Summer is officially here!  Why not celebrate the season with your friends and family by hosting a classic cookout?  Before you fire up the grill, check out the following tips and tricks from master grillers across the country.  These time-tested techniques are sure to turn up the heat at your next backyard barbecue.

  • Plan for 15 to 25 minutes of pre-heating time.  Charcoal needs time to become red hot, with a thin white ash coating.  Gas grills need up to 15 minutes to preheat, with the burners on high and the lid down.  A properly heated grill should be 400-450°F for high, 350-400°F for medium-high, 300-350°F for medium and 250-300°F for low heat. A hot grill sears foods on contact, keeps the insides moist, and helps prevent sticking.
  • To gauge the temperature of a grill without a thermometer, place your hand about five inches above the grill rack.  The heat is high if you have to move your hand away in two seconds, medium if you have to move your hand in five seconds, and low if you have to move your hand in ten seconds.
  • When grilling on a charcoal grill, use a chimney starter to make the job easier.  Simply place crumpled paper in the bottom of the chimney, fill it with charcoal, and light the paper.  In about twenty minutes you’ll have hot coals that are ready to be spread evenly in the bottom of the grill.
  • Keep your grill surface clean by preheating the grill for about 15 minutes, then brushing hard with a metal grill brush.  When you’re done cooking, give the grill another brush while it’s still hot.
  • Marinating meats and vegetables not only tenderizes and adds flavor, it also inhibits the formation of potentially carcinogenic HCAs (hertocyclic amines).  HCAs form when grilling “muscle meats” like poultry, red meat, and fish.  The American Institute for Cancer Research states that marinating can reduce HCA formation by as much as 92 to 99 percent.  If you’d like to use the marinating juices as a dipping sauce for the meat, cook them completely in a saucepan to avoid cross-contamination from raw meat bacteria.
  • To keep foods from sticking, coat the grill lightly with oil or vegetable spray while it’s still cold.  Do not use cooking spray on a hot grill! Pour an inch or two of vegetable oil in a bowl, wad up an old kitchen towel, and using tongs, dip the towel in the oil and lightly coat the grill.  Also, lightly coat the food with oil, but avoid over-oiling, which could contribute to flare-ups.
  • If you’re cooking proteins – including fish, chicken, beef, or tofu – and have problems flipping them, the food may need to cook a bit more on one side.  Wait one to two more minutes, and it should then easily turn over.
  • When smoking foods, keep the words “low” and “slow” in mind.  Cook your food at a low temperature, for a long period of time, covered. When grilling thin pieces of meat, think “high” and “fast.”  With the grill at a high temperature, quickly cook one side, then flip and cook the other side directly over the coals or heat source. If the pieces are thick, move them to an area where they get indirect heat, allowing the inside to cook completely.  Partially cover them to retain heat.
  • Most barbecue sauces contain sugar, corn syrup, or tomato sauce, all of which burn quickly.  For big barbecue flavor, apply your sauce in the last few minutes of the cooking process so that it doesn’t burn off.
  • Keep the flames at bay.  To avoid flare-ups on the grill, trim the fat from your meat, choose lean grounds of hamburger, and remove poultry skin.  Use a drip pan to collect falling grease, and move foods away from fiery spots as quickly as possible.  Keep a squirt bottle of water near the grill to quickly douse any unexpected flare-ups.
  • The best way to tell if your food is cooked thoroughly is by checking its internal temperature with an instant-read meat thermometer.  And when it comes to a barbecue, don’t make the grilled foods wait for the rest of the meal or the party. Once the meat is cooked perfectly, it’s time to eat.  Set your table and put your side dishes out ahead of time so that guests can help themselves as soon as their burger or steak is ready.
  • To create professional-looking crosshatches on your meat, follow these simple steps.  Lay the meat down at a 45-degree angle from where you’re standing.  When there are visible marks on the meat, and it can be easily lifted off the grill without sticking, rotate it 90 degrees.  After this new set of marks appears, flip the meat.  The second side doesn’t need to have perfect crosshatches, as this side can be placed down on the plate.
  • The right equipment can make grilling go a lot more smoothly.  Have both a metal spatula and tongs available for flipping.  Use a grill basket for delicate items like fish, or for foods that might fall through the grill rack.  Just make sure you oil the inside of the basket.
  • Whenever you’re cooking for a crowd, food safety is a top priority.  Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards, utensils, and platters for raw and cooked foods.  Keep foods in the refrigerator while they’re marinating, and never baste with the marinating liquid.  (Make extra marinade just for basting, or boil your marinating liquid before basting with it.)

Feel free to share your grilling tips and tricks by adding a comment below.