Tips For Grilling Successfully

Helpful tips for getting the best results from your grill, plus top tips for grill tools.

Flank Steak a la Willyboy

Photo by Molly

Get fired up for outdoor cooking!

Direct and Indirect Heat
The difference between direct and indirect heat comes down to temperature and time. Each method produces very different results.

With direct heat grilling, food is placed directly over a source of high heat and the grill lid is usually left open. Since food cooks in mere minutes, thin cuts of meat, fillets, kabobs, sautes, and vegetables are your best choices.

Indirect heat is used for larger pieces of meat: thick steaks, roasts, and whole fish. In this method, the food is cooked just off the heat at about 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). The lid is closed, and the cooking times are somewhat longer. On a gas grill this generally means firing up the two outside burners, and cooking the meat over the middle, unlit burner. When using charcoals, the coals are pushed to the sides of the grill, leaving a place in the middle to cook.

Traditional barbeque is a form of indirect heat using very low temperatures over long periods of time.

Preheating the Grill
A thermometer will tell you exactly what heat you are working with. That said, the gold standard is still the caveman method: Hold your hand approximately 6 inches above the heat source, about where the food will be cooking, and count how many seconds you can keep your hand there.”One-barbeque, two-barbeque…”

High Heat: 3 seconds or 500 F (260 C)

Medium High Heat: 5 seconds or 400 F (205 C)

Medium Heat: 7 seconds or 350 F (175 C)

Medium Low Heat: 10 seconds or 325 F (165 C)

Low Heat: 12 seconds or 300 F (150 C)

Timing Is Everything
There might be only a minute or two between a moist and tender chop and dry, tough shoe leather. Timing is everything. So, check for doneness at the approximate time given in the recipe. And be aware that two seemingly identical cuts of meat will often cook at different times–depending on exact thickness, texture, age, and temperature of the raw meat.

An instant read thermometer is a good tool. Insert it into the thickest part of the meat, away from the bone, to measure the internal temperature. To test doneness, you can revert, again, to the caveman method. Slice the meat, and observe the color of the juices. If the juices are red, the meat is rare. Pink indicates medium rare, and clear means well done.

Food Handling

  • Prepare all ingredients before you begin grilling. A hot grill cooks fast. Being prepped and ready makes grilling a lot less frantic.
  • Don’t let raw meat and fish come into contact with other foods. Use separate cutting boards for raw and cooked meats, or thoroughly sanitize mixed-use cutting boards. Wash with hot soapy water, spray with a 5 % solution of chlorine bleach, and air dry. Plastic cutting boards can be sanitized in the dishwasher.
  • Do not carve cooked meat on the board used to hold or cut raw meat.
  • Cut the fatty edge of steaks and chops to prevent curling. Slice through the fat at 2 to 3 inch intervals, cutting just to the meat.
  • Most basting sauces can be brushed on any time during grilling. The exception is sugar-based sauces, which include many commercial barbeque sauces. These tend to burn if applied too early; so apply these only during the last few minutes of cooking.
  • Boil marinades that you will be using as basting sauce at the table for 3 minutes.
  • Use long-handled tongs or spatulas to turn the meat. This will help keep your meat moist and tender. Poking and stabbing the meat releases juices into the fire.

Useful Tools

  • Timer: Useful for following minute-by-minute instructions.
  • Skewers: Wooden or metal skewers are essential for kabobs. Flattened skewers keep food from rolling as you turn.
  • Disposable Drip Pans: Placed under food cooked using the indirect method, drip pans prevent flare ups. Pans can also be filled with water, wine, or marinade to flavor food and provide wet heat.
  • Long Handled Tongs and Spatulas: Long handles allow you to work from a comfortable distance.
  • Basting Brushes: They’re also handy for oiling the grate.
  • Meat Thermometer: Essential for determining the doneness of thick roasts and chickens.
  • Fire Chimney: Especially useful if grilling over a long period, when the fire will need refreshing regularly.
  • Grill Baskets: Long-handled wire baskets, often shaped like a fish, they make turning whole fish easy. Grill baskets can also hold small items, keeping them from falling into fire.
  • Wire Brush: Look for one with a metal grill scraper on the front edge. They make quick work of cleaning the grate.
  • Whisk Broom: Handy for cleaning away ash from charcoal grills.
  • Squirt Gun: Great for putting out pesky flare ups. Also handy for anyone caught poaching off the grill.