Top Grilling Tips and Easy Recipes for Beginning Grillers
Whether you’re brand-new to grilling or just want to stop charring the chicken, we’ve got tips and 19 recipes to make you a backyard champ
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Do you hear it, that siren call of our ancestors? Must. Cook. Food. Over. Fire. When the sun comes out and wafts of smoke and sizzling meat start drifting in from the neighbors’ yard, the call can be darned near irresistible. And yet if you’re a beginning griller, getting from concept to competence can feel a bit intimidating.
As a food writer with 20-plus years of grilling experience, I’m here to tell you that once you get your mitts around some basic bbq tips and techniques, you can make a meal your family will rave about. Of course, I’ve included some of my favorite grilling recipes for you to practice on, as well as popular advice for things like grilling tri tip, general grilling tips for steak, and tips on grilling chicken. So grab your tongs — let’s get grilling.
Jump ahead to:
10 top grilling tips and tricks for beginners
Building the fire, controlling the heat, knowing when the food is done: You can master these.
1. Choose the best grill
The answer to “which is better, a gas or charcoal grill” is whichever grill is right for you. Both produce great food. If you’re buying a new grill, keep in mind that gas is the easiest to use; all you do is turn the knobs. Charcoal grills create a little more smoky flavor, but you’ll need to interact with the fire to get the perfect heat.
2. Get the right fuel
For a gas grill, get a tank of propane from a big hardware store (you can exchange it for a fresh tank when it’s empty). There are several choices in charcoal. Briquets (aka briquettes) are much easier to use than lump charcoal — big, irregular pieces of charred wood. I like natural hardwood briquets, which don’t have additives like coal products. Avoid briquets with lighter fluid added, and don’t buy liquid lighter fluid — it gives food an off-flavor and is bad for the environment. Wood chips and chunks add extra smoke and can be used with either type of grill, but we’re going to keep it simple and skip them here.
3. Assemble some essential grilling tools
At a minimum you need a pair of long grilling tongs and a wide spatula; some long, heavy mitts; a grill brush; and a few sheet pans. Use one set of sheet pans to carry your raw ingredients and gear from the kitchen to the grill. Save a clean sheet pan (or a platter) for the cooked food. For a charcoal grill you also need a chimney starter, some newspaper, matches or a lighter, and a second pair of tongs for the briquets. The Yummly Smart Thermometer will help you track your food's temp. A bottle of beer to sip while you preside over the fire? That’s purely optional.
4. How to light the grill
How to start a gas grill: You’ve attached the propane tank to the hose under the grill and have turned the knob to open the valve. Now open the grill lid. (Grilling safety tip: Don’t light a gas grill with the lid closed, or you risk singed eyebrows.) To start a gas grill, click the igniter button and turn all the knobs in front to high. Once everything is lit, close the lid and preheat the grill at least 10 minutes.
How to start a charcoal grill: Take the lid off and remove the upper grate (the cooking grate). Open all the vents underneath the grill and on the lid. Set a chimney starter on the lower grate (aka the fire grate) with the open end up. Crumple 2 full sheets of newspaper and stuff them underneath the chimney starter. Fill the open end of the starter with charcoal briquets and ignite the newspaper. Let the briquets burn until they’re just glowing red on top, 15 to 20 minutes.
5. How to build the fire (basic): direct heat
A direct heat fire means you're cooking right over the fire.
Perfectly grilled food — kissed by fire on the outside, juicy and neither raw nor dry inside — starts with the correct fire arrangement. The most common set-up is where your food is on the grill grates right over the fire. This is called direct heat.
How to use a gas grill: After lighting and preheating (above), you’re good to go.
How to use a charcoal grill: Using mitts, dump the chimney of hot coals onto the fire grate and spread them in a single even layer, using grilling tongs. (A full chimney is the right amount of fuel to cover the grate and cook for about half an hour.) Set the cooking grate in place and let it heat about 10 minutes.
6. How to control the heat and get the right temperature
Gas grilling for beginners: Just turn the knobs to control the heat
In addition to fire arrangement, you want to think about temperature. Just as you wouldn’t bake a cake in a 500° oven if the recipe says 300°, you need to adjust your grill temp according to the recipe and to what you’re cooking. If your grill doesn’t have a thermometer, test the temperature by how hot the fire feels. And remember to grill with the lid closed to keep heat from escaping. Wondering how to stop flare-ups when grilling? Keeping the lid closed is key for that, too.
How to control heat for a gas grill: Just turn the knobs. To cool it quickly, open the lid for a bit.
How to control heat for a charcoal grill: Too hot? Let the fire burn longer, or try closing the vents halfway (the vents under the grill as well as on the lid). If the fire is too cool or if you’re cooking longer than 30 minutes, add more briquets (ideally, ignite them in the chimney on another fireproof surface and add about 10 at a time to the fire).
High heat (450° to 550°; you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grate 2 to 4 seconds): Use high heat for thinner pieces of protein like boneless breasts in Taco Lime Grilled Chicken, skirt steak, strip steaks, and burgers like The Classic Burger. A hot fire is just right for sockeye salmon such as Grilled Salmon with Lemon Garlic Sauce (it's leaner and thinner than king salmon), and quick-cooking, juicy vegetables such as sliced onion, bell pepper, and zucchini.
Medium heat (350° to 450°; you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grate 5 to 7 seconds): Here’s the sweet spot for somewhat thicker meats (large, boneless chicken pieces, chicken pieces on the bone, and thicker steaks) where you want to be sure they cook to the center without carbonizing outside. Choose this range for sturdier and drier veggies (carrots, say). This is the right temperature range when you have somewhat flammable foods such as fatty proteins (king salmon, rack of lamb), foods that were in an oily marinade, or a sugary barbecue sauce. And don’t brush on barbecue sauce until foods are nearly cooked through, so that it doesn't burn.
Low heat (250° to 350°; you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grate 8 to 10 seconds): This is the ticket for long-cooking foods such as ribs, or eggplant cooked to silky squishiness for baba ganoush.
7. How to create a two-zone fire
A two-zone fire includes both a direct-heat area and an indirect-heat area.
Sometimes the perfect fire has both a hot (direct heat) side of the grill with the fire underneath for browning, and a cooler area (indirect heat, with no fire underneath) where you slide the food to cook through without burning.
If you're looking for grilling tips for steak, or tips for grilling tri tip in particular, a two-zone fire is your friend for thick steaks like the grilled ribeyes and Santa Maria Style Tri Tip below. Try a two-zone fire for foods that take a long time to cook such as ribs, whole chicken, or turkey, and flammable stuff (bacon, for instance — see the burger recipe that follows). Some cooks also like to use this set-up so they have a just-in-case safety zone.
For a gas grill: Once you preheat the grill with all the burners on, turn off the center grill. (Or, if your grill has only two burners, turn off one.)
For a charcoal grill: When you dump out the ignited coals, arrange them on only half of the fire grate.
8. When is it done? How to avoid raw or overcooked food
If you’ve been following along you’ve figured out that building the fire and controlling the temp are key to successful grilling. Then there’s timing. Most recipes will give you a target idea of how long to cook food, but that can be hit-of-miss. That’s why I’m excited about the Yummly Smart Thermometer. Our wireless meat Thermometer takes the guesswork out of grilling (and it works great in your oven and on your stovetop, too).
The stainless steel Thermometer goes into the food before you put it on the grill. The connected app tracks internal temperature, doneness, and cooking time so you know when to take the food off the fire — and how long to let it rest before slicing and serving.
9. How to keep food from sticking to the grill
When you're ready to fine-tune your techniques, preventing sticking is right up there.
Start with a clean grill. Remember that wire brush from the list of essential grilling tools? Dirty grates are a big reason food sticks to grills. Once the fire is hot and you’ve preheated the cooking grate, brush it clean before you set the food in place. Brush the hot grate again after the food comes off.
Don’t turn food constantly. Sure, it’s tempting to start poking and prodding food the second it hits the grill, but if you can resist the urge (and if the fire temp is correct), the food will naturally release when it’s ready to be flipped. Inhale the aroma. Look at the birds. Sip that beer.
Oil the food and the grill. Rub foods with a light coating of oil before they go on the grill to help prevent sticking. For extra assurance you can also oil a wad of paper towels and rub it on the grate using tongs.
10. Give it a rest
To enjoy grilled meats and grilled fish at their best, let them stand about 5 minutes before cutting and serving so the hot juices have a chance to settle back into the food. The temp for proteins will also rise 5 to 10 degrees after coming off the grill.
12 more easy recipes for beginning grillers
Whether you’re looking for chicken, beef, pork, seafood, or vegetarian grilling ideas, this collection of foolproof recipes for home cooks will carry you through a full season of backyard meals.
Just as the name promises, this chicken breast recipe featuring the Yummly Smart Thermometer takes you by the hand every step of the way for perfect results. An easy, citrusy marinade with a little chili heat seasons the meat.
Soy sauce, garlic, sriracha chili sauce, honey: In many kitchens these ingredients are pantry staples, meaning you can whip up the quick kebabs on a moment’s notice if you have some boneless skinless chicken breasts.
Bone-in chicken thighs are moist and forgiving of a little overcooking on the grill, making them a good choice for beginning grillers. Here they’re seasoned with an herbaceous blend called zaatar (look for it in the spice aisle of your grocery store).
While the seared onions and tomatoes add an extra layer of flavor to these steaks, the basic 5-ingredient steak recipe is outstanding on its own, and one you’re going to want to turn to often. Marinate the meat 1 to 4 hours, then grill it over a hot fire.
Even if you’ve never grilled a ribeye — a rich and beautifully marbled cut — the detailed directions here, which include using the Yummly Smart Thermometer, will guide you to success. The flavored butter takes just a few extra minutes to make and is totally worth it.
Dreaming of juicy grilled pork chops? Yummly readers give this Italian-seasoned recipe a major thumbs-up.
Think of the lemon, garlic, and chili flakes that you love on shrimp scampi, but much lighter, without all the usual butter, and with the smoky kiss of the grill. This one comes together in just 30 minutes.
A teriyaki-style marinade of soy sauce, brown sugar, olive oil, garlic, and black pepper is one of the best combinations you’ll find for rich salmon. You’ll want to keep the grill temp at medium so the lightly sweet ingredients don’t scorch.
The Fitchen uses a round cookie cutter to cut tofu patties before marinating them in tamari, toasted sesame oil, sriracha, and maple syrup, but you could also just cut squares and have the edges poke out of the burger buns. Either way, after about 10 minutes on the grill they’re ready for all your favorite toppings.
Looking for vegetarian grilling recipes? You can serve these tangy sweet grilled portobellos as a side dish, or leave them whole for burgers.
For the best flavor, Serious Eats is a fan of shucking corn before grilling so the kernels get nice and toasted. Butter and salt are all you need for seasoning, making this an ultra-easy go-with for any cookout.
If you’ve never tried sweet potatoes on the grill, you’re in for a treat. The natural sugars in them get a nice char, which here is played off with a lively lime and cilantro vinaigrette.
Keep exploring grilling tips and recipes
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