BBQ and summer are one of our favorite seasonal combinations. With the hottest season just around the corner, and several outdoor holidays on the calendar, what better time to start brushing up on your grilling skills?
There are dozens of reasons people love to BBQ:
- It’s a fast, efficient way to feed a large group of people
- You don’t have to break from outdoor time to have your meal
- Grilling brings out that delectable charred flavor that satisfied our cave-man ancestors
If you’re new to the wonderful world of BBQ, or just want to improve your grill skills this summer, here are a few tips to help you grill like a pro:
Tip 1. Understanding Direct & Indirect Heat
On any grill, you’ve got a few cooking options. The two primary options are direct heat and indirect heat.
Conduction transfers heat to food with direct contact. With direct heat grilling, you are cooking items directly on top of heat source with flames touching the food. You can use charcoal, wood or propane. Optimal for a quick sear on steaks, thin breasts of chicken, burgers, or kabobs with bite-sized pieces of protein.
Convection transfers heat to the food via the air. In grilling, the heat source cooks food without the touch of flames. To achieve this, the food is moved to the side or a top rack, or flame strength is turned down. This method is optimal for cooking more delicate meats, seafood, veggies, hot dogs and fruits like pineapple.
Larger cuts of meat/ ribs can start with sear on all sides, then move to indirect heat to finish. The sear creates insulation to keep meat juicy, while indirect heat cooks the internal portion. For any items that take 20+ minutes to cook, it’s a good idea to transfer them to indirect heat. This method yields great results.
Tip 2. DIY Grill Brush
A grill brush is an essential piece of grilling equipment. It keeps your grates clean and ready for cooking. If you don’t have one, though, you can make your own.
To do this, simply take a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil and roll it up until it’s the size of an orange. Pick it up with chef tongs and use it to brush off cooked-on bits of food and sauce.
Tip 3. Delicate Items Need a Grill Pan
Fish fillets and other delicate or small items should go into a grill pan before being placed over heat.
Not only will this prevent them from falling through the slats of the grill, but it’ll also ensure they cook to perfection! What’s more, a grill pan makes it easy to flip and season small or chopped items.
Tip 4. Veggies Need Oil
Veggies are prone to drying out on the grill. To prevent this, and to keep them from sticking, give them a light coating of olive oil before you place the over heat.
This is ideal for veggies including asparagus, bell peppers, squash, onion slices, and corn (although many people prefer to coat corn in butter before grilling). Once you’ve put your veggies on the grill, be sure to watch them carefully so they don’t dry out! Additionally, olive oil adds flavor and contains healthy fats.
Tip 5. Season Meats Wisely
For optimal flavor, it is best to season proteins a couple hours in advance, if not overnight. This time allows the seasoning to fuse to the meat to create long-lasting flavor. Traditionally, a seasoning will consist of a fine ground mixture of spices, herbs and salt.
Another option for adding flavor is to use a rub. In contrast to seasoning, rubs usually have a coarse component like coarse ground salt & pepper and/ or sugar which enhances the caramelizing of meats. The function of a rub is to help to retain the moisture of your meats. The salt penetrates the muscle fibers of the meat while the sugar seals as it becomes a crusted outer coating.
If you’re applying a rub, be sure to apply it gently. Without a gentle touch you could ruin the fibers of the meat.
Pro-tip: focus on rubbing seasoning into meat with the same texture you’d rub sunscreen into skin. Your pressure should be firm yet gentle.
Tip 6. Wait On the Sauces
Novice grillers make the mistake of adding sauces too early. Unfortunately, doing so can ruin the sauce and put the texture of the meat in jeopardy. This is especially true if you’re using a sweet sauce, as the sugars burn up quickly.
To avoid these issues, add the sauce to the meat in the final thirty minutes of cooking, or the final 5-10 for delicate items, like fillets of fish.
Tip 7. Use an Instant-Read Thermometer
Whether you are cooking indoors or outdoors, food safety is the top priority. With this in mind, be sure that your proteins are cooked safely with the help of an instant-read thermometer. You can pick one of these up at virtually any outdoor or home goods store. Here are some internal temperature guidelines from FoodSafety.gov:
Tip 8. Tame Flames
Grill flare-ups happen when fat drips onto the heat source and goes ablaze. While a little flame can cause a nice char on meats and veggies, too much can easily cause carcinogenic chemicals called PAHs to form and build up on your food. What’s more, excessive flare-ups can char the outside of the food too deeply before the inside has cooked entirely.
Reduce flare-ups by:
- cooking leaner cuts of meat
- trimming excess fat
- removing the skin from poultry
Pro-tip: Keep a small squirt bottle by your grill to douse flames that may blaze up.
Tip 9. Let Protein Rest
It is important to know that after you take your food off of the grill, it continues to cook for a bit. Furthermore, what you do (or don’t do) in these next three to five minute, will make or break your BBQ outing.
To ensure the juiciest meat, poultry and seafood, refrain from cutting into your meat for a few minutes. Instead, let it rest off of the grill while covered in a blanket of foil or another enclosure. During this crucial time, the juices cool from their hot and runny state, and redistribute into the meat.
If you cut into your protein before it has had time to rest, your juices will run out and you’ll be left eating a miserably dry meal. Given these points, that is one more reason to invest in a thermometer. Moreover, cutting your food to confirm it’s done is a recipe for BBQ disaster.
Tip 10. Get Sweet
Think you can’t cook dessert on a grill? Think again! BBQ desserts are some of the tastiest out there! Chili-lime Grilled Pineapple and Grilled Angel Food Cake are just a few of the grilled desserts you can whip up this summer!
Looking for a simple option? Cut some peaches in half, drizzle them in honey, place them flesh-side down on the grill, and serve them with vanilla ice cream. Simple and delicious!
If you are BBQ-ing far from home and the conveniences of electricity, here is a recipe for ice cream on-the-go using ziplock bags. The kids will have a blast shaking up their own ice cream and you don’t have to worry about keeping a melting carton around until dessert time.
BBQ Better This Summer
Learning to BBQ can be intimidating, but these ten pro tips will ensure you get the hang of things in no time. Whether you’re cooking up steak or whipping up something sweet for after the meal, you’ll pull it off like a pro with these handy pointers.