As a man, it can often seem like we’re expected to be this “grillmaster” — born to impress with a grilling apron around our waist and a pair of tongs in our hand. For many guys, however, this just isn’t the case — and it can seem intimidating to learn with such high expectations.
If this sounds like you, don’t worry! Becoming a master at the grill is easier than it looks. We’re here to help you develop some of the fundamental tips and tricks that allow you to grill just about anything you want. Consider this guide a beginner’s boot camp, teaching you the basics on your quest to achieve the rank of “Grill Sergeant.”
Understand the Different Grill Types
They say knowledge is power — a wildly accurate statement when applied to grilling. It’s important to understand the type of grill you’ll be using and how it will affect your cooking methods before you can become a force to be reckoned with at your next cookout. While the varieties and designs are nearly endless, your grill likely uses one of these two fuel sources:
- Charcoal: Charcoal grills are the preferred source for authentic, flame-kissed barbeque flavor, and many barbeque purists wouldn’t even consider using an alternative. Charcoal can typically hold more heat than gas grills, and you can easily push the coals off to the side to create a two-zone cooking surface. However, charcoal makes it more difficult to produce consistent, evenly spread temperatures — which could result in unevenly cooked food. Charcoal grills are also generally dirtier to use, clean and handle.
- Gas: Gas grills offer a beautiful combination of convenience and control. Easily started with just the twist of a knob, they provide steady, consistent heat that you can adjust to specific temperatures. While they don’t offer as much of the desirable smoky flavor as charcoal grills and don’t get as hot, gas grills are perfect for quick, easy and consistent grilling with less clean-up.
You can summarize these fuels by these most distinguishable characteristics — charcoal grills provide a more authentic, smoky flavor, while gas grills allow for precise and consistent heat.
Clean and Season Your Grill
No one likes tasting last month’s burnt shrimp kabobs on their hotdog. So, before you grill, properly prep the surface by cleaning and seasoning it. Cleaning burnt-on grease and grime can be as simple as using a stiff-bristled steel brush to scrape off the grate.
After prepping the grill, you’ll want to apply a layer of high-heat cooking oil like canola to the grate, which can help prevent sticking. Wipe off any excess with a paper towel so that just a thin coating is left. Once you ignite the grill, let the grates heat up until the oil burns off and leaves a shiny, dark brown or bronze glaze.
Soon after you’ve finished grilling, use leftover aluminum foil to remove any freshly caked-on grease and gunk. This practice can help reduce the amount of cleaning you’ll have to do later, saving you prep time and headaches at your next barbeque.
Prepare Your Food and Supplies Before Grilling
When we say prepare, we mean prepare everything. You should have all your supplies in a spot you’ll easily remember where it’s ready when you need it.
When performing a time-sensitive art like grilling, you should lay out all your seasoned meat or veggies, sauces, tools, plates and other supplies before you even place anything on the grill. All it takes is one missing ingredient or tool to accidentally overcook your meal. Plan ahead and set up everything you’ll need from start to finish within a short distance of your work area.
Monitor the Grill and Meat Temperatures
With gas grills, you can easily track the grilling temperature. You’ll increase or decrease the heat by simply adjusting the amount of gas that’s fed to the flame with a twist of a knob. Many grills come with temperature levels on the knob, so you can easily determine how much gas to use to reach a specific temperature.
A charcoal grill’s temperature is a bit more challenging to adjust, as it has no switch or knob to twist. Instead, you’ll add or remove coals, spread them out or bunch them together to adjust the heat — which can be a bit of a guessing game. Of course, no matter which type of grill you choose, the easiest way to determine your grill’s temperature is to use a quality grill thermometer.
When grilling with meat, ensuring you achieve the proper internal cooking temperature is one of the most critical steps — especially when grilling poultry, which should always be cooked well-done to eliminate the risk of food poisoning. Beef, pork and processed meats are more a matter of preference. People can be picky with the doneness of their food — especially cuts of steak — so serving a properly cooked dinner could earn you significant praise.
Perhaps the most accurate and practical way to determine meat’s internal temperature and level of doneness is with a meat thermometer. Meat thermometers have especially long needles that you’ll insert into the thickest part of the meat during cooking to measure the internal temperature.
Different foods require different internal temperatures. If you’re not sure what temperature to achieve or how long to cook your specific meat, a simple time and temperature cooking guide can take all the guesswork out of the equation. By using a guide in conjunction with a meat thermometer, you can quickly and easily determine when you’re ready to take the meat off the grill and serve it up.
Use the Finger Test for Doneness
If you don’t have a grilling thermometer available, you can get a general idea of the doneness by using the finger test. Simply use your finger to gently press on the surface of the meat, then touch the base of your thumb to compare the softness.
Connecting the tip of your thumb to the other fingertips on your hand gives you varying degrees of palm firmness to compare the meat to, from rare with the index finger to well-done with the pinky finger. While this method is certainly not the most accurate, it’s a nice trick to know when you’re in a pinch or if you’re looking to subtly show off your newfound grilling prowess.
Prepare to Fail, Experiment and Practice
One of the most important things to remember when you first begin grilling is that you will overcook, undercook, burn, drop, smash and ruin something at some point. It’s all part of the learning process! Grilling skills develop over time, so don’t expect to be a five-star chef on your first attempt. Rome wasn’t built in a day — and neither was the perfect grill master.
One of the best parts of grilling is developing your own preferences and unique grilling styles. However, this process takes practice, experimenting and failure. If you’re serious about becoming an expert around a grill, consider practicing at home. Grill steaks or chicken breasts for yourself or your family. Find what works and what doesn’t, hone your timing skills and begin working on more advanced recipes and techniques as you become familiar with your grill.
Photo provided by the author.