggies from falling through the cracks and mingling with the burgers.
2) Practice makes perfect.
If you’re an amateur at grilling, practice on your own household before inviting others over. Like your grandmother knew just the right twist of the knob to heat the burner on her kitchen stove, using your grill beforehand is the best way to become accustomed to its idiosyncrasies.
3) Marinate like a pro.
Marinades start with a base that is two parts oil and one part acidic liquid and seasonings. The acidic liquid breaks down the fibers of tougher cuts and adds flavor. Consider balsamic or apple cider vinegar, lemon or lime juice, or a fermented beverage like beer. Seasonings can run the gamut of herbs and spices, sugar or honey, garlic, soy sauce, and salt and pepper.
Marinate tender meats for 15 minutes to two hours. No longer or they become mushy. Tougher cuts can marinate for several hours—in the refrigerator, please.
If you’re making kabobs, now is a good time to soak your wooden or bamboo skewers in water to keep them from burning.
4) Use a meat thermometer.
Take the guesswork out of doneness by using a meat thermometer. To use, remove a steak from the grill using tongs. Insert the thermometer into the side of the steak. Remember that meat will continue to cook for about 10 minutes after removed from the heat. So, take your meat off the grill just before it reaches that optimal temperature and let it rest under a foil tent for 10-15 minutes. Here are some temperature guidelines from the University of Rhode Island:
Steak, Rare—140°F with a red center
Steak, Medium—160°F with a pale pink center
Steak, Well done—170°F and no longer pink
Hamburgers—160°F or no longer pink
Poultry—170°F with juices running clear
5) Prepare the grill and be prepared!
How embarrassing to have a grill full of half-done burgers and you run out of gas. Before the guests start ringing the doorbell, make sure your gas tank is full and connected to the hose. Before lighting, check that the knobs are in the off position. No need for a sudden combustion that takes off your eyebrows, now is there?
Once the grill is on and hot, use your wire brush to clean and scrape the burned debris from your previous cookout. Oil prevents food from sticking but rather than oiling the grill grates, give the food you’re cooking a thin brush of it. Never use cooking spray on a fired-up grill!
Before adding your food, check the temperature of the grill. Hold your hand a few inches from the grate. If you can hold it there for more than five seconds, your fire isn’t hot enough. If you have to pull your hand away within two to three seconds, it’s too hot.
6) Get flare-ups under control.
Flare-ups happen on the grill when fat drips onto the coals. And, when flames lick the meat, it causes an unwanted off-taste. To prevent flare-ups while cooking, trim all excess fat from your meat. When they do happen, the quickest way to get the flames under control is to close the lid.
7) Pressing matters.
You may have seen “grill masters” who grill like a drill sergeant, keeping burgers in rank, flipping them over and over to check their uniforms (er, for doneness), and put a little pressure at each turn to see if they can take it. This, unfortunately, is not the way to do it.
Once your meat hits the grates—whether burgers, chicken, steak or chops—leave it alone. You want to wait for a chemical reaction between the meat’s amino acids and sugars (called the Maillard reaction, after the French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard), to take place. This reaction browns and carmelizes the food, thereby releasing it from stuck to ready-to-turn. Waiting also keeps the juices inside the meat where they belong, producing a moist product, and not dripping onto the coals causing flare-ups. Resist the urge to press down on the meat once it’s cooking.
Even if you follow these expert tips, things can still go wrong. Here’s hoping they won’t. But if they do, just go with the flow, laugh at yourself, and enjoy your company!
Join the conversation
Have you used any of these grilling tips?
What are some of your secrets for success?
We would love to hear from you in the comments below!
Carol J. Alexander
Carol J. Alexander is a Virginia writer specializing in sustainable/green living, home remodeling, and lifestyle topics. She has written for over 100 national, regional, and local print publications, as well as online. She is the author of Homestead Cooking with Carol: Bountiful Make-Ahead Meals, available on Amazon Kindle and in paperback.