70% of Americans own a grill, so it makes sense that everyone knows what they’re doing when it comes to barbecuing, right? Sadly not. As summer rolls around, the one constant is that someone you know will complain about a grill they can’t get clean, losing food through the slats, or meat that’s either burnt or undercooked. Figuring out the common mistakes can empower you as the grill master among your friends and family. So, don’t forget to stock up on charcoal, as your skills will be in demand!
How many times have you got the grill out for the first time, only to find the grates are black, greasy, or even have bits of burnt food clinging to them? You’re not alone, but the simple answer to avoid a major cleanup at the start of every grilling season is to stop putting the grill away dirty. Once the grill has cooled, knock off any lumps and clean the grates with a suitable cleaner and cloth.
Winging it might sound spontaneous and fun, but actually, you’ll end up with a very stressful barbecue and won’t enjoy yourself at all. Make sure you’ve marinated your meat, threaded up any kebabs, and have separate plates for raw and cooked foods to make life that little bit easier and safer.
If you’ve spent all day marinating chicken and pork but forgot that your bestie was bringing their vegan partner, that could be some serious egg on your face – and a hungry houseguest! Check who’s coming, what their dietary requirements are, and make a trip to the grocery store if necessary. Even a pack of gluten-free burger buns could make someone’s evening perfect if you take the time to check.
Please don’t guess when your meat is cooked! Unless you’re a seasoned pro, the chances are that if you rely on guesswork to “know” when meat is cooked, you could give yourself or your guests a nasty stomach upset. Invest in a meat thermometer and check what temperature your meat should be cooked to. Alternatively, cook meat on the hob or in the oven as you would normally, and finish it off on the barbecue for that ultimate smoky flavor.
When a grill is being stubborn about lighting, it can be so tempting to throw some lighter fluid on followed by a match. Although this looks dramatic, it rarely stays hot enough for long enough to get those coals lit. Plus, it can leave your food with an acrid, undesirable taste. Follow the instructions on your coals for lighting them, and have a little patience – it will be worth it!
Impatience can cause a lot of problems at barbecue time. Don’t throw your food onto the grates as soon as the coals start glowing. Those coals need to be hot all the way through to produce enough heat to evenly cook your food. They should be gray all over on the outside, which shows that ash has started to form. Then and only then can you start placing food on the grill.
If you have all your coals in one area and don’t spread them out safely, you could end up with a hot spot that burns your food on the outside but leaves it raw in the middle, ultimately wasting it. Use tongs or a specialist too to spread the coals and ensure you know how to lift the grates of your grill to a safe height above the coals for slower, thorough cooking of your favorite barbecue dishes.
Your grill should hopefully have a lid that allows you to put food on the grates, cover it, and leave it to cook. As long as your coals are a good temperature, and the food is a safe height above the coals, this ensures the heat circulates around the food, cooking it through. Many grill-fanatics love to ignore the lid in place of showing off their beautiful grill laden with food. However, without the lid, food takes longer to cook plus it can burn or cook unevenly.
Larger pieces of meat or even big chunks of veggies won’t thank you for being shoved right over the center of the coals. The outside will burn or get tough while the inside is still cool. Try and have an area around the edge of the grill where larger pieces can cook more slowly, ensuring they’re cooked through. Your meat thermometer will come in very handy for pieces like this. You can also employ the precooking method here if you have any doubts about how well it will cook on the grill.
It’s satisfyingly primal to use a giant barbecue fork to pierce and grab a whole rack of ribs and flip them over on the grill. But, did you know that when you pierce ribs and other juicy pieces of meat, those juices immediately start to run out? Not only does this cause flare-ups on the coals leading to fluctuating temperatures, but your previously mouthwatering BBQ ribs can also end up dry, tough, and with less flavor. Always use tongs or other non-piercing tools to safely flip meat where possible.
Grilling veggies isn’t as fraught with risk as grilling meat, as an underdone onion is still a tasty onion. However, if you cut your veggies really thin as if you were going to stir-fry them, they may char away to nothing. But if you cut them too thick, they can be tough and unappealing. Cut your peppers, zucchini, and onions into inch squares, use whole button mushrooms or quarters of larger mushrooms, and slice eggplant about an inch thick, glaze with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, and cook it near the edge of the grill.
Fish is delicious on the grill, and works well with those smoky flavors from the coals. But, if you sling your beautiful fillet of fish straight onto hot grates, most of that fish is going to stick and get wasted. There are a few methods of avoiding this. Cook fish on a clean slab of wood – some stores sell cedar planks specifically for this purpose. Or, you could parcel fish up in foil and let it steam in its own juices plus whatever seasoning you choose.
So many folks love a burger or a steak, but you’ve got to have some sumptuous sides to bring your awesome barbecue together and make it into a full meal. Favorites include store-bought or homemade slaw, cornbread or corn fritters, salad, a simple pasta dish like mac and cheese, a big bowl of potato salad, or barbecue beans. Consider a dish or two you can make the night before and easily bring out once guests start to arrive.
If you all love a burger and a beer, then there's no problem! But the more variety you provide in choice of drinks, the more folks will enjoy your barbecue. It’s not all about alcohol, either. You could make a big bowl or jug of “punch” which is just mixed fruit juices. Fresh lemonade is always a big hit, too. Or for the more boozy selection, have a range of spirits and encourage guests to craft their own cocktails – if you dare!
The rule is clear: if you cooked, you don’t clean. Make sure that whenever you start grilling, there’s someone who knows it’s their job to clean up afterward. Sharing the workload turns grilling into a fun activity for everyone, rather than a massive chore for one person. Sticking to this rule ensures everyone gets to enjoy summer!
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