While it may look easy, grilling is an art that is as difficult as any other cooking method. Grilling may take years to perfect and master, but here are a few tips that should help you get started in your quest for the perfect grill marks on your favorite food.
Take time to properly warm up your grill! Whether you are using charcoal, gas or wood does matter in how much time you have to invest in reaching an optimal cooking temperature, but when it’s all said and done, an uniformly heated surface is what will cook, burn or none of the above your product. Take time to get to know your barbecue — each grill is different. Read the manual and find out how you can better control the heat. Gas grills give you faster control of the cooking temperature, but you still have to control it. Charcoal and wood, on the other hand, can be much tougher to speed up and ever harder to slow down. Investing in a grill with a few cooking levels with different temperatures can save you a lot of trouble later.
Planning ahead has never tasted better. Cooking meat at high temperatures can create those tasty grill marks, yet it tends to burn spices and evaporate marinades that haven’t been left long enough to penetrate the product thoroughly. Depending on the actual marinade, it is best to soak the meat in the liquid goodness well ahead of time — from a few hours to an overnight tenure in the fridge. For safety’s sake, never leave uncooked meat to warm up to room temperature before cooking, or an afternoon of summer fun can quickly turn into a disaster.
On the other hand, if you want to add barbecue sauce to your meat, do it a couple of minutes before it’s ready. Otherwise, the sauce will burn off. This also holds true for any other tomato- or sugar-based sauce.
Also, always use tongs to handle the meat. Using a fork may create a hole that will allow juices to escape, leaving your perfect steak or frank high and dry.
Keep a close eye on the grill. The difference between a juicy burger and a sour jaw-breaking charred ball can be as little as 60 seconds. Yet, don’t forget that keeping a close eye doesn’t mean leaning over the grill when opening its cover. Escaping steam and smoke can burn in an instant. While it may be fluffy and look like a harmless cloud, don’t forget that steam is a powerful and super-hot gas — it drives the turbines of power plants, among other things! By the time you feel the pain from a steam burn, it is often already too late to react and save your skin from a nasty burn.
Better yet, consider investing in a good thermometer for cooking - it offers the easiest way to determine how your steak (or any other meat) is cooked without cutting it, thus ruining its presentation and it can save you a lot of frustration later.
It is always a good idea to invest in good grilling tools, with long handles and a nice grip. Also, don’t forget to have different tools to handle uncooked and cooked meat that should never touch to prevent cross-contamination. That includes spatulas, tongs, knives, cutting boards and anything else that you need to use to handle the meat before and after cooking.