Don’t be intimidated by the prospect of grilling out: it’s actually one of the most basic cooking methods. It harkens back to a more primitive time and a place absent of streaming, technology, social media, and screen time. Something about fire and food activates those primal instincts that we all still have deep down. It’s time to embrace that caveman feeling by cooking a chunk of meat over fire.
Cooking on a grill is simple, but you may want some more information if you’re just getting started. Here, we outline some grilling tips for beginners that will take you from grill rookie to grill master in no time.
Gas vs. Charcoal Grills
The biggest decision to make is which type of grill to purchase: gas or charcoal. Each backyard griller has an opinion on their grill and which type is best, so don’t make a hasty decision when deciding which one to buy for yourself. There are some glaring differences between these cousins, the first being taste. The same cut of beef will taste differently depending on which type of grill it was cooked on. Charcoal will deliver a smoky flavor on top of the seasonings and the taste of the meat, while a gas grill will give a cleaner flavor.
Another difference is the cost. You can purchase a stripped-down charcoal grill with no extras for as little as $20. Gas grills, on the other hand, usually come with a wide array of options such as warmers, shelves, and lighting, and they can cost thousands of dollars. Gas grills are also more convenient, which can justify the higher cost: you just turn the dial to ignite the burner and start cooking. With a charcoal grill, you’ll need more time and patience to light the fire and let it get up to temperature. Each style of grill comes with its pros and cons, and one isn’t better than the other—it comes down to personal preference.
Accessorize Your Grill
Wherever you land on what type of grill to buy, you’ll need some accessories. According to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, “The majority of [grill] consumers have three or more accessories, indicating that consumers have invested in ways to customize their grilling experiences.” Personalize your own grill by getting a metal utensil kit that includes tongs, a spatula, and a wire brush. Some heat-resistant gloves for cooking will come in handy, too. Adding a rotisserie will elevate your grill game when you start roasting chickens and prime rib roasts. Also get a digital temperature probe to quickly check the progress of your grilled meats.
Lighting the Grill
If you bought a gas grill, this part is easy: just turn the knob to ignite the gas and heat up your grill. For charcoal grills, this process takes some time. Don’t use lighter fluid to start the coals: the odorless fluid can still leave an unsavory flavor on the meat. Instead, get a chimney, which is a large cylinder that holds the charcoal. Light some newspaper underneath, and it will burn the coals evenly and leave no odor or flavor. Leave the coals in the chimney until they’re all burning, then dump them into the grill. Spread them out evenly and wait until they burn white and the temperature has stopped climbing before putting your food on the grill. Be patient and use this time to season your meat and prep any side dishes.
What to Grill
You can cook almost anything on the grill—not just meat! If you can dream it, you can grill it. Fish, shrimp, whole ears of corn, and pineapple all taste delicious on the grill. If you’re a complete beginner, hamburgers are some of the easiest things to learn how to cook. Get a pound of ground beef, make some patties, and give it a go. Once you’re comfortable, get your favorite cut of steak on the grill.
The Art of Grilling
Once the coals are ready and the grill temperature has stabilized, it’s time to cook. Don’t cook the meat straight out of the refrigerator. If you can, take it out a few hours ahead of time so that the meat can come to room temperature. Let the grates heat up for a few minutes and scrub them with a wire brush. An artist always starts with a blank canvas, so you’ll want to get your last meal off there first.
Don’t huddle all the food in the center: this is usually the hottest place on the grill, and your food could burn. Instead, use an indirect approach and arrange the food around the middle of the grill. You’ll soon be able to gauge where the hottest point is, and you can then rearrange the food accordingly so that everything cooks evenly.
Close the lid and leave it shut until it’s time to flip the food. If you’re cooking meat, you ideally only want to turn it once. Let the meat cook for a few minutes on each side, depending on how done you like it. Remember: if you’re looking, you aren’t cooking—so leave the lid closed and watch the clock to know when it’s time to turn. Use your temperature probe to check the meat’s internal temp when you turn it. You can always put something that’s undercooked back on the grill for a few more minutes.
Keep a close eye on the grill once the meat is on. Fatty pieces like chicken, bratwurst, or burgers can drip fat onto the coals, causing flare-ups. The fire can char the outside, and the charred meat won’t taste so great. If this happens, move the meat and close off the air flow temporarily until things calm down.
You can also open or close the vents to control the temperature. If the grill is too hot, then close the holes slightly to choke off the oxygen. However, be careful not to close the vents all the way—this can put the fire out, and you’ll have to start over.
Don’t be discouraged if your first shot at grilling isn’t a life-changing success. In fact, the odds are that it won’t be. Like anything else, you will get better with practice and become the grilling legend you were born to be. You have the tools, the drive, and the ambition to get better at grilling, so keep trying and experimenting with different foods on the grill.