When the weather warms up and the days are long, there’s no better time to take it outdoors. Here are 10 “dos” and “don’ts” from our grilling guru Fred Thompson, author of the Williams Sonoma book Grill Master. Heed his simple tips, and you’ll be ready for a backyard cookout in no time.
1. Make sure you understand the difference between direct-heat and indirect-heat grilling. Know when you should use each method: Quick-cooking foods, such as thin steaks, fish, and vegetables are ideal for direct heat, while large roasts, racks of ribs and whole birds benefit from cooking with indirect heat.
2. Always let the grill preheat fully. If you put the food on too soon, it won’t develop those nice grill marks and perfect sear that you’re looking for.
3. Keep the grill grate clean. This means scrubbing them after each use. If you don’t, food will stick and taste like last week’s grilled supper.
4. Oil the grill grate. The oil prevents the food from sticking and helps transfer the heat more quickly. With the exception of fattier foods, you should oil the food, too.
5. In general, cook with the grill lid on, even for direct-heat grilling. One exception is tuna steaks, which can easily go from wonderful to “whoops” in a covered grill.
6. Leave food directly over a hot fire just long enough. Food should be on long enough for the surface to caramelize, but not so long that it blackens, which will heighten its flavor.
7. Turn foods only once, if possible. They’ll cook more evenly and are less likely to break.
8. Don’t skip the thermometer. Use a thermometer to gauge both the grill temperature and the internal food temperature of larger cuts of meat.
9. Let meats and poultry rest before serving. This allows their juices to redistribute evenly, ensuring juiciness and better flavor.
10. Follow the maintenance schedule detailed in your grill’s manual. It will make your life easier and your grill’s life longer.
1. Never rush, ever. Grilling is a little zen-like; rush and you’ll make mistakes.
2. Don’t skimp on the ingredients. Grilling highlights the natural flavors of foods, and low-quality food will taste like it.
3. Don’t cut into meat or poultry to check for doneness. All the delicious juices will run right out. Instead, spring for an instant-read thermometer.
4. Don’t get caught without an extra bag of charcoal or an extra propane tank. Nothing is worse than running out of fuel with a half-cooked bird on the grate.
5. Avoid briquettes infused with starter fluid. The fluid can impart an unpleasant chemical-laden taste to whatever you are grilling.
6. Don’t throw a steak straight from the fridge onto a hot grill. Bring foods to room temperature to ensure they cook evenly.
7. Keep flammables away. Once your coals are lit, don’t put the hot chimney starter on or near anything that is easily set on fire, such as your grass lawn.
8. Don’t get distracted, or you might end up with cinders instead of kabobs. It’s always fun to visit with guests, but not when they are far away from the grill.
9. When cooking directly over the fire, never use a sauce that contains sugar until the last 10 minutes of grilling. Basting earlier will result in crusty, singed food that you cannot resurrect.
10. Tuck in your shirt, tie back your hair if it’s long and forget the muumuu. Loose clothes and swinging hair have no place around an open fire.