Summer is on its way, and for me, there’s nothing better than a good backyard BBQ with lots of tasty grilled meats, any kind of pasta, potato or macaroni salad, fresh grilled corn, and cold beverages. Sometimes getting the perfect grilled meat or vegetable can be a tricky task, so here are Ten Grilling Tips to make your next grilling adventure a success!
1. Direct vs. Indirect heat: Direct or Indirect heat…that is the question. Ideally, you’d like your grilled meats to be slightly seared on the outside, yet tender on the inside, but if cooked too long over direct heat, meat can become over cooked and dry. Here’s a good rule of thumb from Better Homes and Gardens: If food takes less than 20 minutes to cook, use direct heat. If it takes longer than 20 minutes, use indirect heat.
2. Perfect Patties: Ever had burgers that come off the grill looking puffy in the middle and seemed to shrink more than they should have? Here’s a great tip for getting perfect patties: place an indentation in the middle of the burger patty! This will make the burgers the right shape for piling on toppings, reduce shrinking of the patty and allow it to retain the juices of the meat. I just press my thumb in the middle of each burger to make a small indentation (not pushing my thumb all the way through, just a small well at the top).
3. Skewer Success: In order to keep your wood skewers from splintering and burning, and to allow for your skewered meats and veggies to glide onto the skewer easily, soak them in water for an hour before preparing your skewers. Here’s another great tip from Better Homes and Gardens: soak a big batch of skewers, then drain and freeze them in a plastic bag. When it’s time to grill, pull out as many skewers as you’ll need.
4. Grilling Great Veggies: Before grilling veggies, give them a light coating of olive oil; this will prevent them from sticking to the grill and drying out.
5. When to Get Saucy: BBQ Sauce might be a topic for debate, as many believe that BBQ sauce should be a condiment for grilled meats and not cooked with it, while others love the tasty, sticky goodness of sauce coated meats. If you like to grill with BBQ sauce, it’s important to keep in mind that BBQ sauce is largely a sugar based sauce, and sugar burns at temperatures over 265 degrees. This means that BBQ sauce shouldn’t be applied until the end of the process, and you should allow the heat on your grill to reduce to 265 degrees or lower before slathering it on your grilled meats (this means turning down the burners on your gas grill or closing the vents on your charcoal grill).
6. Don’t Stab Your Food: Always use tongs or spatulas to turn and move your meat around the grill! Piercing meats with forks or other similar items will release the juices from the meat that help to keep it tender and flavorful.
7. Is it Ready Yet??: Determining when grilled meats are “done” can be a challenge, especially with steak, as most of us have a preferred meat temperature, and I’m sure all of us have a guest at our backyard BBQ that simply won’t eat meat unless it’s a perfect medium rare. The one thing you don’t want to do when determining doneness is cut into your meat to check for doneness (see tip #6). There are several other ways to tell whether your meat is done; here are a few examples:
- Meat Thermometer: This is probably the most precise method for determining if your food is done, although you’re still stabbing your food when using a meat thermometer. But in order to use a meat thermometer effectively, you have to know the “right” temperatures for meat. The Reluctant Gourmet has a great guide for temperatures for all meats and even includes the temperature it should be when removing from the grill and accounting for resting temperature.
- Finger Test: Another great way to tell if your grilled meat is done is by using the Finger Test. The idea behind the finger test is that meat temperatures can be determined by comparing the feel and texture of the meat to the feel and texture of your fingers and/or palm in several combinations. While it may be less precise than measuring the actual temperature of the meat, you won’t be stabbing your grilled meats with this method. Simply Recipes has a great step by step guide along with photos to demonstrate The Finger Test to Check the Doneness of Meat.
8. Let it Rest: It’s very important to let grilled meat rest before cutting and serving it. Slicing it up right after taking it off the grill will cause it to lose juices from the meat that keep it tender and flavorful, so always let it rest. Most meats should rest for about five minutes before slicing and serving, but larger cuts of meat, including lamb, pork loin, or even tri-tip steak should rest for 10-15 minutes. Also, it’s a good idea to take your meat out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before cooking to allow it to get closer to room temperature. This will allow your meat to cook more evenly, which is especially important for beef when you’re trying to get it to the right internal temperature.
9. Make it Smokin’: A nice wood smoked flavor can make many different types of grilled meats even better, so what’s the best way to add smoky flavor to your grill? Wood chips are probably the easiest, most accessible option; most grocery stores even carry various types of wood chips for purchase. The key to success in grilling with wood chips is to soak the chips for about 1/2 hour before putting them on the grill; this will prevent the chips from burning and allow the smoky flavor to cook into your food. When adding wood to a charcoal grill, you simply add your wood chips to the coals, but if you have a gas grill, you can still achieve the smoky good flavor of grilling with wood. Check out the article from the BBQ Pit Boss on Grilling with Wood Chips on a Gas Grill.
10. Get a Sizzlin’ Sear: A great sear on a piece of grilled meat gives it that wonderful crispy texture outside and leaves it tender and juicy inside. Searing meat simply means grilling it over a high heat for a short period of time before reducing heat to allow the meat to cook to desired temperature. A few basic tips on a good sear: make sure the meat you’re cooking is dry; pat down the meat before placing it on the grill to remove excess moisture. Also, make sure your grill is clean; if the grill is dirty the meat can stick and it won’t get those great grill marks seared meat usually has. It can also be helpful to brush olive oil on the grill prior to searing to prevent sticking. For a step by step process for searing meat on a gas or charcoal grill, check out the article How to Sear Steaks on the Grill .
Looking for some great BBQ recipes? Be sure to check out Recipes that Caught Our Attention from last week’s Foodie Friends Friday Grillin’ Party!
Let me reinforce your last point to always oil your grate before placing your food on it.