I’ll be honest: growing up – I never wanted to help work the grill at family cookouts. I wanted to run around in the grass, sneak a sweet lemonade from the kitchen, or sprint through the sprinklers.
So, when I wanted to replicate the incredible tastes of a summer barbeque at my own home, I knew learning to use a grill would be the key. It took a little trial and error, but I can now confidently say that I’ve become a grilling master!
Now, I’m certain I’m not alone when I say that the first time I used a grill, I was a little concerned. (Quite frankly, I was terrified the thing might explode if I did it wrong.) But, I’m happy to tell you it’s not as tricky as it might first appear. You just need a few tips to get started.
Here’s the stuff I wish I’d known when I first started grilling:
What Type of Grill to Use
First time buying? You have two main options: charcoal or gas.
Gas grills are better for grilling newbies. You simply turn a knob, and the grill will heat quickly – and consistently. That’s not to say you can’t learn with charcoal, but it requires a bit more patience and is trickier to keep at the right cooking temperature.
The important thing to remember with gas grills is that you not only need to turn off the grill’s knobs, but you also need to turn off the propane tank’s valve when you’re done. Empty tanks should be stored outside (not in the garage) and can be refilled or exchanged for a full one at home improvement stores, some gas stations, and even a few U-Haul locations.
If you opt for a charcoal grill, you’ll want to use natural lump charcoal for that perfectly grilled taste. You’ll need a chimney starter, newspaper, and matches that are long in length as well.
Turning on the Grill
Turning the grill on safely is incredibly important, but to many emerging grill masters, it can be a daunting task. To be honest, it’s not as complicated as it might seem. Below, you’ll find a quick startup guide for both gas and charcoal grills. (Visual learners, check out these YouTube videos: Gas Grill and Charcoal Grill).
To start the gas grill:
Open the lid.
Turn burner closest to the ignition switch to “high” (or “light).
Press ignition switch/button.
First burner will light.
Turn on the other burners.
To start the charcoal grill:
Open grill vents.
Coat newspaper with vegetable oil.
Stuff newspaper in the underside of chimney starter.
Fill chimney starter to the top with charcoal.
Set chimney starter on lower grate.
Light newspaper with long match or stick lighter.
Wait 30-45 minutes (coals should be white and ashy).
Dump coals onto lower grate carefully.
Place cooking grate over top.
Put lid back on and wait 10-15 (for the cooking grate to get hot).
Adjust the vents to increase airflow (hotter) or decrease airflow (cooler).
Let’s Get Cooking
Whether you’re using a gas or charcoal grill, you’ll need to start your cooking session by cleaning off the grate. As the grill warms up, it’ll help burn away any old food or debris. Use a grill brush to clean the grate. (Later, when you’re done cooking, you can do another pass with the grill brush while the grate is still warm.)
Cut an old kitchen towel into three strips. Take one strip, roll it into a bundle, and bind. Dip it into vegetable oil (but don’t soak it) and use tongs to rub the towel across the grate. (Need some kitchen towel replacements? These Herringbone Turkish Hand Towels are incredibly soft and dry super fast!)
Important Note: Do not use wire-bristle grill brushes to clean your grill. The little bristles can break off and get into food, damaging the mouth, throat, or even the intestines.
Key term: “Zone cooking.” You can either heat your food directly over the fire (right over a lit burner) or you can use “indirect heat.” This means putting your food over an unlit burner and letting the nearby lit burner (ideally, the next one over) do the cooking.
Good to know: “3/4-inch rule.” If food is 3/4 inch thick or less, keep the top open. If it’s thicker, close the top to trap the heat and help the food cook. (Open-top grilling makes the best grill marks if you’re looking for that perfect outdoor-BBQ aesthetic!)
When to flip: When the food stops sticking.In many ways, grilling is like stovetop cooking. You will gain a “feel” for when the food is ready to be flipped. If the food is sticking to the grill, give it another minute and try again.
Wiggle room: Leave space between grilled items.Make sure to leave some space around each of your items on the grill. This will help your food cook more evenly. Smoke should be able to escape around every edge.
Wellness check: If you’re cooking meat on the grill, you’ll need to carry the raw meat outside on a plate or pan. When you’re ready to take the meat off, use a fresh one. Bacteria from the raw meat can end up on your cooked food if you use the same plate.
Try a Surprising Treat
I’m a huge fan of burgers, but I’ve found that some of my favorite grill recipes are actually for fruits and vegetables! While I’ve loved grilled pineapple for as long as I can remember, grilled watermelon has found a place in my heart recently. (I know it sounds weird but trust me!)
All you have to do is cut your watermelon into wedges (keep the rind on for this), and apply a rub of sugar, salt, and lime zest (add red pepper flakes if you’re feeling spicy!). Throw it on the grill until you get those satisfying grill marks and serve in a cute bowl! This stuff is absolutely delicious with Greek yogurt.
(Psst! Watermelon can be a beast to cut up. I’ve been using this oversized acacia cutting board to help protect my countertops.)
Grilling has come to be one of my favorite summertime activities. There’s something really special about gathering outside around yummy home cooked food, it really brings people together and some of my favorite moments are made here. Do you have any tips to share? If so, drop them below! Have fun and be safe friends! Happy grilling!