Whether you use charcoal or a gas grill, there are specific tips you need to know that will make everything taste better. These can seriously up your game and polish your Pro status. Follow them, and you will be forever known by your family and friends as “The Grill Master.”
For an extra kick, consider adding hardwood to your fire. Slow-burning wood chips add a rich, smoky flavor to your food, plus it makes the neighborhood smell amazing.
If you’re going to add wood chips to your fire, make sure you have a specific place to put them. For a gas grill, you can use a firebox or wrap the moistened wood chips in metal foil. For a charcoal fire, you need to leave a small area of the coal grate with just a few coals. This makes a good place to put moist wood chips where they will smoke, but not burn away quickly.
Soak mesquite, alder, hickory, or pecan chips for one hour before scattering over the hot coals or placing in a foil packet. You want them to sizzle and smoke the whole time your food is cooking, not burst into flames.
Different woods carry different flavors, so don’t hesitate to experiment! Salmon works particularly well when cooked on cedar planks. You can even use wood chips from broken down whiskey or wine barrels if you want to see how those flavors will enhance your dinner.
If you really love that smoke flavor, then a smoker or pellet grill may be in your future. These use small hardwood pellets for maximum smoke and flavor.
Skewers & Racks
Soak wood skewers in water for an hour before use. They are best used for foods that can be cooked quickly, like vegetables and fruits. Otherwise you may end up with charred skewers!
Use flat metal skewers when cooking meat kabobs. Round skewers will let the food turn and will not provide even cooking. If round is all you have, you can use two skewers, side-by-side, stabbed through each chain of meat, instead of just one. This gives you better grip and keeps the meat from spinning on the skewer.
Or, go for broke and grab a set of dual metal skewers. These are sure to keep your kabobs firm for controlled and even cooking.
Another option is a grill rack. There are many varieties, but their general use is to keep small or delicate types of food from crumbling or falling into the fire. Many kinds of seafood and small vegetables are much easier to handle with a grill rack.
Marinades & Sauces
Apply marinades at least an hour before cooking, although overnight is even better, especially for thicker sauces. The extra time gives the flavors a chance to really sink into the food and spice things up.
When using sauces containing sugar and fat, apply them only during the last 10 minutes of cooking. Shift the food to a cooler area of the grill to sauce it, just as you would when flipping. This minimizes dripping or spilling fat and sugar onto the flames. Sauce plus fire is a major cause of flare-ups and burnt food.
Check out the Recipes section for some of the team’s favorite marinades, rubs, and sauces.
Weather can affect grilling times, and so can the length of time the food is being cooked. Follow recipes carefully, as they are hopefully backed by a lot of experimentation and experience. Pay special attention to temperature and heat-related instructions.
Here are some helpful rules for maintaining cooking temperature:
- To lower the cooking temperature, you can:
- raise the cooking grate,
- spread the coals farther apart,
- adjust the vents on the grill’s pan to halfway-closed.
- To raise the temperature, you can:
- lower the cooking grate,
- tap ash from the coals,
- move the coals closer together,
- adjust the vents so that they are opened further,
- add more charcoal to the outer edges of the hot coals.
- When the weather is cold, you will need to use more briquettes to achieve an ideal cooking temperature. Grilling will also take longer. Wind will tend to make the fire hotter, and on a humid day, the coals will burn slower.
- The thickness and the temperature of the food when it is placed on the grill will affect its cooking time. The colder and thicker the food, the longer it will take to cook.
- The closer the cooking grate is to the coals, the quicker the food will cook.
- Fires using hardwood will burn hotter than charcoal briquettes.
- Using a food thermometer is the most reliable way to test when your food is done. You want to know how hot it really is on the inside.
- Always follow the recipe’s instructions for testing doneness. Different foods can require different methods.
- Moving the food around on the grill will give you the most even cooking results, but don’t turn the food too often or use a fork to move the food. Using a fork will release juices that you want inside the food. Use a set of tongs or a spatula to move the food without losing tasty juices.