Alexandra

Alexandra

Contributor

As summer approaches and the weather heats up, it’s all about making the most of the extended daylight hours out of doors—which includes ditching the kitchen to cook and dine al fresco. BBQs are one of summer’s great communal activities, but all too often are mistakenly thought to be an expert’s domain.

Like all things in cookery, having a strong foundation will help build your confidence. When it comes to grilling, you need to understand the heat source and how to properly cook your proteins, vegetables, fruits—the whole lot. Trust us, you can handle the heat—no more overcooked steaks, burnt chicken wings, or sad stalks of asparagus lost down the grill grates. Here’s how.

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1. Start with a clean, well-oiled machine

Taking care of your grill is essential as it affects not just how well your food grills, but how good it tastes. Clean your grill grates as soon as possible after BBQing, especially after cooking messy meats like racks of lamb or hamburgers, as they tend to release fats and juices which can harden and coat the grill grates— you don’t want these flavors to go rancid and infuse your next grilled meal or end up with crusty grates that’ll give you messy sear lines.

It's easiest to clean your grill grate is while it's still warm, approximately half an hour after grilling, and again directly after preheating. Always remember to use a stiff grill brush and some heat proof gloves or grill mitts.

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2. Use the right tools

On that subject, it’s important to kit yourself out with the basic tools that, while not be essential, will definitely help you master the BBQ. To start at the very beginning, depending on what kind of grill you have (gas or electric) make sure you have the things you need to get it going: chimney starter, charcoal briquettes, wood chips, BBQ lighter, etc.

Some other handy tools include a grill basket for thinly sliced vegetables or delicate fish, and wooden or metal skewers for fresh fruits and meat or veggie kebabs (to avoid burning, remember to soak wooden skewers for at least ½ hour before use). Finally, there’s nothing better than a pair of stainless steel tongs to pick up and flip chicken, steaks, and pork chops, while a stainless steel spatula will flip and remove more delicate items like burgers and fish.

Naturally you’re dealing with high heat, so look for tools with longer handles than what you would normally use, as this will help with grabbing items across the grill top without having to expose your hands, wrists, and arms to too much heat. A pair of heat proof gloves can also help with that. Try to choose stainless steel tools as they can withstand the high heat of the grill better than silicone or plastic, and don’t forget about that sturdy grill brush—it’s a key to success.

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3. Use the right heat

Patience is a virtue, yes—but especially when it comes to mastering the BBQ. No matter the size, every grill needs the proper time to reach a stable temperature. Putting food onto a cold grill is the same as putting food into a cold oven: It will cook unevenly, create a craggy, uneven surface that tends to stick, and make it far harder to get those enviable grill marks. Ever wondered why your meat was sticking to the grill? You probably fell victim to your own impatience. So, give your grill plenty of time to preheat, top down, before starting to cook.

Grilling a variety of different things? Don’t stick to the same temperatures. Quick grill items like thinly sliced veggies, hamburgers, and steaks can be cooked over direct heat. With a charcoal fire, that means all the coals are spread directly and evenly under the grate. Your coals should be burning white —but not flaming—as you want to prevent any possibility of flare-ups.

With a gas fire, direct heat means simply lighting the burner directly under the food you’re cooking. However, thicker pieces of meat (like a leg of lamb or brisket) will take longer to cook are best done over indirect heat, which means simply shifting the source of heat over to one side for a gentler and longer lasting source heat. You can achieve this on a charcoal grill by moving all the coals over to one side and cooking your meat on the other side. You will also need to cook with the lid on to ensure that the entire piece of meat, not just the side facing the heat, cooks through.

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4. How to grill everything properly

How to grill meat:

Marinate or rub with a spice mix and store in the fridge for at least an hour, but preferably overnight, before cooking. Beef, lamb and pork all come with unique cooking times depending on the cut and preferred doneness. Always sear for a few minutes on either side and cook thin cuts or burgers quickly over direct heat. Thicker cuts should be cooked over indirect heat with the lid down, which means you wont have to constantly be turning the meat, but that it will still cook through quickly. Check for doneness as you would when cooking indoors—and on that note, always rest your meat for the juiciest results, too.

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How to grill poultry

Marinate or season for at least an hour before grilling. Different cuts will of course require different lengths of time (it’s generally advisable to go for lid-down cooking to not dry out the meat), but if you’re worried about cooking chicken safely, use a thermometer to check that the chicken has an internal temperature of 75°C/165°F.

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How to grill seafood:

Quickly grill over direct heat. Just like in the kitchen, short cooking times will give you a texture that’s the desirable firm and bouncy rather than dry and chewy. Smaller seafood, like shrimp, are best threaded on to skewers and grilled briefly over high heat until they look opaque and are cooked through—try this summery pineapple recipe.

To prevent fish sticking to the grill, cook filets and whole fish directly on the grill or in a grill basket briefly over high heat. Make sure the grill is clean and brush the fish with oil before laying on the grill or putting into a grill basket. When you place a fish filet on the grill, let it cook for a couple minutes so it develops a crust before you attempt to flip it. A grill basket is the easiest way to grill whole fish, but you can also lay the fish on aluminium foil over the grill grates. To check the doneness of fish, see if the flesh is opaque and that the center is firm, or follow this rule of thumb: approx. 8 – 10 min. cooking time per inch.

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How to grill cheese:

Yes, you can grill cheese. You just need to choose a hearty one like halloumi. It is without a doubt the reigning grill cheese because it not only does it hold its shape, but the high heat turns the inside deliciously chewy and the outside will be perfectly charred.

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How to grill fruit and vegetables:

Firm vegetables with high water content like eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, romaine lettuce, and corn can all be brushed with oil and thrown directly on the grill. The same can be said of fruits like peaches, nectarines, and watermelon, but watch them carefully, as they only need a few minutes on the grill.

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5. Sauces and marinades

Second only to the proteins themselves, it’s hard to imagine grilling without rubs, marinades, and sauces for serving. But, before you smother anything in BBQ sauce, read on. Store-bought sauces have a high sugar content, meaning they’re likely to burn quickly on the grill. Though a good char is what grilling is all about, you don’t want the acrid taste of burnt sugar to spoil your prime cuts. Instead, brush sauces on after the first flip and only while they are over indirect heat. You don’t have to worry so much about marinated meat, because as with all things homemade, there are no hidden ingredients—it’d require a slip of the wrist to compete with the above-average sugar levels of the store-bought stuff.

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Mixing and crowding

When cooking for a crowd, the default is to just stick everything on the grill at once and get those hungry guests fed. But, this is not the best method of attack. Just like you shouldn’t crowd a pan on the stove, overcrowding the grill will cause your food to steam. Even if you don’t overcrowd the grill, different foods cook at different temperatures, meaning overcooked hotdogs and undercooked steaks. So try to stick to one type of food at a time or plan out your ideal timing so guests can enjoy grilled veggies first, and steaks later—both properly cooked and hot off the grill.

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