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Grilling 101: Everything You Didn’t Know You Needed to Know

I grilled for the very first time when I was 23 years old. No, I haven’t been living under a rock— I’ve just always been a little intimidated by the grill. Fire scares me, and the pressure of making sure you cook meat all the way through at the right temperature seems like a whole lot of stress.

My husband and I love to cook together, and when we got married, he forced me to get over my fear of the grill and try my hand at it. With some assistance, I quickly got the hang of it and now I actually request to do the grilling myself. Who would’ve thought?

If you’re a grill-newbie like me, here are some basic things you ought to know so you can feel confident as the grill-master this summer:

The Great Debate

Gas or charcoal? That is the question. There are plenty of debates out there on which type of grill is best, but ultimately, it depends on your personal preference and lifestyle.

If you want something portable that you can take camping or to the park, you’ll want to go with a charcoal grill—just know that you’ll be required to build your own fire and dispose of the ashes afterward! If you want something that’s really easy to operate, gas grills are known for being easy to light and control in terms of temperature.

Direct vs. Indirect Heat

You might notice that some grilling recipes call for either direct or indirect heat. When it calls for direct heat, that means that you should place your food directly over your coals or flame. You should do this for items that will cook through before it burns, like kebabs and other meats. Indirect heat means you should cook the food on part of the grill where there aren’t flames or coals underneath, like the edges. This ensures you’re cooking your meat all the way through without burning or charring it.

Use Oil

I mentioned before that I now love to grill—but I never said there weren’t a few flops along the way. On more than one occasion when it came time to actually flip the food on the grill, it stuck like superglue and shredded the entire piece of meat. Take a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil and, with a pair of tongs, wipe oil onto the hot grill grate to help keep food from sticking—just repeat if you start to notice food is sticking again!

Never Press Your Meat

On several occasions, I’ve seen people press down on their burgers or chicken on the grill with a spatula as to flatten it out. This is a big no-no when it comes to grilling, because it releases juices from the meat and, once those juices are gone, they’re gone forever! This means that your meat will be a little drier, which is not ideal.

When to Sauce

If you want to put barbecue sauce or other marinades on your meat, you should wait until the last 10-15 minutes of grilling to brush it on. Otherwise, the sugar in the sauce can blacken and char.

When To Close The Hood

I’m a very impatient person, so my husband has had to kindly request that I stop opening and shutting the grill hood every 2 minutes. You should keep the hood on your grill shut when you want your food to have a more smoky, baked taste—which is the case for most items you’ll be grilling. But for items you want to sear (like steak and fish), you want to keep the hood of your grill open and keep the temperature very hot.

What Tools You Actually Need

There are a ton of crazy looking utensils and tools made specifically for grilling, but you truly only need a few basic utensils to get your grill on: A good spatula, a sturdy pair of tongs, and a grill brush are the essentials. From there, you can get pronged grill forks, grilling gloves, and a brush for brushing on marinades. Be sure to buy utensils specific for grilling, though—they will come with longer handles and heat-resistance so you won’t burn your hands.

When Is It Ready?

Patience is a virtue that I simply don’t have, but making sure the grill is the right temperature before you start grilling is key—it usually takes about 15 minutes for a grill to be thoroughly heated and ready to use.

Know Your Safety

Yes, I’ve got a newfound love for grilling—but I’m still a little afraid of it. But having a healthy respect of your grill is a good thing, and you want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to keep yourself (and anyone else near your grill) safe. Here are some basic safety must-knows for grilling:

  • Grill outside, away from structures or overhanging trees.
  • Be sure your grill is on a flat, stable foundation and can’t be tipped over.
  • Keep your grill clean by removing grease and fat from the grill grates and tray below the grill.
  • If you’re using a gas grill, check for propane leaks regularly, especially for the smell of gas.
  • NEVER leave your grill unattended.
  • Make sure the clothes you wear while you grill don’t have strings, tails or lose ends that will dangle over the fire.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher near your grill at all times.