Summer is right around the corner and we’re already starting see some beautiful grilling weather show itself! Before you dust off the tongs and turn up the heat, we’ve got a couple tips, tricks, and reminders to give you to ensure a fantastic grilling season.
Prepping the Grill
The key to a successful backyard BBQ always starts with making sure the grill is prepped and ready to go before your food ever gets close to the grates. Its not a long list, but there are a few key things to make sure of before you begin grilling.
1. Have enough fuel for your fire.
Be it charcoal or propane, few things ruin a nice grilling session like running out of fuel before all the food is cooked. Avoid having to make a mad dash to the store or finishing the cooking on the stove or in the oven by making sure you have plenty of fuel for the amount of time you’ll be grilling.
Pro Tip from Chef Kevin: “I like to use the mesquite charcoal over briquettes. A Mesquite charcoal technique I use is to load up the grill with it and use a natural fire starter. Then I use wood chips (more mesquite, apple, hickory- whatever) as kindling and to add some smoke and flavor”
2. Preheat and Clean
To ensure even cooking and a proper sear, your grill should be preheated for at least 10-15 min before you begin grilling. A hot grill is also easier to clean. You want to be sure there is no leftovers from the last time you used the grill on your new food. We recommend using a large wire brush to clean the grates and remove any unwanted char and dust; if a wire brush isn’t available you can use a wad of aluminum gripped with tongs to clean the grates. After the grill is clean and hot, apply a thin layer of oil to the grates, using a paper towel or brush, to create a nonstick surface for your food.
Pro Tip: If you don’t want to use oil, cut a potato in half and rub the cut side on the grates to create a nonstick surface.
3. Control your Temperature
A common misconception with grilling is that the grill should be as hot as possible. For some foods, very high heat and short cooking time is ideal. For others you’ll be left with a burnt outside and raw center. So, its important to know the temperature of your grill AND what temperatures you want to be cooking at. Many recipes will tell you “low heat”, “medium heat”, or “high heat” and while you can have a general idea what that means, we thought it would be easier to put numbers to the names. Follow this guide for grilling temperatures based on what you’re cooking.
- Low heat – the grill should be between 250-300 degrees fahrenheit.
- Medium heat – the grill should be between 300-350 degrees fahrenheit.
- Medium high heat – the grill should be between 350-400 degrees fahrenheit.
- High heat – the grill should be between 400-450 degrees fahrenheit.
Prepping the Food
There are endless recipes for dry rubs, sauces, marinades, and methods of cooking. While the details and recipes can be different every time you head to the grill, there are still some general food prepping guidelines that will help ensure you have a delicious meal.
1. No cold food on the grill
It’s best to make sure all the food you plan to cook is as close to room temperature as possible before being thrown onto the grill. Cold food can easily get burnt on the outside while still being cold in the middle so its important to ensure even cooking by having room temperature food go on the grill. There are some exceptions to this rule, like tuna steaks. If you want a rare sear on your tuna, chill before grill.
2. Dry Rubs, Marinades, & Sauces
Both of these can provide a wallop of additional flavor to your chosen foods, but be careful not to overdo them. Depending on the marinade, they can be used to add flavor and tenderize meat. Its generally recommended to only marinade meats for 30 min to 2 hours. Any longer and you risk ruining the texture of your chosen meal. A good rule of thumb is that the smaller and more delicate your food is, the less time you should marinade it. Effective marinades make use of acidity to tenderize meat and oil to keep it moist. Thick cuts of tougher meat, like beef, can be marinaded longer with higher acidity, while delicate meats, like fish, benefit from shorter marinades with higher oil content.
Dry Rubs are another great way to add flavor to your food. Typically consisting of a mixture of spices, salt, and sugar, dry rubs can be left on meat for up to 24 hours before grilling. Unlike marinades, longer is usually better when it comes to dry rubs since the flavors have a more difficult time penetrating the meat fibers. Just be sure to apply your rub gently, or else you could damage the meat fibers and over season your meal.
Chef Kevin’s Simple Grilling Spice Mix:
2 Tablespoons Garlic salt
1 Tablespoon Brown sugar
2 Tablespoons Smoked paprika
2 teaspoons red Chile powder
For many of us BBQ sauce and grilling go together like peanut butter & jelly. If you’re planning to cook your meat with sauce on it just be sure to wait to apply until the meat is almost done cooking. When applied too early, many BBQ sauces tend to burn from the grill’s high heat leaving bitter flavors and unwanted char on your food.
Extra Prepping Tips
If you’re making your own hamburger patties, press a dent into the middle of the patty on both sides. This will help ensure the patty will remain flat while it cooks and not bulge out in the middle. (It’s so much harder to put toppings on a bulgy burger.)
If your food keeps spinning when you try and rotate your kebob, add another skewer. There’s no rule against having two skewers in a kebob and it helps to stabilize and evenly cook the food.
Time to Grill!
1. Direct vs Indirect Heat
Direct heat means your food is grilling directly over the flames. Indirect heat means your food is being cooked by the heat within the grill but is NOT over the flames. Direct heat is for hot and fast grilling. Small cuts of meat such as steaks, chicken breasts and thighs, and fish are typically best if grilled over direct heat. Indirect heat is perfect for grilling large roasts, ribs, whole chickens, and even loaves of bread. If you aren’t sure which grilling method to use, a good rule of thumb is that if your food will take less than 20 min to cook, use direct heat; if your food will take longer than 20 min to cook, use indirect heat.
2. Leave it Alone
We know it can be tempting, but most foods only need to be flipped once during the grilling process. Excess flipping can lead to uneven cooking and even prolong the overall cooking time. This means that aside from your single flip, the lid on your grill can stay closed the majority of the time. This will help maintain the grill’s high temperature, ensuring a good sear on your food. A closed lid will also will reduce unwanted flareups due to a reduction in available oxygen
3. Temperature is Everything
When grilling meats, having a well functioning meat thermometer is crucial to proper cooking. Undercooked meats can make you very sick, and overcooked meat is often tough and lacking in natural flavor. Full cuts of beef and red fish can generally be left to chefs discretion as far as temperature goes, but ground beef, pork, chicken, and white fish MUST be cooked to a minimum temp to ensure you and your guests don’t fall ill. Here is a guide for proper finished temperatures for different meats:
- Rare Beef – 125°F
- Well Done Beef – 160°F
- Ground Beef Burgers – 160°F
- Pork – 145°F
- Chicken – 165°F
- Tuna – 120°F – 145°F
- White Fish – 145°F (if your filet is too thin for the thermometer, look for an opaque color and flakey texture)
Remember that cooked meat will rise 5-10 degrees after you remove it from the grill, this is called carryover cooking, so take that into consideration when removing the meat from the grill. Remember, when removing cooked meat from the grill DO NOT use the same dish that held the raw meat unless it has already been thoroughly washed.
Pro Tip from Chef Ben: “Seven ounces of Bison meat has a dark brown-reddish color, 3.65 grams of fat compared to other red meats with 49 grams of fat, and people tend to over cook it. Bison steaks are best when cooked medium-rare 135 degrees to maintain the moisture and rich flavor- which means I pull the meat off the heat when it is about 5 to 10 degrees under my desired temperature to accommodate the rise in temperature as it rests.”
Extra Grilling Tips
Allow your meat to rest for 10-15 minutes after you take it off the grill before you cut into it. This will allow the internal juices to cool down and redistribute throughout the meat. Cutting too soon will cause the juices to flow out of the meat, leading dryer meat with less flavor. The larger the cut of meat, the longer it should be allowed to rest.
A grill basket makes grilling vegetables and fish much easier and helps prevent any food from falling between the grates.