The sun is shining, the temps are creeping up, and you can’t wait to nosh on some summery eats from the grill. But what if you’re not so well-versed in barbecue-ology? Have no fear! We have you covered. Prepared to be schooled in the world of grilled foods.
Step 1: Choose Your Eats and Tools
Grilling isn’t reserved for just burgers and brats—you can grill almost anything you can eat! Some of my favorites include marinated tofu, shrimp, mushrooms, asparagus, potatoes, zucchini, peppers, pineapple, and peaches. If you’re hesitant to grill smaller food items due to the spacing in your grill grates, a grill basket or wok might be a worthy investment for you. These bowl-shaped pans have small holes in the bottom to let the heat and flame reach the food, while preventing the food from falling to a fiery death in the bottom of the grill.
While you’re shopping in the grill section, you might want to pick up a grill brush, some skewers, tongs, thermometer, and a flipper to have on hand, too (or you can get by with what you already have in your kitchen).
Step 2: Burn, Baby, Burn (and Clean, Baby, Clean)
Unless you have a brand new grill, chances are some other food has touched those grill grates in recent days. And chances are, that food has left some unwelcome flavors behind. You need to get those grill grates clean. If they are really nasty, you can take them off and scrub them indoors, but for most grilling messes, a few minutes at high heat and then a strong scrubbing with a grill brush will get them clean and ready for use.
Step 3: Set Up Your Zones
On your stove inside, you probably have high, medium, low and every temperature in between, right? Well, it’s best to try and replicate that kind of variety on the grill as well. Regardless of whether your working with gas or charcoal, you’ll want to create at least two cooking zones—a searing-hot direct heat zone plus a lower-heat zone. The hot zone will help give you sear to your meats and veggies—you’ll put your food here first. While the lower-heat zone will let the food cook slowly instead of scorching it to a crispy, burnt mess.
Step 4: Oil and Season
Whether you’re cooking chicken, steak or veggies, you’re going to need to give your food a little bit of oil to keep it from sticking to the grill. My favorite way is to just pour a touch of oil onto a folded over paper towel and rub it onto the grill grates.
Next up, before your food touches the grill, make sure to season it with salt and pepper. The process of grilling will cook the seasoning into the food and really, a little bit of salt and pepper is all you need to make grilled food taste incredible! Of course, if you’re looking for something a little more fancy, you can always marinate your food before it hits the grill.
Step 5: Sear
Brown food tastes good. And by searing foods first, you get it browned, caramelized and delicious. To do it, place food directly over the high-heat zone and let cook until it releases easily from the grill grate. Don’t move it around or flip it too much. To get a really great sear, it’s going to need to really be one with that grill grate for a few minutes. Flip and repeat with the other side. For some foods (like many veggies, fish and some smaller cuts of meat) you might be done cooking at this stage.
Step 6: Finish Cooking
Now that you’ve got those beautiful, tasty grill marks on your food, it’s time to move it over to the low-heat zone to finish cooking. Keep cooking, flipping only intermittently until the food is cooked to the suggested internal temperature.
Step 7: Rest and Eat
Most veggies and seafood are ready to be eaten immediately off the grill, but allow pork, beef and chicken to rest off the grill for at least 10 minutes before serving. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the cut of meat.
What is your favorite food to grill?
What other questions do you have? Leave them in the comments below and I will make sure to answer them!
Cassie Johnston is an award-winning food writer and recipe developer living and working in Southern Indiana. Her work has been feature in national publications such as Gourmet Magazine and The Huffington Post. Cassie’s a big fan of strenuous hikes, cheese, watching sports, Brussels sprouts, and craft beer, and she’ll talk your ear off about her love of local food and seasonal eating. She’s obsessed with social media and loves connecting with new friends—you can follow her on Twitter: @backtoherroots.