22 Essential Grilling Tips You Need to Know

Grill your food perfectly, every time.

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Summertime is here and that means it's the official start of grilling season. Before you plan your next barbecue, check out these must-read grilling tips to make your food taste better than ever.

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grilling tips tools
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Gear Up

Whether you're a beginner griller or an iron chef, you'll need some tools to help you make the best food for your barbecue. Stock up on the basics, like a pair of tongs, a grill brush, a long-handed spatula, and a hinged-wire basket.

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grilling tips grill
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Get to Know Your Grill

This might sound obvious, but it's important to know as much as you can about the grill you're using. An electric grill, for instance, will give your food the barbecued 'look', but you won't get the same smoky flavor you get from a charcoal grill.

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grilling tips chimney starter
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Light a Chimney Starter

If you're using a charcoal grill, using a chimney starter is the easiest and safest way to grill your food as it doesn't use lighter fluid that can be dangerous and add an unwanted taste. Simply fill the chimney with charcoal and light it over a few sheets of crumpled paper over the bottom grill grate. After 15 to 20 minutes, pour the coals over the grate, place an oiled grate on top, and you're ready to get grilling.

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grilling tips lid
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Keep It Closed

Keep the lid of your grill down as long as necessary. While it's tempting to keep checking your food, opening the grill lets the heat escape, which could lead to dry meats.

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grilling tips prep
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Be Ready

When you cook in your kitchen, you can start and stop at any point to prepare your sides, condiments, plates, utensils, and table setting, but on the grill, once your coals get going—there's no slowing them down. Ensure you can focus on the task at hand by prepping everything necessary before you light the coals.

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grilling tips rub
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Flavor It

When it comes to backyard grilling, there are several ways to add extra flavor to your food. The quickest way is with glazes, which are syrupy coatings often made with honey, maple syrup, or molasses that are brushed on during the last few minutes of grilling. Similarly, wet and dry rubs require little preparation time. Apply these blends of herbs and spices (wet rubs incorporate moist ingredients, such as oil, mustard, and yogurt) up to a few hours before cooking to create a savory crust. To deeply infuse foods with more flavor — and tenderize them, too — immerse them in marinades that are made with acidic liquids, such as lemon juice, vinegar, and wine.

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grilling tips smoke
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Add Smoke

Whether you grill over gas or charcoal, use hardwood logs, chunks, briquettes, or chips to impart a smoky flavor to foods. Different wood varieties add subtle nuances; try applewood for sweetness, mesquite for tang, or hickory for a bacon-like taste.

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grilling tips heat
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Create Heat Zones

On a kettle grill, bank coals in its center. Sear food in the middle, where heat is highest, then move it to the outer edges of the grill to perfectly cook without burning. On a gas grill, leave one burner on high, another on medium.

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grilling tips clean
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Get a Clean Start

Prior to grilling, scrub the hot grate with a long-handled wire brush. This keeps it clean—and ensures neat grill marks.

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grilling tips grease
Miki Duisterhof
Grease the Grate

Prevent food from sticking by brushing the grill grate with oil. Grab a small wad of paper towels with tongs, then dip in a bowl of canola or vegetable oil and rub lightly to evenly coat the grate.

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grilling tips vegetables
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Keep It Separate

Use fresh plates, utensils, and cutting boards to prevent raw meat, poultry, and fish from contaminating cooked food.

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grilling tips burgers
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Get The Best Burger Shape

To give your burger that classic, round look, create a indent in the center with the back of a spoon while you're making the patty. The meat will rise in the middle of the burger as it cooks, puffing it up to perfection.

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grilling tips skewer
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Soak Your Skewers

To prevent your bamboo or wooden skewers from burning, soak them in warm water for 30 minutes to an hour before you place them on a hot grill.

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grilling tips kebabs
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Grill Kebabs Like A Pro

Thread two skewers (or use a two-prong skewer) through each kebab to avoid the food from moving around as you flip the kebab.

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grilling tips basket
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Use a Grilling Basket

If you love grilling corn, tofu or fruit, a grilling basket is a worthy investment. A basket keeps the food safe from falling through the rack, and it doesn't take away from the flavor.

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grilling tips lines
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Line It Up

When grilling, lay food on the grate in orderly lines, moving from left to right. Or for quick-cooking items, such as shrimp and scallops, arrange in a circle going clockwise. This will help you keep track of which foods hit the flames first, and also allow you to group raw items away from cooked ones.

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Don't Touch

When checking for doneness, resist the urge to repeatedly poke, stab, or flip your food. Instead, give food time to sear and develop a crust; turn only when grill marks form.

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grilling tips time
Miki Duisterhof
Time It

Food continues to cook after it comes off the grill, so it's best to remove it just before it has reached the desired doneness. A digital instant-read thermometer gives the most accurate results, but you can also gently poke steak and chops with your index finger; the firmer meat feels, the more well-done it is. With seafood, look for opacity; well-done fish fillets will be opaque all the way through. For chicken, make a slit in the thickest part of the cut. Any juices that escape should run clear.

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grilling tips flame
Kelly Sillaste
Tame Flare-Ups Safely

The best way to handle excessive flare-ups is to put the lid back on the grill. This will suffocate the flame in the quickest and safest way possible. Whatever you do, don't use water to take out the fire. It will only make it worse!

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grilling tips meat
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Don't Go Overboard

Don't overdo it when it comes to cooking meat. You can always place the meat back on the grill if it's slightly underdone, but you can't go back if it's overcooked.

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grilling tips break
Tina Rupp
Take a Break

Let food rest before serving—a few minutes for small cuts, up to 15 minutes for roasts.

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