Brush Up Your Basics

Grilling, like any other kind of cooking, is a learned art. Keep this in mind as you’re getting started. Sometimes things won’t come out how you planned, but keep going! Getting a feel for your grill and the flame is key, and practice is your fastest and tastiest route to success. So don’t sweat it if you have a few flair-ups or charred remains of dinner. These things happen. Stick with it, and you’ll be serving up platters with those perfect grill marks in no time at all.

Let’s start with the physics. Grilling combines the heating methods of cooking on the stove and baking in the oven. You have direct heat from the gas burners or charcoal, and you have indirect heat that fills the grill when the lid is down. Grills use more extreme temperatures than indoor cooking and give you less control over that heat. An average gas grill can reach 500° F in just a few minutes. With your oven, you can set the temperature precisely, but with a grill, you light the fire, and the heat just keeps rising, so don’t wander off! Stick close by that flame. Monitoring is the key.

With such high heat, food cooks quickly. You need to turn each piece, so it cooks evenly without burning. If you turn the food too often, you’ll just slow the process of cooking. This can lead to food that is tough and dry. No one wants that. The trick is to turn only when necessary. So, how do you know when it’s the right moment? To check, get down low by the edge of the grill and lift up the corner of the meat. When the lines from the grill’s cooking grate on the underside of the food start to turn black, it’s time to turn the food.

Knowing when to turn and when your food is cooked is the most essential technique of successful grilling. It is, however, the hardest thing to learn, especially from a book. You’ll have to get out there and start grilling to test things out, make mistakes, find successes, and hone your skills.

If you’re a beginning Grill Master, you should start simple. Thinner cuts of steaks, pork chops, and burgers under 3/4 inches will let you get the “hang” of grilling and still safely cook your food. Ideally, they should be turned only once. After you become experienced with these thinner cuts, you can move on to more challenging foods. If you are cooking a thick cut of meat (over 1-1/2 inches), you may need to turn it three times to ensure it is cooked through to the center.

Here are some useful tips for the beginning griller:

Tip 1: Keep your grill clean. A clean grill will give you better tasting food and is less likely to cause your food to stick to the grate. There are many good products out there to help you out. Just make sure you pick one and stay consistent.

Tip 2: Apply cooking oil or spray to the grill before it is lit to keep low-fat meats and other foods from sticking.

Tip 3: Allow for plenty of time. You don’t want to rush your grilling or keep your family or guests waiting.

Tip 4: Don’t leave your lit grill unattended for any length of time. A flare-up can occur at any moment and leave you with burnt food (or worse) if you are not there to attend to it.

Tip 5: In order to stay by your fire once it is lit, you need to have all your tools gathered and prepped before you begin. The same is true for all your ingredients, food, and even serving platters. It’s good to have a table nearby to hold and organize all your tools and treats. Once you light your fire you need to stay by it, so make sure you don’t want to run to the fridge to grab sauce or paper towels in the middle of the process!

Tip 6: Flare-ups are caused by grease and heat. Trimming excess fat from the meat and moving it to a different area of the grill when turning is the best way to control flare-ups. Do not use a spray bottle of water to control a flare-up.

Tip 7: Using the proper tools is essential. A long set of tongs is the best for turning steaks, chicken, and other cuts of meat. A long-handled spatula is best for burgers. Remember, you’re working with higher heat than in the kitchen. A long handle helps keep your digits cool.