Grilling can be very intimidating! Live fire is a fickle beast, and it can be unpredictable in which to work. But it can also yield incredible flavors, perfectly seared meats and vegetables, and imbue your dishes with an irresistible smokey tinge.
If you’re new to grilling or just need a refresher, keep reading for Smoke Signals BBQ’s tips. This Lake Placid barbecue joint has been in business for nearly a decade, so they know a thing or two about churning out really great barbecue, no matter the circumstances.
1. Get to Know Your Grill
The first step to producing a really great barbecue is building a relationship with your grill. Yep, you read that right! Everyone’s grill is different (just like how everyone’s oven heats differently), so you’ll need to devote some time to understanding its quirks and nuances before slapping an expensive cut of meat on the grates.
First, identify your grill type. Are you working with electric, propane, charcoal, or gas? Each grill type functions differently from the others, and you’ll want to ensure you understand the basics of using your model before ever lighting a flame.
Then, you’ll want to identify your grill’s hot spots. The Smoke Signals team recommends laying slices of cheap bread across your entire grilling surface so you can easily see which sections toast first. You’ll only need about 90 seconds to complete this process, so there’s no excuse to skip this step! This information will be incredibly helpful when you start to implement zone cooking, in which you move foods between hotter and cooler sections of your grill to ensure all items are finished cooking at the same time and with similar doneness.
2. Stock Up On Supplies
A classic rookie mistake is running out of fuel in the middle of a grilling session. Ensure this doesn’t happen by building a small stock of important grilling supplies, including fuel, charcoal or pellets, wood chips, and any other supporting items you might need.
You should also do a full inventory check of your grilling equipment before launching into any major grilling projects. Make sure your tongs, skewers, food flippers, platters, and other tools are cleaned and functioning properly before you begin.
3. Arrange Your Food Neatly
This step might sound like personal preference, but it’s not. Efficient and effective grilling requires a level of precision that can’t be achieved with haphazard food placement. Neat rows of food items will help food cook uniformly and allow you to keep track of doneness.
You’ll know to flip your foods when they unstick from the grates easily. Grillers should be able to see clear grate marks on the underside of the flipped food items, which indicates they are fully cooked on that side. If your food is tugging as you try to flip it, leave it for another minute or two, then try again.
4. Know When—And How—To Season
Not all seasonings are the same. It’s important to consider your sauce or seasoning’s ingredients and purpose before accidentally ruining a perfectly good cut of meat.
The Smoke Signals pitmasters say wet sauces should only be applied in the last five to 10 minutes of barbecuing. Sugary sauces, like Kansas City-style, are prone to burning, so be especially careful with these types and consider applying them even later in the cooking process. Make sure to flip any sauce-smothered cut of meat frequently as it finishes cooking.
You’ll want to apply dry rubs in advance of grilling. Apply a small amount of oil to the food item, then sprinkle spices directly onto the meat or vegetables and use your hands to distribute it evenly. Be sure to cover all sides of the food.
5. Don’t Mess with Internal Temperatures
Grillers should always, always consult the FDA’s recommendations for meat doneness before pulling food off the grill. Serving undercooked meat can lead to illness, food poisoning, or worse. A meat thermometer will help ensure you never have to guess about a food’s internal temperature, so you can serve confidently without overcooking.
6. Clean Your Grill Like a Professional
Taking a few extra minutes at the end of a grilling session to properly clean and season your grates will make all the difference the next time you bust out the grill. First, turn up the heat to burn off any cooked-on foods or sauces. With the lid on, this should take about 15 minutes.
For steel or cast iron grates, use a stiff-bristled steel brush to scrape away sticky gunk and food scraps. More delicate grate types, like porcelain, will require a nylon-bristled brush so as not to scratch the material.
Once the grill is completely cooled, clear the bottom section of any debris, like ashes and unused coals.
Finally, if needed, season your grates with a very thin layer of canola oil. Voila! Your grill is ready to be used again.
Where Can I Look If I Want to Learn More?
There are many, many barbecue resources out there. Some members of the Smoke Signals team prefer online resources, like the National Barbecue & Grilling Association’s website. Others like to turn to books. A few team favorites include Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ, Paula Disbrowe’s Thank You For Smoking, and Horn BBQ by Matt Horn. These resources will give you the tools you need to level up your barbecue prowess, try new recipes, and build confidence at the grill.