Summer means grilling, and grilling means brushing up on your outdoor cooking skills. Here’s what you need to know to make the most of this grilling season.
The tips below will get you started, but there are a lot of grill designs out there. Consult your grill’s manual for specifics about heating, cleaning and maintenance for your model.
Read more: CNET’s guide to grilling smarter this summer
What you need for great grilling
Every grill master needs a few tools of the trade. Of course, they depend on the type of meat you’re using, but in general it’s a good idea to have at least one of the following:
- Metal tongs
- Metal spatula
- Meat thermometer
- Grill brush
- Cooking spray
- Heat-resistant cooking glove
- Aluminum foil for making steam/smoker packets
- Fire extinguisher
1. Season your grill
It’s important to prepare your grill by seasoning it before cooking. Seasoning doesn’t have anything to do with food flavor, just the prepping of your grill’s grates. If your grill isn’t brand-new, preheat it and give it a good brush to remove any old debris.
Before you use your grill for the first time, spray the grates evenly with a high-heat cooking spray like canola oil while the grates are cold. Then, turn the grill on to medium heat for about 15 minutes until the oil burns off or starts to smoke. That’s it.
Some grates have a porcelain enamel on them that doesn’t require seasoning, so check your grill’s manual and avoid any unnecessary effort. Seasoning will keep grill rust at bay, and you should do this before every grilling session if you can.
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2. Keep fire safety in mind
According to the National Fire Protection Association, between 2011 and 2016 US fire departments responded to an average of 9,600 home fires started by grills per year. Don’t let your cookout turn into one of those fires.
Whether you’re cooking indoors or out, it’s always important to keep a fire extinguisher nearby. If you don’t have a good place to store one outdoors, keep it inside the nearest entrance to your home.
Fire safety when grilling also means making sure the area around the grill is clear of any flammable objects, as well as checking the grill’s grease collection tray. A full tray should be emptied to avoid a grease fire.
3. Prep food before grilling
Once your grill is ready to go, it’s time to set up your food. It’s helpful to have all of your meats and veggies prepped before you get to the grill, rather than doing it as you cook. Slice vegetables, make burger patties and marinate chicken inside, then bring them outside. Casserole dishes are great for transport, since their high sides stop food from sliding off.
If you’re bringing food out from your kitchen, don’t forget a clean plate to put the finished product on, as well as clean tongs. It’s important not to use a utensil to remove or serve cooked meat if you’ve used it with raw meat.
Don’t forget any other grill accessories you might want nearby, like corn cob holders or a meat thermometer. Be sure to keep paper towels within reach (but away from the flame) for any unexpected messes. If your grill has a side burner, a trivet for holding hot saucepans will come in handy.
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4. Start your grill the right way
Refer to your grill’s manual for specific preheat instructions and times. In general, a charcoal grill will need more time to preheat than a gas model.
Charcoal grills need about 20 minutes to preheat, so keep that in mind when you’re prepping your meal. If you’ve cooked with your charcoal before, be sure to discard any ashes from previous uses.
Next, open all the vents on the bottom of your grill to allow maximum airflow to fan the flame. Start your charcoal grill with a small amount of lighter fluid and some old newspaper or with a chimney starter. Check your grill’s manual to find the right charcoal size and shape for your model.
Gas grills heat pretty quickly, so you’ll only need to build in about 10 minutes of preheat time when planning your meal. Always keep the grill’s lid raised while lighting. Turn the valve of your propane tank to open. Next, turn one burner on and press the ignition button on your grill. Once the first burner is lit, continue turning on as many other burners as you’d like to use.
5. Don’t forget grill maintenance
Remember to check your grease trap often, and give your grill a good brushing when debris starts to pile up. Throughout grill season, check your propane tank for leaks, and invest in a good grill cover to keep your grill protected when not in use!
Now you’re ready to get grilling!
More grilling and outdoor advice
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- How to smoke low and slow on your charcoal grill
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