Grilling Tips for Beginners: How to Cook on the Grill
Summer’s full of opportunities to grill. There’s Memorial Day, Labor Day, July 4th, and, of course, all those pool parties and family get-togethers.
The cuisine options are endless, too. Cook up hot dogs, hamburgers, bratwurst, steak, or chicken, or opt for something a little more complicated like fajitas, salmon, or a nice grilled pizza.
Whichever way you go, all that matters is your technique — and your timing.
Planning to man the grill for your next summer party? Brush up on these basic grilling tips now
1. Always prep your grill.
Before you can even think about grilling, you need your grill set-up fully stocked. For a charcoal grill, that means buying some charcoal briquettes, some lighter fluid, and long matches or a lighter. For a gas grill, you’ll need a propane tank (unless you have a natural gas hook-up at your home).
You’ll also want to scrape off any leftover food or buildup that’s on the grate from the last time you used it. This could give your food a burnt taste.
2. Choose your method wisely: Indirect or direct grilling.
There are two ways to grill: Directly over a fire or away from the flames, simply in the hot environment (with the top on, usually).
Direct grilling is usually best for smaller foods that cook quickly — burgers, hot dogs, pork chops, etc. — and ones that you want those nice crispy grill marks on. It sears the food and gives it that signature grilled flavor.
Indirect grilling is usually best for foods that need to be slow-cooked — like a large, tender brisket, a rack of ribs, or a roast chicken. It results in more tender, juicy meat.
3. Wait until the fire is ready.
An important grilling tip? Don’t just light the fire and throw your meat on immediately. Instead, be patient, and make sure the environment is right before you start your cooking.
With a charcoal grill, you’ll need time to let the fire spread and the coals to get grey and ashy. On a gas one, you’ll want to close the top and let the heat get to an appropriate temperature for the food you’re cooking.
4. Have the right tools.
Once your food is on, you don’t want to be running back and forth to get things, as it could leave your food burnt or poorly cooked. So before you fire up the grill, gather all your tools and supplies first and have them on hand at a small table or other station near your grilling set-up.
You’ll likely need a spatula, some plates, salt, pepper, a towel, and maybe an apron as well. If you’re planning to baste or put some sort of sauce on your meat, have the sauce on hand, as well as a brush to apply it with.
5. Don’t skip the marinating.
Unless it’s a super last-minute get-together, we think a key grilling tip is spending some time marinating your meat before putting it on the grill. Marinating adds a lot of flavor and can help your food stay juicy and tender. You can also think about dry rubs and other seasonings to keep the food flavorful (even veggies taste great like this!)
6. Be ready to keep watch.
It’s easy to get distracted as the grillmaster, especially if you’ve got tons of guests over at your house. But do your best to stay focused and keep your eye on the fire. If the fire gets too hot, it could burn the food or lead to uneven cooking. If it starts to die down, your food could take forever (or worse, you’ll have undercooked meat!)
7. Invest in a good meat thermometer.
Pro grilling tip? A great meat thermometer can go a long way. You can get the traditional kind that you stick into the meat and wait for the temperature to show up, but nowadays, there are higher-tech ones that can do even more work on your behalf.
Many, for example, come with probes you put in the meat to monitor the temperature. Those probes are connected to a mobile app, which you use to choose your meat and grilling method, and the app then alerts you when your food is ready to be taken off. (Mine actually makes a loud beeping sound you can’t miss).
8. Make sure you clean up.
Once the fire’s gone out and the grill has cooled down, make sure you scrape down the grates and wipe off any sauce, juice, or other mess that’s visible on the grill. Leaving this to dry will only make it harder to clean later on, and it could cause your grates to rust or break over time.
9. Our top grilling tip? Practice, practice, practice.
You won’t become a grillmaster overnight, so try practicing a bit before grilling for guests. Make some grilled chicken for the family, fire up some pork chops for Sunday dinner, or just try your hand at some grilled corn on the cob as a side one night. The more time you can spend at that grill this summer, the better you’ll become.