Grilling is one of the greatest summer past-times, but alas, too often summer cookouts are ruined by scorched chicken, burnt hands, and frizzled nerves. While anyone can grill, sometimes you have to learn from the mistakes of others to become a true grill master. We present 11 of the most common grilling mistakes and how to avoid them.
Mistake: Forgetting to Prep Your Ingredients
Before you even light the grill, make sure all your ingredients are chopped, mixed, peeled and ready to go. This is called “mise en place” – everything in place – and it's the number one step for any good cook. The last thing you want is to be cutting tomatoes and onions as your burgers go up in flames.
Mistake: A Dirty Grill
Think of your grill grate like an open sauté pan – it needs to be clean before you cook on it. Those remnants of old burger bits and spider webs are going to make grilling anything decent next to impossible (and let's be frank, they are disgusting). Use a metal brush on the grates immediately after taking off the food. A hot grate cleans easier than a cold one.
Mistake: Not Oiling Your Grill
Just like a sauté pan, a grill grate needs a little oil to help transfer heat and keep food from sticking. Keep a jar of cheap cooking oil near the grill. Wad up a paper towel, dip it in the oil, and rub it over the hot grill grate just before adding your food. This will ensure burgers won't stick, grilled-pizza crust browns beautifully, and steaks get deep grill marks.
Mistake: Not Preheating Your Grill
Give your grill at least 15 minutes to heat up, preferably with the lid down. If you're using charcoal briquettes, make sure they're fully lit before you put food on the grill. If they're not, that means the chemicals they contain are still burning off and flavoring your food. The metal should be hot enough to sear on contact (like how water will cascade across a hot sauté pan). A red-hot grill helps prevent sticking, gives you professional grill marks, and cooks food faster.
Mistake: Poor Tools
A few basic tools will do amazing things for your cooking skills (and help you prevent burns). Long-handled tongs; a heavy duty, long-handled spatula; and a turning fork are essential, as is a few kitchen towels and a good wire grill brush for cleaning afterwards. Check out Cutco's Barbecue Set, perfect for your next cookout!
Mistake: Grilling Cold or Wet Foods
Just as you should let your butter and eggs come to room temperature before baking a cake or cookies, you should let your meat come to room temperature before placing it on the grill. Otherwise, the meat will burn on the outside before the inside reaches doneness. Allow 15 to 20 minutes (the time it should take to preheat the grill) to take the chill off. Additionally, any food that is rinsed before grilling needs to be patted dry before hitting the grill. Food doesn't start to brown until the surface gets to about 250 degrees, but water can only get to 212 degrees before it evaporates. If the food is wet, it will steam before it grills. Dry food means better browning, which means better flavor.
Mistake: Using Only Direct Heat
“Direct heat zones” can burn foods quickly. Thus, it's important to make one “zone” of your grill that isn't directly above coals or flame (an “indirect heat zone”). Dual temperature zones will help you manage things on the grill, while also giving you a cool spot to place food during grill flare-ups. Use the direct heat zone to fill all those juices inside the meat or vegetables then move them to your indirect heat zone to make sure they cook throughout.
Mistake: Covering Up
It's easy to think you can just close your grill cover, relax, and sip on a cold one while the meat cooks. Truth is, during direct heat cooking grilled burgers, steaks, chicken, and most of your everyday grill cooking, you should never cover the grill. Shutting the lid allows the build up of acrid smoke, which you'll end up tasting in your food. Only cover during indirect grilling.
Mistake: Too Much Sauce, Too Soon.
Sauces and glazes give grilled items an extra boost of flavor, but don't add them too soon in the cooking process. Most contain sugars that burn easily. Instead, add them toward the end of the cooking process. The same goes for marinades. Marinating is good, but not in barbecue sauce due its sugar content. Try marinating in a vinegar- or oil-based marinade (and save the barbecue sauce for the end of the cooking).
Mistake: Forgoing the Thermometer
Don't just guess how done your burgers, steaks, and chicken breasts are and definitely don't cut into the meat – besides letting the internal juices escape, who would want a burger or chicken hacked to pieces even if it's in the name of doneness? Get an instant-read thermometer for quickly reading internal temperatures.
Mistake: Rushing Food to Table
The food looks perfect, everyone is hungry, but you must (repeat, must) let thick cuts of beef, pork, and other meats (yes, even burgers) rest for a few minutes before serving. Ideally, you want to let food cool to an internal temperature of about 120 degrees before cutting into it (that's anywhere from 5 minutes for a thin pork chop to 20 minutes for a whole chicken). During that time, the meat proteins firm up and they are better able to hold in the meat's juices – making each piece taste all the better!
Sources include Bon Appetit, Men's Health