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It belongs up on a pedestal, with heavenly, freedom-flavored beams of light streaming around it. Sure, other countries have grills, and they do some juicy, gorgeous things with ’em, but the grill is also an American institution.
It’s up there with apple pie, cold beer, Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl.
The idea of a sunny day, a high-quality grill, and sharing some outside time with friends over some succulent grill-fresh food and an icy beverage of your choice feels like it should be written into the US Constitution.
But if you’ve never grilled before, and you want to ascend to that shining city of the grill, you can’t just wander up in a comedy apron and a fluffy hat.
You’re going to need a crash course in what to grill, what to grill it on, how to grill, not kill, and how to use your grill to make mouth-watering memories for all your guests.
Put on your big grillin’ britches – we’re about to make you the King, Queen, or Non-Binary Superstar Sovereign of the Grill.
Introduction: Beginning Your Ascent to Grill Royalty
Let’s start with the basics. We all know that a grill-centered cookout is about talk, and laughter, and fun with friends, and grill-fresh flavor-bomb moments that give you memories forever.
But why outside? Why grilling, particularly? What is it about grilling that gives a cookout its special character?
Keeping it Grill: Advantages of Grilling
There are lots of advantages to grilling, particularly in an outdoor environment.
- First, you’re in an outdoor environment. Take a breath, look around, it’ll help de-stress you from your normal work environment and the relatively chore-heavy feeling of indoor cookery. Additional bonus – the smells of cooking are enough to make your guests’ mouths water, but don’t collect and sour in your drapes and soft furnishings, so you’re not ‘living’ in a fug of cooking smells.
- Low-fat cooking. Grilling proteins with higher fat contents on a grill lets the excess fat drip away either through the bars of the grill or through fat-disposal systems designed to do just that. So, unlike some other cooking methods, your food is not sitting in puddles of fat. Result? Happier hearts all round.
- No, really, low-fat cooking. Not only are you using only the necessary amount of fat from your proteins to make them succulent, juicy, and flavorful, the chances are you’re not adding unnecessary extra fats like butter to your cooking.
- Vitamins and minerals. Especially in fruits and vegetables, people don’t often realize how little you have to do to lose precious nutritional elements like vitamins and minerals. Grilling helps lock those elements inside, so when you bite into your corn, your peppers and onions, your char-marked stone fruit, or whatever else floats your taste-buds’ boat, you’re getting the maximum nutritional value from your food.
- The same is largely true of proteins. It’s remarkably easy on a traditional hob to cook out the nutrients you should be getting, like riboflavin and niacin. The more intense heat of grilling seals the protein, keeping those nutrients inside so you can get a hit of nutrition along with the unforgettable grilled flavor. Additional bonus? Vitamin D – you’re cooking outside, so you could well be getting a hit of Vitamin D from the sun, not to mention the endorphins released by cooking in an outdoor environment.
- Company. One of the least likely books you’ll ever find is “Grilling For One.” While you certainly can use your grill for just one plate of food, it’s not really in the grilling spirit. So when the time is right, and with all necessary Covid precautions, why not grill to reduce isolation – call your friends, invite your neighbors, bring some unity to your neighborhood with a hot grill?
Which Foods Can I Grill?
When it comes to grills, there’s not a lot you can’t do, not a lot you can’t cook. Let’s take a run through some of the usual crowd-pleasers, and add a thing or two you may not have thought of.
Meat And Fish
Meat and grills have a great thing going on.
The combination of robust proteins, high heat for searing, indirect heat for cooking, and the option to smoke, char, age, glaze, marinade and dip means you can lose yourself in Meatworld very easily when you bring animal protein and a good grill together.
It’s fair to say that meat and fish are fundamental to the history of the grill as it evolved out of open fire cooking.
Getting a shot of char-grilled protein frequently gave our ancestors the energy they needed to survive. Naturally then, meat and fish cookery is still an important central element of the grill master’s art.
There is a literal planet full of proteins to try on your grill, and grilling it all mostly depends on time, heat and good technique. But in terms of America’s Sweethearts of the grill, here are your top picks.
|Know your Meat And Fish For Grilling|
|Beef||Rib-eyes, T-bones, Tomahawks, Fillets, Porterhouse, Skirt Steak (anyone for Taco Tuesday?), Ribs and more. With infinite variety, any traditional cookout without at least some ex-cow on the racks is missing out in flavor and diversity.|
|Pork||Pork chops, pork butt (not a butt), pork loin, spare ribs, pulled pork, all the ham, and can we introduce you to our friend, bacon?|
|Chicken||Drumsticks, barbecue or hot wings, thighs, breasts. Might sound like a limited menu compared to the first two. That would be intensely, badly wrong.|
|Lamb||Leg, shank, roast, chops. One of America’s most underrated meats, but delicious when tenderized and marinaded, and spring lamb chops will convert you every time.|
|Processed Meats||Burgers. All the burgers, in the land of the burger. Get creative with your mince-mixture, and build your stack. Also, in case you forgot, there’s sausage. Buy ’em fresh or make your own, we won’t judge, but serve ’em up|
|Salmon||Salmon is a great and popular fish for grilling because it has a thick meatiness that can hold up to the heat. It also takes preparations well, like smoke and marinade.|
|Tuna||A rapid fish for grill-cooking, with a meaty but delicate texture.|
|Shellfish||Shrimp? Perfect grill-food. Langoustine, Lobster, crab, all work well on a grill – the shell changing color as you cook, and giving you sweet meat inside.|
If the world is your oyster when it comes to meat and fish, the same is even more true of vegetables. There are at least eight different kinds of vegetable (before we even get into fungi or any of the soy or gluten proteins for our vegetarian or vegan selves or guests).
The thing to remember about vegetables and grilling is that some work superbly well as part of the ‘apply heat, change taste and texture’ form of grilling, but not all the vegetables in your cookout have to be cooked.
There are whole worlds of salads that can brighten up a cookout, and you already know which is your favorite – potato salad, green salad, Waldorf salad, etc.
Whatever helps compliment the rest of the food or give you a textural lift or a flavor zing, it’s a valid job for a vegetable.
|Know Your Vegetables For Grilling – And NOT Grilling|
|Root Vegetables||Potatoes in all their forms, sweet potatoes, yams – all the starchy, carbotastic things you pair immediately with proteins for a good time.|
|Marrows||Grilled pumpkin, griddled zucchini, charred or pickled cucumbers – all fit in this family and on your plate.|
|Plant Stems||A little asparagus on the side? Softened celery for its delicate scent. Plant stems are your flavor-weavers.|
|Cruciferous||Traditionally winter greens, like cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. The grill is often these vegetables’ best friend, turning them from dinner table staples into grilled, charred, flavor-added sides of glory.|
|Leafy||Lettuces, spinach, silverbeet. With lettuce, you can char it or wilt it on the heat, or keep it back to add that textbook crunch to the best burgers your guests have ever eaten.|
|Alliums||Know your onions – white, red, sweet, shallot, leek, scallions, garlic. Either grilled for addition to burgers, dogs, or other protein dishes, or kept raw and added to dips, sauces, or salads, the alliums are your major flavor-boosters.|
|Cheats||There are plenty of grilling favorites that feel like they should be vegetables, but are actually something else.
Corn is technically a grain, but if you grill it on the cob, it can be classed as a vegetable – and is a perennial grilling megastar.
Tomatoes – technically, both a nightshade (like potatoes), and a fruit, but the combination of sweetness and zing makes it feel right to treat them as vegetables.
Peppers – from bell to chili, they’re actually fruits, but in combination with onions, they’re a great savory addition to any cookout.
Avocado. We know, don’t write in. But avocado, in and of itself, as a killer guac, or in a hundred grilling recipes, should be a vegetable.
Technically, a fruit. We’re granting it honorary vegetable status because its flavor profile suits this environment better.
Mushrooms – Hoo boy.
Really fungi, and available in a wide range of kinds and flavors, they do exceptionally well on a grill, where high heat can seal their high liquid content in for a juicy, succulent side or an additional flavor-layer in a slider.
Buckle up, America – it’s time to accept veganism as valid. In fact, it’s past time. Between 2017-2019, US demand for plant-based products and meat alternatives grew by 31.3%. Vegan business currently generates around $4.5 billion.
With a B. And that’s expected to top $7 billion by 2025. Some predictions indicate veganism may well be the way of the future, with traditional meat projected to be eaten by only around 40% of the global population by 2040.
Time to get your vegan crew, learn something about vegan-appropriate proteins and recipes, and get your vegan grill on.
Oh, and that may not be just a colorful phrase. If you have meat juices dripping and spitting, you’re going to want to keep them entiiiiirely away from your vegan grilling station.
That also includes your utensils. Imagine it as an ethical version of an allergy – if you had friends with a severe nut allergy, you wouldn’t cook their food on the same grill you’d used to roast peanuts, right?
Treat your vegan friends with the same respect – if you want to keep them friendly.
What does vegan grilling entail?
|Know Your Vegan Grilling Options|
|Vegetables||Sure – you knew this one, right? But the challenge of veganism is to get your head around foregrounding vegetables in a way you might not otherwise have done, so they’re the perfect main they deserve to be.|
|Whole Grains||Whole grains are important for vegans as they contain some nutrients it can be tricky to come by otherwise – things like brown or wild rice instead of white in any rice salads, buckwheat, corn (Score!), etc will be a vegan-friendly addition to your cookout.
Not for nothing, whole grains are better for most people, vegan or not.
|Legumes||Both in terms of variety of texture and nutritional goodness, legumes are often an important part of a vegan diet.
Beans – another pre-existing cookout favorite – lentils, chickpeas, you name it, it’s all vegantastic and can easily be elevated to lip-smacking, heck yeah, gimme that vegan lifestyle tastiness.
|Substitutes||Many vegans embrace the lifestyle, but still want the same flavors and textures as their omnivorous friends. That means there’s a great range of substitutes out there.
Vegan burgers and sausages can be made out of nuts, seeds, mushrooms, tofu, or mycoprotein. Vegan fish is frequently made of tofu, covered in kelp flakes.
You can even get vegan ribs, made out of seitan (nothing more unnerving than hydrated gluten!).
It’s worth remembering that the vegan alternative strategy includes oils for cooking, and egg-free mayo for salads and burgers.
You can make vegan mayo with either tofu or aquafaba (the liquid from a can of cooked chickpeas) replacing the eggs.
As with vegetables, you can tackle fruit several ways at a good cookout. Keep it fresh for use as an ingredient in dessert platters, fruit salads, etc.
Grill it either to change its taste and texture or to render it wetter and stickier and more intense, for, say, an insanely tasty addition to ice cream. Use it as an ingredient in full-on cooked desserts – oh yes, you can, trust us on this, there are recipes to follow.
Or even in some cases use it to add zing to proteins. Fruit is the express elevator to Flavor Town.
|Know Your Fruit Grilling|
|Apples and Pears||Apples and pears have a coarse texture and a sweet flavor. They’re as American as…some sort of pie, but they’re also great accompaniments to meat, like pork.|
|Citrus Fruit||Oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit – anything with a juice that has the potential to change the shape of your mouth.
Great left alone in dessert options, lemon or juice can add pop to fish and seafood, and cooking any citrus fruit can turn the sharpness to a more caramelized sweetness.
|Stone Fruit||Everything from peaches and nectarines, through plums to prunes, these are already some of the sweetest fruits you can get.
Grilling can enhance and counterpoint that, with darker stone fruits like plums rendering down to a sauce that can stand up to gamier meats.
|Berries||Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, kiwi fruit, and passionfruit – again, bursting with natural sweetness for dessert options, and also a handy natural beverage option on a hot day.|
|Exotic Fruit||Anything that’s not from around your way – which can include everything from bananas to mangoes to kumquats. Most distinctively used in dessert options.|
|Melons||From the honeydew to the standard watermelon, they can be grilled for an unusual starter course or simply sliced as a traditional, refreshing, and simple dessert.|
Knowing the temperature, and knowing the time, are the two great elements of magic in grilling.
On the one hand, getting the temps and times right will enable you to cook whatever you want, however your guests want it, so they carry you shoulder high and sing your praises as Grill-Monarch.
On the other, slightly more serious side, most especially if you’re cooking meat and fish, getting the temperature and time right is crucial to kill any potential bacterial infection, so that your guests have a great time, rather than an upset stomach with possibly serious side effects.
Get your temperatures and your timings right, and everyone has a great day.
There’s not just a single cut of meat used at a cookout. Each of the different proteins has different ranges of temperature, but within those, each cut of particular meats has different needs too.
Fortunately, a combination of data from the Center For Disease Control, and the practiced eyes of generations of grillmasters have given us some reasonably hard and fast information to go on.
When you’re new to the grill, you might want to print this section out, till your instincts develop.
|Beef Cooking Times|
|Cut||Thickness/Weight||Rare (125F)||Medium (140F)||Well (170F)|
|New York Strip||1 inch||8 to 10 minutes||10 to 12 minutes||12 to 14 minutes|
|Ribeye||3/4 inch||5 to 7 minutes||7 to 9 minutes||9 to 11 minutes|
|Porterhouse, top loin, tenderloin, sirloin||1 inch||6 to 7 minutes||7 to 9 minutes||9 to 11 minutes|
|Flank & skirt steak||1 to 1.5 pounds||10 to 15 minutes||15 to 19 minutes||19 to 23 minutes|
|Brisket||5 to 6 pounds||2 1/2 to 3 hours|
|Rib roast||4 to 6 pounds||1 1/4 to 2 1/4 hours||2 1/4 to 2 3/4 hours||2 3/4 to 3 1/4 hours|
|Top round||4 to 6 pounds||1 1/4 to 1 3/4 hours||1 1/4 to 2 1/4 hours||2 to 2 1/2 hours|
|Eye of round||2 to 3 pounds||50 minutes to 1 1/4 hours||1 1/4 to 1 3/4 hours||1 3/4 to 2 hours|
|Ribeye||4 to 6 pounds||1 to 1 1/2 hours||1 1/2 to 2 hours||2 to 2 1/2 hours|
|Sirloin roast (boneless)||4 to 6 pounds||1 1/2 to 2 hours||2 to 2 1/2 hours||2 1/2 to 3 hours|
|Half tenderloin||2 to 3 pounds||45 to 60 minutes|
|Whole tenderloin||4 to 6 pounds||50 minutes to 1 1/2 hours|
|Tri-Tip||3 to 5 pounds||1 to 1 3/4 hours||1 3/4 to 2 1/4 hours||2 1/4 to 2 3/4 hours|
The US pork industry has especially stringent guidelines on the doneness of pork for human consumption. By combining their guidelines with the expertise of grillmasters, we can bring you this ready reckoner for use with any pork you care to cook on your grill.
|Pork Cooking Times|
|Cut||Thickness||When Fully Cooked||Medium (150 F)||Well (160 F)|
|Chops||3/4 to 2 inches||10 to 12 minutes||14 to 19 minutes|
|Loin, ribs, shoulder||1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches||35 to 40 minutes||40 to 45 minutes|
|Blade steak||1/2 inch||10 to 12 minutes||12 to 14 minutes|
|Fully cooked ham, slices||1 inch||12 minutes|
|Boneless portion||4 to 6 pounds||1 to 2 hours|
|Smoked picnic||5 to 8 pounds||1 to 2 1/2 hours|
|Whole bone-in ham||10 to 12 pounds||2 to 2 3/4 hours|
|Sirloin roast or loin blade||3 to 4 pounds||1 to 2 hours||2 to 3 hours|
|Rib crown roast||4 to 6 pounds||3/4 to 2 hours||2 to 3 hours|
|Country style ribs||Country-style||1 1/4 to 1 1/2|
|Spareribs or loin back ribs||3 to 4 pounds||1 1/4 hours|
|Single top loin roast, boneless||2 to 4 pounds||3/4 to 1 1/4 hours||1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours|
|Double top loin roast, boneless||3 to 5 pounds||1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours||1 3/4 to 2 1/2 hours|
The USDA has strict guidelines on cooking chicken (and turkey) because in terms of meat cooking, poultry is one of the least negotiable areas. You can cook beef rare and still be perfectly fine.
Cook chicken until it’s still pink inside, and the likelihood is it will give you food poisoning. That’s why ‘rare chicken’ is not a delicacy in many (legal) establishments in the US.
Here are your magic poultry numbers.
|Poultry Grilling Times|
|Type||Thickness/Weight||Medium (170 F)||Well (180 F)|
|Chicken breasts, boneless and skinless||4 to 5 ounces each||10 to 12 minutes|
|Turkey patties||3/4 inch thick||10 to 12 minutes|
|Turkey tenderloin steaks||4 to 6 ounces each||10 to 12 minutes|
|Broiler-fryer chicken (whole)||4 to 5 pounds||1 3/4 to 2 hours|
|Chicken parts||from a 3- to 4-pound bird||35 to 45 minutes|
|Whole turkey||10 to 12 pounds||2 to 3 hours|
|Turkey breasts||4 to 6 pounds||1 1/2 to 2 1/4 hours|
|Turkey drumsticks||1/2 to 1 1/2 pounds||3/4 to 1 1/4 hours|
|Turkey tenderloin||1 inch||14 to 15 minutes|
American Lamb has its own range of most successful cooking times for various cuts of lamb. If you’re going to add a little lamb to your life at your cookout, here’s what you need to know.
|Lamb Grilling Times|
|Lamb Leg (Bone-In)||5-7 pounds||Roast||25 minutes per pound||145F||160F||175F|
|Lamb Leg (Bone-Out, Rolled)||4-7 pounds||Roast||25 minutes per pound||145F||160F||175F|
|Shoulder Roast||3-5 pounds||Roast||25 minutes per pound||145F||160F||175F|
|Ground Lamb Patties||4 Ounces||Grill||6-7 minutes per pound||160F|
|Lamb Chops||1-1 ¼ inches thick||Grill||9-12 minutes per pound||160F|
|Lamb Shanks||½-1 pounds||Braise||½ hours per pound||160F|
The USDA golden rule on ground or processed meats like burger patties and sausages is that they should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160F.
The length of time that takes will be down to individual shaping and thickness of patties and links. Apply a meat thermometer to the very center of the burger or sausage, and if the temperature reading is below 160F, it hasn’t been cooked long enough.
Fish And Seafood
With fish and seafood, the FDA recommends certain procedures even before you bring them home. Check for fishy odor – if it smells fishy, leave it there. If it smells like the sea, bring it home.
The cuts of salmon and tuna are less exact than those for meats like beef and pork. As such, you’ll need to make liberal use of your food thermometer when cooking fish and seafood.
|Fish And Shellfish Grilling Times|
|Cut||Internal Temperature When Done||Time If Known|
|Medium Shrimp||120F||3-4 minutes|
|Large Shrimp||120F||5-7 minutes|
|Jumbo Shrimp||120F||7-8 minutes|
|Scallops||120F||Roughly 4 minutes each side|
As with some of the seafood grilling, vegetables are a moveable feast on the grill.
In the first place, there are vegetables you’ll cook directly on a hotplate area, and others you’ll wrap or parcel up in aluminum foil.
Those you could direct, you’ll be able to see soften and char. Those you wrap up, you’ll have no alternative but to occasionally unwrap and check for progress.
Where, for instance, if you’re making baked potatoes on your grill, it might take you 15 minutes to prep them and an hour to cook, if your potato is larger, it’ll take longer, and smaller, less time.
Aluminum packages of softer vegetables – peppers, onions, tomatoes, etc – will take significantly less time to cook, because the heat has less work to do. Check them after 20 minutes, and see if they’re done to your taste.
Harder vegetables like pumpkin, you can afford to leave a little longer. As you might expect, the thickness of your cutting has an impact here too – the chunkier the cut, the longer it will take to soften and cook the vegetables.
Corn tends to be a special case if you’re cooking it on the cob. Ideally, keep it in the husk if you can, and cook it for around 15 minutes directly on the surface of the grill, turning as the husk blackens. That should get you super sweet corn ready to yield to your teeth.
At this point, you’re unlikely to be making your own vegan substitute burgers, sausages and ribs unless you’re deeply into the lifestyle.
Follow any packaging instructions if you’re buying your vegan patties and sausages pre-shaped, but you shouldn’t need long to feed your vegans.
The Beyond Burger, a popular choice right now, should take around 3 minutes on each side when grilled.
You’re looking for an internal temperature of 165F on the grill – and don’t forget, either thoroughly clean your thermometer probe between meat burgers and vegan ones, or ideally, have a second thermometer on standby.
If you are making your own vegan substitutes, of course, the cooking time will vary not only depending on thickness, but also on what ingredients you use. Go by eye initially, and by thermometer ultimately, keeping that 165F internal temperature as your guide.
Because the variety of options with fruit is so wide, to some extent, it follows the same curve as vegetables.
Smaller, softer fruits in aluminum packages should be checked regularly – more regularly than vegetables because of the higher sugar content.
Determine what you’re trying to achieve – a pulp or syrup, or something with more of the integrity of the original fruit. And check very regularly, every five minutes or less.
With harder fruits like apples, pears, peaches, and watermelons, you may well find yourself grilling them direct on the surface of the grill or on a convenient griddle.
In this case, understand what you’re aiming to achieve – simple grill marks and a char to caramelize some natural sugars? Go by eye and pull the fruit off when the effect has been achieved.
More of a softening and a deeper char? Be brave and leave the fruit to grill for longer. Again, because of the natural sugar content of all fruits, you’ll need to be more vigilant with them than you would with vegetables or proteins.
Keep Calm, and Keep on Grilling
When you’re new to grilling, the biggest challenge can be conquering the fear that comes with a new cooking environment. What about the temperature? How does the grill work?
Hold your nerve. The grill is your servant, not the other way around. There are a small handful of tricks and tips to help you master the machine.
Keep your food moving
Unless you’re dealing with aluminum foil parcels, which will help distribute the heat, don’t be afraid to keep your food moving around.
Sure, with meats and other proteins, ideally, let them get a sear first (you should feel the connection to the grill release a little), but then, don’t be afraid to take control.
Need to render some fat? No problem – take the meat to a hotter part of the grill and get rendering. Need to let a piece of food breathe a while? Take it to a cooler area. Grills can be daunting. Don’t be afraid to grab some tongs and move things around.
Cook over indirect heat
It can be tempting, when you get your hands on a grill for the first time, to assume everything you do has to be showy.
That you have to cook always over direct heat, fast and furious, at 100 miles per hour.
There are uses for the high heat of a grill, absolutely. High heat can give you a rapid sear, sealing the juices inside proteins and giving them an exciting char.
But not everything has to be cooked that way. Once you’ve got your seal, move the food to indirect heat, so that it can do the rest of what it needs to do. So that it can cook more evenly.
If you cook everything on direct heat, what you’ll end up with is the curse of the grill-novice – food that’s charred on the outside, and raw in the middle.
That’s an impressive double-failure, and it’s of no use to anyone. Even your dog will think twice. Not three times, but certainly twice.
Relax. Take a breath. Take control. Remember everything you know about cooking indoors and apply it to outdoor grilling.
Or, if you don’t know anything about cooking indoors, listen to us – indirect heat is your longer-term friend, because indirect heat equals cooking, not just sealing and searing. Take advantage of everything the grill can give you.
Know when things are done
Know when things are done, and don’t be tempted to give them an extra five or ten minutes here or there.
Any professional chef who does that goes out of business pretty fast, because the difference between undercooked, perfect, and overcooked is a matter of minutes – especially on a heat source like an outdoor grill.
How do you know when things are done? Well, we’ve given you some handy time and temp guides for the potentially dangerous part – the meat and fish proteins.
For vegetables, fruit, and any vegan substitutions, don’t be afraid to check regularly if you can’t see the change happening to your ingredients. If you can see it, observe it, and be prepared to back your own judgment of doneness with fruits and vegetables.
And when all else wobbles and you feel uncertain – apply the food thermometer. Cooking is at least in part about chemistry. And chemistry is the science of reactions under particular conditions. In this case, the conditions of time and temperature.
If the internal temperature is what it should be, that’s your cue for action. Do the thing – take the food away from the heat source, before the heat tightens protein strands or weakens cellulose walls and gives you rubber chicken and weak vegetable slurry.
Trust yourself when you can, and trust us in the meantime. Take charge, use your eyes, your charts, and your thermometer. You’ll be fine.
Grill Types: Tips and Tricks
We’ve given you some general tips to boost your confidence when you’re new to grilling.
But there are a whole range of types of grill out there, and depending on which type you have, there are specific things which, if you remember them, will lead you to a happier, more productive grilling life.
More is not always better. Sometimes, it’s just more.
With a gas grill, you might find yourself in control of tens of thousands of BTUs, especially if you opt for a high end grill. But the key to successful gas grilling is not heat production, but heat management.
Unless you’re confident you need it running at full tilt for specific grilling moments, we suggest turning down the direct heat and using it for the most part like any ordinary stovetop.
When that fails to work, by all means, crank up the BTUs. But it’ll fail to work far less often than you’ll initially imagine.
The key to successful charcoal grilling is to build your fire well. Ideally, find an open space with good ventilation.
Make sure you buy good quality charcoal – it needn’t be the most expensive, but get a charcoal known for its reliability.
It’s like the gas in your car’s tank. You could probably run it on moonshine and Hail Mary’s – but let’s not, and say we did.
If possible, get yourself a chimney starter. Why? Ease, time, and the avoidance of those earnest, hopeful faces on your guests as you lie to them about it only taking a few more minutes.
If you don’t have a chimney starter, make yourself a charcoal stack. Think squirrels hiding nuts for the winter. In between the charcoals, push balls of newspaper and other natural firelighters – wood shavings and the like.
You want to give your fire as many chances to get started as possible. Light the paper and fire lighting material.
Step away while you still have eyebrows. Let the fire do its thing, and die back down again. Remember, with charcoal, you’re not looking at jets of dragonfire, you’re aiming to cook on ashen coals.
Once you have them, you can grill with confidence. If, as time goes on, the heat seems to be dying down, that’s the time to add more charcoal. Mellow, not manic – that’s the secret to successful charcoal grilling.
Smoking is an art all of its own. In some respects, it’s Postgraduate grilling.
You have to understand the mechanics of a smoker, the best woods for different proteins, the different applications of hot and cold smoke, and the length of time to smoke particular foods for.
If there’s one key to getting smoking right at whatever level you do it, it’s not to overdo it. Gentle smoke can be a learning curve. Oversmoking a protein means you’ve wasted the protein.
Aim for a thin whitish-blue smoke from the exhaust, and err on the side of caution when you start smoking. From that, you’ll begin to build up the skills base and instincts you need to smoke more precisely.
Need one golden nugget about electric grilling? Preheat. Preheat, preheat, preheat.
With most other forms of grill, you’re either forced into this by the necessity of building fires, or you turn a dial and whoomph!
No need to pre-heat, because you suddenly own a steak-blackening dragon. We’re conditioned by most of the rest of our lives to expect an immediate response to the flick of a switch and the flow of electricity. It’s usually instant.
It’s not instant with electric grills. Switch on your grill. Do your prep. Heck, do all your prep. Then come back to the grill, coat it with a cooking oil, and away you go.
Start trying to cook before the grill has come up to temp and you’ll have proteins that refuse to move, and a much harder clean-up gig.
The trick to portable grilling is to entrust the family member most suited to a career in logistics with the task of transporting the grill – and everything else you need to make it work.
Pick the list-maker in your family – they’re your naturally selected portable grill monitor. There will be many lists.
Fuel, ingredients, serving plates, cutlery, coolers, firelighters, corkscrews or bottle openers – it all needs remembering, it all needs safe transportation, there and back again. Oh – garbage bags, so you can take your detritus away with you.
There’s always something threatening to be forgotten when you roll out the portable grill. Entrust it to the person least likely to mess it up. Also, unofficial tip – they don’t have to cook, and they get to eat first. Turnabout is fair play, after all.
Wood Pellet Grill
There are lots of secrets to unlock about a wood pellet grill – it’s basically a Chinese puzzle box with great food as the reward. It’ll keep you learning and experimenting for years.
One of the first things to learn though is to make use of your upper rack if you have one.
Not only will it give you more space in the grill, which is always useful if your family has driven in and are pretty much contemplating roadkill right now. It’ll also lessen the heat coming off your grease tray.
What does that have to do with the price of cobnuts? Gives you a gentler, more even cook, that’s what. Want the best brisket you can get out of your wood pellet grill? Go up a notch, and alter the chemistry of heat in your grill.
Lid Open or Closed?
Yes. Yes is the answer to this riddle of the ages. Depending on what you want to achieve, it’s right to open the lid, and to close it.
Close the lid and you begin convection cooking for the succulent, tender insides, whether we’re talking about baked potatoes or rib-eye steaks.
That’s all fine and juicy, but most of the time you also want crispy textures on the outside. Fling the lid wide when you want that, it’ll stop the convection cooking and get on with the business of searing.
Searing is fun, it creates what’s called a Maillard reaction – the caramelization of outside fats, for all the crispiness you could want. So – closed=convection=succulence. Open=searing=crispy.
Choose your route to grilled perfection, or better still, mix and match as the cooking time goes on.
Types of Grill Grates
What’s the best type of grill grate for your set-up? Cast iron, just in case there’s another industrial revolution just around the corner? Iron with a porcelain business suit? Stainless steel? Steel in porcelain robes? Naked, hardcore steel?
Honestly, it mostly depends on whether you’re a sports car or a muscle car kind of person.
Sports car? Steel. Excellent, non-stick, works like a bat shot out of a cannon in hell. But, on the other hand, has the equivalent of weak ankles. Blow a tire at that speed, it’ll ruin your day.
Likewise with steel grates, it’s the least durable option, it may well chip or lose its temper. Ironically, it’s the most affordable option too, but you have to treat it like a thoroughbred and not be mean to it, or it will sulk, and break, and destroy your grilling pleasure.
Muscle car? Heavy, powerful, brutally durable – that’s your cast iron option. The kind of grate that goes up to strangers in bars and demands they punch it in the stomach, just to see how hard it is. The downsides? Heavy as a black hole, and you pay through the nose for it.
Something in between the two? Anything wrapped in porcelain. Can be worth it – more so if you’re veering towards steel, because steel is more vulnerable to being used and cleaned.
We hesitate to call the porcelain option the station wagon in this tortured metaphor, but…pretty much. All it needs is some paneling down the sides.
So which suits your grilling lifestyle better? A hardcore heavyweight that can take the punishment?
A performance engine with weak axles? Or a chug-along station wagon that might get you more miles between replacements than the steel sports car, but is more fundamentally vulnerable than the cast iron beast?
Your grilling life – you decide.
Grill Cleaning, Care, and Storage
Talking of how much punishment each type of grill grate can take, two words on grill cleaning, care, and storage.
If 2020 proved anything to the world, it’s that not washing up after ourselves is probably not that smart.
After every grilling session, clean down the grates with a wire brush. For the same reason you clean your teeth after eating a steak, that’s why. Pieces of meat or other food might be stuck in between the grates.
You leave them alone, they stop being pieces of meat pretty fast and become breeding grounds for bacteria, for flies, for all kinds of nastiness you want nowhere near your food preparation area.
Use your grill heavily? Give a thorough clean-down every two months or so. Imagine that as the equivalent of your shower.
Use neutral cleaning products on your grill – food’s going to go on there. Contrary to various instructions you may have heard, harsh bleaches are not good if you eat or drink them. Go natural wherever possible, and everyone will have a better time.
When putting the grill into longer-term storage, give it a thorough clean-down, collect all extraneous bits and pieces (including all your thermometers, spatulas, etc).
Make sure any knobs are turned to off or zero, and power and fuel supplies safely disconnected. Ideally, pick up a cover that’s big enough to fit the grill like a blanket, to avoid dust build-up.
And occasionally pop back to see that it’s OK, and that colonies of bugs, or rats, or aliens haven’t decided to make a home in it for the winter.
Assuming they haven’t, your grill should be ready for everything to choose to throw at it next grilling season. And the season after that.
10 Mouth-Watering Grill Recipes Good Enough For Royalty
It’s recipe time! We’ve scoured our recipe books for ten of the best for you, from starters, through a range of mains, to dessert.
From simple skewers and classic burgers to a lamb dish that might seem advanced, but is broken down into simple steps for you. Here’s to you, Grill-Sovereign!
- 8x 6″ corn tortillas
- Light oil, like canola. Alternatively, use a cooking spray
- 3 diced ripe avocados
- 1 minced small shallot
- 7 tbsp. lime juice
- 3 tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro
- kosher salt
- 2 tsp. cumin
- 1/2 tsp. cayenne
- 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
- 24 peeled, deveined medium shrimp
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 c. finely shredded red cabbage
- 3/4 c. finely shredded carrots (1 large carrot)
- Cilantro leaves
- Lime wedges
- Preheat your oven to 400°.
- Take 2 baking sheets, oil with canola or spray.
- Put 4 tortillas on each sheet, and mist with more oil. Bake till crispy – 7-8 minutes.
- Mix avocados with 3 tbsp. lime juice, minced shallot, and 3 tbsp. cilantro in a bowl. Add salt to season.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together cumin and cayenne with 2 tbsp. olive oil and 2 tbsp. of lime juice. Once whisked, add the shrimp, do a brief happy dance so they get coated in spicy lime oil. When coated, season with salt and pepper like you’re Oprah giving out cars. Everybody gets salt and pepper!
- Grill your slick and spicy shrimp over a medium-high heat for 3 minutes each side. You want them cooked and pink, not tough and sunburned.
- Toss your cabbage and your carrot in a bowl with the last 2 tbsp. of lime juice and 2 tbsps. of olive oil. More salt, more pepper. Have yourself a seasoning party.
- Arrange tostadas on a flat work surface and slather them with your guacamole. Lay your shrimp on the cooling guac, add slaw, decorate with additional cilantro leaves, and squeeeeze a little lime. Good times with shrimp.
Grilled Chicken Wings
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne
- 2 lb. chicken wings
- Vegetable oil, as a gift for the grill
- 1/2 c. mayonnaise
- Juice of 1/2 lemon (can be the same lemon)
- 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
- 2 tsp. horseradish
- 2 tsp. freshly chopped chives
- 1 tsp. hot sauce of your choice. They’re your taste buds, after all.
- Whisk lemon zest, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, paprika, salt, and cayenne in a bowl.
- Pat your chicken wings dry and place them in a separate, larger bowl. Add your spice mixture to the chicken and shimmy to coat the wings. Now you have spicy, lemony wings.
- Bring your grill to a medium heat. Brush the grill grates with vegetable oil to prevent sticking. Add your wings and cook, moving occasionally, for around 15-20 minutes. Meat cooked through? Skin crisp? Job done.
- While the wings are cooking and crisping, grab the last bowl you’ll need (we promise). Whisk your mayo with your hot sauce, adding lemon juice, mustard, horseradish and chives.
- Wings – hot and crisp. Sauce – cool but spicy. Combination – an American classic.
Honey Soy Grilled Pork Chops
- 1/4 c. honey
- 1/2 c. dark soy sauce, low-sodium for preference
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- Red pepper flakes
- 4 boneless pork chops
- In a large bowl, mix honey, soy sauce, garlic, and red pepper flakes (to taste). Add your pork chops, then cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. If you really want the meat to take on the flavor, hang a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the bowl for up to 2 hours.
- 2 hours later, knock politely on the bowl.
- Heat your grill over medium-high heat and cook your honey soy chops for roughly 8 minutes each side, so they’re both seared and cooked through. Leave the chops to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- 1 lb. ground beef
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 slices of cheese of your choice. Yellow cheddar is traditional, but it’s your burger, so it should be your favorite melting cheese.
- 3 hamburger buns
- 1 thinly sliced large tomato
- 1 thinly sliced small red onion
- 3 leaves butter or iceberg lettuce (optional)
- (Any and all optional – your burger, your taste buds, your way. A1 sauce. Relish. Barbecue sauce. Whatever makes it sing for you).
- Divide the beef into 3 equally sized patties, roughly 3 1/2″ wide.
- Season both sides of each patty liberally with salt and pepper.
- Press a shallow indent into the center of each burger with a thumb or finger.
- Be prepared for sizzling – turn your grill or grill pan up to high. Grill patties until they have a crust and you can’t see any pink. Roughly 6 minutes per side for a medium, still-juicy burger.
- If you want a cheeseburger, this is your moment. Lay a slice of cheese on top of each patty, 2 to 3 minutes before the second side is done cooking.
- Place patties on buns and add your chosen topping before serving.
- 3 tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
- The juice of 1 lime
- 2 tsps. chili powder
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 1/2 lb. cod (or other flaky white fish if preferred)
- 1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 8 corn tortillas
- 1 diced avocado
- Lime wedges
- Sour cream
For the corn slaw:
- 1/4 c. mayonnaise
- Juice of 1 additional lime
- 2 tbsps. Fresh chopped cilantro
- 1 tbsp. honey
- 2 c. shredded purple cabbage
- 1 c. corn kernels
- 1 minced jalapeño
- Find a medium shallow bowl. In it, whisk olive oil, lime juice, paprika, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne.
- Add your cod, and toss it until it’s evenly coated.
- Leave the cod to marinate for 15 minutes.
- While the cod is thinking about its history of bad decisions, take another large bowl and whisk mayo, honey, lime juice and cilantro. Once mixed, stir in your cabbage, corn, and jalapeño. Add salt and pepper to season.
- Heat the grill to medium-high, and warm up some vegetable oil in a large non-stick skillet. Take the cod from the marinade and season both sides of each filet with salt and pepper. Add the fish to the pan, flesh side-down.
- Cook the cod until it’s opaque and cooked through – 3 to 5 minutes on each side should be enough. Let the fish rest for 5 minutes before flaking with a fork.
- Assemble tacos.
- Serve fish over grilled tortillas with corn slaw and avocado. Squeeze lime juice on top and garnish with sour cream.
- 1/4 c. melted butter
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
- 2 tbsps. freshly chopped chives, plus more for garnish
- 2 tbsps. freshly chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
- 1 minced clove of garlic
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
- 4 (8-oz.) lobster tails
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- Lemon wedges
- Preheat your grill or grill pan to medium. High heat is not your friend with lobster.
- Whisk melted butter, lemon juice, zest, chives, parsley, garlic, and salt in a small bowl. Now you have acidulated butter.
- Using kitchen shears, cut the top of the lobster shell from the meaty portion of the tail.
- Switch to a knife, and cut halfway through the meat down the center, without cutting all the way through. Insert a skewer lengthwise through the lobster to keep it from curling up when cooked.
- Brush the lobster all over with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill it flesh side down until lightly charred – say 6 minutes.
- Flip your lobster and add a spoonful of butter mixture onto the flesh side. Grill until it’s just cooked through. Give it 5 minutes, unless it looks done before then.
- Take the lobster from the grill and sprinkle it with red pepper flakes. Serve with lemon wedges.
Grilled Portobello Steaks
- 4 portobello mushroom caps, stemmed and gills trimmed
- 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
- 3 garlic cloves,
- 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 medium zucchini, ends trimmed
- 2 tbsp. Country Crock Original
- 3/4 c. panko breadcrumbs
- 1/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan
- 3 tbsps. of freshly chopped thyme
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 c. mayonnaise
- 1/4 c. oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
- 1 tsp. lemon zest
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Preheat your oven to 425°. Take a large plastic bag, and add the portobello mushrooms.
- Whisk balsamic vinegar, 2 cloves – not all 3 – of the garlic, and olive oil together in a small bowl, then pour the marinade over the mushrooms. Exit mushrooms, stage left. Meanwhile…
- Cut each of the zucchini into four pieces: halved both crosswise and then lengthwise. Then cut each half into thirds.
- In a large bowl, toss your zucchini pieces with Country Crock Original, using your hands to evenly coat the pieces.
- In another small bowl, stir together your panko breadcrumbs, Parmesan, and 2 tsps. of fresh thyme. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add your panko mixture to the zucchini bowl and toss them vigorously to coat.
- Transfer your zucchini fries to two parchment-lined baking sheets. If there’s any remaining breadcrumb mixture, throw it on. Season with salt and pepper.
- Bake until golden brown. This should take 18-20 minutes.
- Fit a food processor with a metal blade.
- Pulse the mayonnaise, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon zest and juice together, and add the remaining clove of and a tsp. of thyme, until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
- Heat your grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Take the mushrooms from their marinade bag and season with salt and pepper.
- Grill until tender – roughly 3 minutes each side.
- Serve portobello “steaks,” with sun-dried tomato aioli and zucchini fries.
Grilled Rosemary Lamb with Juicy Tomatoes
Lamb and Sauce
- 1 3–4-lb. boneless lamb shoulder
- Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
- 2 coarsely chopped red onions
- 1bunch rosemary, with the leaves stripped from half of the sprigs (about 1 cup)
- 1 bunch oregano, leaves similarly stripped from sprigs (about 1 cup)
- ¾ cup red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 finely grated garlic clove
Tomatoes and Assembly
- 5 beefsteak or large heirloom tomatoes
- Flaky sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1 halved, thinly-sliced red onion
- Extra-virgin olive oil (for drizzling)
Lamb and Sauce
- Lay your lamb shoulder, cut side up, on a work surface. Take a sharp knife, and separate the shoulder into 5 or 6 smaller pieces along the natural seams.
- Transfer the lamb to a glass baking dish. Season generously on all sides with salt and pepper.
- Pulse onions, rosemary leaves, and oregano leaves in a food processor until finely chopped. Save the remaining rosemary sprigs.
- Add vinegar and oil to the herby onions and pulse into a coarse purée. Season with salt and pepper, then pour the marinade over the lamb, turning the pieces to get them fully coated.
- Cover and let it sit at room temperature for 2–3 hours.
- Mix yogurt, lemon juice, and garlic in a bowl. Season the sauce with salt and pepper; cover and chill until ready to use.
NB: Forward planning. You can prep the lamb a whole day ahead. The sauce can be made 8 hours before use and kept chilled.
- Roughly 30 minutes before it’s grilling time, slice your tomatoes into ½”-thick rounds and space them out on a large platter. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with half of the lemon juice. Top the tomatoes with onion, salt and pepper, then drizzle the remaining lemon juice over the tomatoes.
- Arrange the rosemary sprigs you saved on top, and set aside.
- Heat your grill to medium. Transfer the larger pieces of lamb to the grate, making sure they’re still coated in marinade.
- Grill until the underside is very well browned – approximately 5 minutes.
- Spoon some of the remaining marinade over the lamb, turn, and continue to grill, turning every 5 minutes or any time you see a flare-up, until the lamb is charred in spots and very well browned everywhere.
- 15 minutes after you start cooking the larger pieces of lamb, add the smaller pieces to the grill and repeat the procedure; Smaller pieces will take less time to cook, so you’ll end up with all your lamb ready to be served at once.
- An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of each piece should register 140° for medium. Start checking your smaller pieces after 7–10 minutes. The largest piece will take closer to 30 minutes. As each piece finishes, transfer to a reserved platter, setting the pieces on top of the rosemary.
- Rest for 20–30 minutes.
- Nearly there. Transfer the lamb to a cutting board, and tuck rosemary sprigs off to the sides of the platter.
- Tip platter so that accumulated tomato and lamb juices pool at one end and spoon over tomatoes. Using a long sharp knife, slice the lamb into very thin strips, arranged on top of the onion and tomatoes. Season with salt and drizzle with oil.
- Drizzle the yogurt sauce with oil and serve alongside the lamb.
Hawaiian Seitan Skewers
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ½ cup pineapple juice
- 1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- 3 minced cloves of garlic
- 1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
- 1 tsp. agave
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 pinch salt
- 3 cups “Tastes Like Chicken” Seitan, cubed
- 4 large peppers: 2 green, 2 red, cut into 1-in. squares
- 1 large red onion, cut into 1-in. squares
- 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
- 2 cups pineapple, cubed
- Mix all the ingredients for the glaze in a small bowl.
- Place the Seitan, vegetables, and pineapple onto skewers until only 2 inches are showing at top and bottom.
- Brush the glaze onto the skewer ingredients, coating completely.
- Cook skewers on grill for 3 minutes on each side, or until the ingredients begin to brown. Veganism. Not rocket science.
Grilled Pineapple Sundaes
- 4 pineapple slices
- 4 scoops vanilla ice cream
- Dulce de leche, for drizzling
- 2 tbsps. sweetened shredded coconut, toasted
- Heat your grill to high.
- Grill the pineapple until charred, barely 1 minute per side.
- Top each pineapple slice with vanilla ice cream and drizzle with dulce de leche or caramel. Top with shredded coconut and serve immediately. Grilled dessert. Bliss.
Conclusion – King Of The Grill
Now you need never be intimidated by your grill again.
You’ve learned cooking temperatures, cooking techniques, the classic tips to get ahead on any kind of grill, and you have a range of recipes at your grilling fingertips, from the basic to the more advanced. Go grab your tongs and spatula – the Kingdom of the Grill is yours.