If a holiday weekend isn’t complete without grilling up a tableful of your favorites, then have we got some tips for you this Memorial Day.
We asked a couple masters of the backyard flame for suggestions for happier taste buds and tummies whether your preference runs to firing up with gas or charcoal.
Tips on the right grill, grilling equipment
In the market for a new grill? Think quality over quantity.
“Buy a smaller, more expensive one,” suggests Rob Ainbinder of a Greensboro, N.C., author of Pitmaster’s Log Book: Barbecue Notes & Perfected Recipes. “The bigger, cheaper ones fail faster and cook less consistently.”
If grilling over charcoal is what you like, forget about lighter fluid.
These vertical tubes work by placing waded up newspaper in the bottom then stacking coals on top. Once the paper is lit, the flames rise and “naturally catches the coals on fire,” he said.
“It only takes about 15 minutes. When coals are half gray ash or more, you’re good,” Carter said. “No chemical smell or taste on your food from all those additives.”
One of the best grilling tips has to do with cooking utensils. The most important item to own, next to a sturdy set of long-handled tongs, is a reliable thermometer.
Why? Because you want to cook to “internal temperature, not time,” Ainbinder said.
No grill cooks completely evenly. The weather outside — wind, temperature, sun or lack there — can affect the consistency of your grill temperatures as much as the heat source.
Carter recommends buying an “instant read” thermometer that takes only a second or two to hit the correct temp. He suggests the ThermoPro or Inkbird brands for the budget conscious, and ThermoWorks for the aspiring boss of barbeque.
Meet a tasty grilled meat
Thick, juicy burgers are a staple for any backyard cookout. Carter offer two simple but vital tips for grilling patties:
- If your patties are fresh and thick, before tossing them on the griddle or grate press down in the center of the hamburger’s top with a thumb or spoon to make a small indent. This compensates for the proteins in the meat shrinking as they heat and bulging up in the center.
- Never press down on the burger. It squeezes out the juice leading to a dry, less tasty patty. It could also flames to flareup when the fat hits the fire. “DO NOT FLIP AND PRESS! Put that in capital letters,” Carter said.
Speaking of flipping, conventional wisdom is avoid flipping meat more than once. A nice thick steak is an exception.
“Any steak over an inch thick you should flip more than once or it’s going to burn,” Carter said.
That’s where searing comes in.
Place the steak over high, direct heat for a minute or two to sear one side; then flip and repeat with the other side. Then move the steak over to a cooler or unlit side of the grill and bring it up to the temperature through indirect hit, he said.
You can also do a “reverse sear,” Carter said. Heat the steak using indirect hit until its nearly at temperature then move to high direct hit to sear each side at a minute or two per. “If you like medium rare, which is 130 to 140 degrees, you’d move the steak over to direct heat at about 120,” Carter said.
Remember not everything is best cooked over the hottest, highest flames. Low and slow can create great dishes, especially when dealing with tougher or fattier cuts of beef or pork.
“Your grill has a low and medium setting. You should use them,” Ainbinder said.
Don’t be chicken about chicken
Chicken. We’ve all bit into piece that’s black on the outside and inside … pink?!
It happens to the best cooks. Armed with an instant read thermometer — as recommended above — you’ve lowered the odds of it happening.
You can also help avoid the black-and-pink problem by holding off on the sauce until the very last minutes of grilling. Starting with sauce on the bird often results in flareups from the sugar and fat dripping onto the flames.
For really tasty chicken, especially for wings, thighs and even bland ol’ breasts, Carter suggests a simple brine. Just mix:
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup salt
- one gallon of water
Place your chicken pieces into this brew and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours. Remove the pieces, pat dry with paper towels, and then onto the flames.
“If your chicken has the skin on, start skin side down to crisp it up,” Carter said.
Want more great grilling tips?
Check out these sites:
- Rob Ainbinder’s “Pitmaster Rob” channel on TikTok
- Carter’s BBQ YouTube channel
- Kingsford Charcoal grilling guide
- Weber Grills recipe page – options to filter recipes by grill’s fuel or type of food