Summer is still officially a few weeks away, Memorial Day sure kickstarts the season for BBQ. If you’re new to grilling, you might be apprehensive about the process. Maybe your inexperience is causing you to hold back, so you’re not getting as much practice as you’d like. Never fear—a few simple tricks are all you need to impress your friends and neighbors with your newfound skills. Here’s a beginner’s guide that will have you rocking the BBQ like nobody’s business.
Beginner’s Guide to BBQ
1. Choose Your Grill
The first step is to familiarize yourself with the type of grill you’ll be using. Charcoal is a popular choice for its affordability and the flavor boost you get from cooking over actual coals, while gas and propane units earn points for the instant gratification they provide. Pellet grills, which are typically used for smoked meats, are another option. These allow you to choose from a variety of wood types, so you can experiment with different flavors. It’s up to you to decide which of these grills is most likely to get you the results you crave.
No, not the food—at least not yet. Once you’ve set up your grill, it’s time to clean and season it for the happy task ahead.
All grilling grates should be washed with soap and plenty of hot water before their first use. If this isn’t the grill’s first outing, take extra care to remove any burned-on bits, grime, or rust that may have accumulated.
Check the bottom of the grill to make sure that there’s no ash buildup or other debris that could interfere with the heat source. Again, if the grill is new, you won’t have to worry about this, but you should perform this routine inspection every time thereafter.
Unless the cooking grates are porcelain-coated or otherwise pre-seasoned, rub them all over with a light coating of neutral oil (such as canola). Put the grates in their correct positions and heat the grill to medium (see below for tips on how to achieve the proper temperature). When the grates are hot, quickly wipe away the excess oil with paper towels. This will keep your ingredients from sticking to the grates once you begin cooking.
3. Check the Heat Source
If you’re using a gas or propane grill, check the valve on your gas line to make sure it’s open. For propane grills, this valve should be located on the top of the tank.
For a charcoal grill, you’ll need to add a supply of charcoal to the bottom of the unit, beneath the cooking grate. If you have a pellet grill, fill the hopper to its maximum capacity before you start to cook. Remember that pellet-fueled grills will need to be plugged into an electrical outlet.
4. Lighting the Fire
Gas and Propane
Gas and propane grills are the easiest to light. Simply turn the knobs to “high,” stand a safe distance away, and press the igniter button. The unit will usually make a series of clicking sounds before you hear the whoosh of the flame igniting. Release the igniter button as soon as the fire starts. Repeat with any other burners you’re planning to use. The grill should be good to go right away, but if you’re using it to grill-roast a whole chicken or another large cut, you might want to close the lid and let it heat up for 10-15 minutes.
To start a charcoal fire, add a pile of briquettes to the bottom of the grill. You can use anywhere from 15 to 60 briquettes, depending on what you’ll be cooking. If you’re just grilling a few hot dogs, you won’t need more than 20 briquettes. For searing steaks, you should add at least 50.
Once you’ve added the coals, douse them with a generous amount of lighter fluid—about 1/4 cup per pound of charcoal—and light them immediately, using a long match or stick lighter. If you use “match-light” charcoal, you won’t need to add lighter fluid, but we’re not big fans of this type of charcoal—it tends to deteriorate quickly. If you would prefer not to use lighter fluid at all, use a chimney starter instead.
When the coals are coated with a layer of silvery-gray ash, you’re ready to start cooking. For low-and-slow cooking applications, wait until the heat has died down enough for you to rest your hand about 6 inches over the coals for 8-10 seconds before pulling away.
Starting a pellet grill is fairly straightforward. Just turn the power button to the “ON” position and set the thermometer to your desired temperature. The unit should be ready to roll in about 5 minutes.
5. Finding the Proper Temperature
You’ll need to adjust the temperature of the fire, depending on what you’ll be cooking. While every unit is slightly different, here are some basic guidelines:
- Low—250-300 degrees Fahrenheit
- Medium-low—325-350 degrees
- Medium—350-375 degrees
- Medium-high—375-400 degrees
- High—400-550 degrees
With gas, propane, and pellet grills, you can adjust the temperature simply by turning a knob or pressing a few buttons. Charcoal, on the other hand, requires a bit more skill and practice. Here are a few tips to help you get the hang of things:
- Adjust the vents on the lid and body of the grill to restrict oxygen flow, thereby lowering the temperature.
- Before lighting the coals, move them to one side of the grill, leaving the other side empty. This will give you a “direct” (high heat) zone and an “indirect” (lower heat) zone.
- Start with less charcoal when you know you won’t be needing a raging hot fire.
6. Cleanup and Maintenance
When you’ve finished cooking, leave the grates in place to burn off as much residue as possible. This step will go much more smoothly if the lid is closed.
After about 10 minutes, turn off the grill and allow it to cool down. This should take 1-2 hours, depending on the fuel source.
Once the grates have cooled, it’s time to repeat the cleaning and seasoning steps you learned about earlier. That way, the grill will be primed for its next use. If you have a grill cover, use it to protect the unit once it’s cooled completely.
When you know what you’re doing, grilling isn’t just another chore—it’s an enjoyable hobby, almost a way of life. By following these steps, you’ll be opening a door to an ever-expanding universe of menu possibilities.
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