19 Grilling Tips from the Pros for the Best Barbecues Ever
Direct vs. Indirect Cooking
Can't decide whether to use a direct or indirect grilling method? If the food takes less than 20 minutes to cook, use direct heat; if it takes longer, use indirect heat, says Elizabeth Karmel, grilling pro and author of Steak and Cake: More Than 100 Recipes to Make Any Meal a Smash Hit ($11.79, Amazon). This is one of the best tips for grilling chicken to ensure juicy results. Smaller pieces like breasts and thighs are best grilled directly, while whole chickens should be grilled indirectly.
Makeshift Grill Brush
No grill brush? Karmel has a kitchen hack to use a pantry staple as a substitute. "Crumple a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil until it's the size of a navel orange and pick it up between locking chef tongs. The tongs will act as the handle. Holding onto the ball of foil, brush away," Karmel says.
Buy It: Reynolds Foil, $3.48, Walmart
Picture Perfect Burgers
Burger lovers, this is a must-use grilling tip! Burgers can puff up in the middle as they cook, making the tops rounded and awkward for piling on the toppings. To avoid this, press an indentation into the top of each raw patty with your thumb or the back of a spoon. (It'll help keep them from shrinking too.) When the center pushes up, the top of each burger will be relatively level, says Jamie Purviance, grilling pro and author of Weber's Ultimate Grilling: A Step-by-Step Guide to Barbecue Genius ($11.93, Amazon).
Save yourself some time when you want to grill your next batch of kabobs with one of our favorite head-start bbq tips. Skip soaking bamboo skewers each time you need them by soaking a big batch for an hour or so, drain, then freeze them in a resealable container, Purviance says. When it's time to grill, pull out as many skewers as you need.
Whether you're making veggie kabobs or ones with meat, don't skimp when you're threading them on the skewers. Kabob ingredients, such as chicken pieces, will stay juicier longer if they are touching one another (but not crammed) on the skewers, Purviance says.
Go for a Grill Pan
Instead of skewers, another of the pro's go-to grilling techniques for grilled veggies is in large batches in a grill pan. (And it's quicker than skewering all of them.) Grilling delicate fish fillets and small foods, such as chopped veggies and shrimp, in a grill pan prevents the food from falling through the cooking grate, Purviance says. Grease the basket if your food hasn't been marinated or tossed in an oil mixture to prevent sticking.
Great Grilled Veggies
Lightly coat veggies in olive oil before grilling them to help prevent sticking and drying out. "Vegetables such as asparagus, bell peppers, sliced squash, and onion slices are best grilled by the direct method," Karmel says.
Brown Sugar Basics
Here's a baking basic that's also an unexpected grilling tip. If you're using brown sugar in a rub, make sure it's moist so that it mixes easily with the other spices in the rub. "If the sugar is old, it will not mix well and will have the texture of hard pebbles, which will ruin the rub," Karmel says.
Be delicate when applying rubs, Karmel says. If you rub seasonings hard into the food, you can damage the meat fibers and texture of the food and run the risk of over-seasoning it.
Go Low and Slow with Ribs
For tender ribs, maintain a low temperature for several hours. Rather than direct-grilling them, follow the indirect-cooking method (and don't be tempted to peek—a backyard grilling tip to keep in mind for all indirect grilling). "Spikes and valleys of heat will tighten and dry out the meat, but consistently low temps will produce soft and succulent meat," Purviance says.
Know When to Sauce
We know it's tempting to slather on sauce when you've got a barbecue sauce you love, but patience is key. "Be careful not to sauce ribs too early, especially if you are using a sweet sauce, as the sugars will burn and threaten your ribs. Sauce them during the final 30 minutes of cooking," Purviance says.
Choose Nonreactive Bowls
When you invest in kitchen tools to last, it'll pay off in the long run. (Trust us.) "Stainless-steel mixing bowls are easy to clean, don't hold odors, are dishwasher-safe, and will not react with acidic ingredients," Karmel says. "The last quality is very important because many barbecue sauces, brines, and marinades contain a lot of acidic ingredients."
Build Your Marinade
When making a marinade, start with the basics. "That means a little acid, like lemon juice, vinegar, or mango chutney; a little oil; and a whole bunch of good flavors. I usually start with a 1:3 ratio of acidity to oil like in salad dressings. The acidity tenderizes the food and contributes tanginess; the oil provides moisture and richness," Purviance says.
"When marinating, I recommend a relatively short soak for most foods—30 minutes to two hours," Karmel says. "Much more than an hour or two in the marinade can over-soften food and result in a mushy texture (especially if the marinades contain enzymes from ingredients like pineapple and papaya) or give the food a tough texture if the marinade has a lot of acid-rich citrus juice and/or vinegar. My rule of thumb is the smaller and more delicate the food, the shorter the soak." You'll still get big flavor and better texture applying this rule from our collection of bbq tips.
Boneless vs. Bone-In
Remember this for deciding when to use indirect heat for grilled chicken: "Boneless chicken pieces do well grilled quickly over direct heat, but bone-in pieces take longer and direct heat alone would burn them. Use indirect heat for bone-in pieces," Purviance says.
Know When It's Ready
"To check the doneness of a bone-in chicken thigh, pull one of the thickest ones from the grill and cut into the underside," Purviance says. "If the color of the meat near the bone is still pink, put it back on the grill until it is fully cooked." For the best food safety test, you can also check doneness by using an instant-read thermometer—bone-in chicken thighs should register a temperature of 175°F.
Safely Extinguish Flare-Ups
Keep yourself and cookout guests safe by always applying this backyard grilling tip. "Don't use a water bottle to extinguish flare-up flames," Karmel says. "When water hits hot cooking grates and flames, it can splatter, causing burns or cracking the porcelain-enamel finish of the grill. The quickest way to extinguish flare-ups is to put the lid on the grill. The lid will reduce the amount of oxygen feeding the fire, thus limiting or snuffing out the flare-ups."
Super Simple Glaze
"Glazes give a glossy sheen to cooked food and add subtle flavor," Karmel says. "Melted jam is a glaze in its simplest form and works for both sweet and savory foods. Brush glaze on food at the end of the cooking time or as soon as the food comes off the grill."
Let It Rest
"Giving cooked food time to rest is the key to juicy, perfectly cooked meat," Karmel says. "The resting process allows the juices to redistribute themselves throughout the meat. I prefer to let my meat rest uncovered because the covering causes the food to steam and can make the golden brown crust or skin soggy." Follow your recipe to know how long to let meat rest. We know, we know, this is the hardest of the grilling tips to apply, but one bite is all the proof you'll need that it's worth it.