It’s Summer! Time to crack (or twist) open something cold and fire up the grill. And yes, grilling isn’t just for dads in white New Balance sneakers and cargo shorts. With the right tools and preparation, an ordinary backyard BBQ can turn into something unforgettable. That’s what we’re here for – to show you how to get the best out of your backyard (or wherever) BBQ time.
Meat Grilling Tips & Tricks for Your Next Backyard BBQ
When grilling, having the right tools of the trade are one of the most important ingredients to a successful BBQ/grill session, along with choosing the right type of meat for the occasion. Things like cuts of meat and grilling temperatures, as well as whether you’re going to use charcoal or wood, are all questions that need to be answered before the first match is struck.
Make Sure You Have the Essential Grilling Tools
OK, let’s talk tools. You’re going to need a chimney starter, which kind of looks like a little silver robot. It’s going to save you a lot of time, as it can get those coals ready in minutes. Also, you won’t get the chemical flavor that sometimes accompanies charcoal starters.
Now the basics: pretty much everything that you can make on a grill can be executed with a pair of tongs, a hardy spatula and a long, two-pronged fork. Oh, a grill brush too. Look for a 4-piece tool set package that’s affordable but has good reviews.
If you really want to go big, look for Pit Mitts, which are gloves that protect your hands from the heat, and a leather grill apron, specifically meant for protection from fire and sparks.
If you want to handle more delicate foods like vegetables or fish, pick up a grilling basket, as it’s small enough so food doesn’t fall through and lets you flip a bunch of items at once. Skewers are good for turning small meats, and a cast iron grill press can help keep bacon from curling and help get rid of fat from a burger or steak.
To make sure food gets cooked to the right temp, a meat thermometer is going to come in handy as well. Other things to consider are grilling planks, which help with cooking fish, and aluminum drip pans, which can aid in cleanup.
Now that we have the basics covered, let’s move on to knives, which are one of the most important parts of the whole venture. If you want to get all your essential knives at once, a kitchen knife set is your best bet.
Make Sure You Have the Essential Kitchen Knives
While you could use one knife for every job (as along as it’s sharp), some ingredients might disagree. To keep the stress levels low and the party vibes high, you’ll need the right knives to get the job done. Here are just a few that can help make the prep work a breeze.
Chef’s Knife: A chef’s knife is going to be your go to slicing accessory; your best friend in the kitchen. It’s a long blade with an easy curve and a pointed tip, made for slicing, dicing, mincing and chopping. This knife is a must for the majority of your BBQ prepping tasks, from cutting up vegetables to mincing garlic. For a detailed look at how to hold and use this knife to its max potential, check out our chef’s knife guide.
Boning Knife: A boning knife, despite the implications (get your mind out of the gutter!), primarily exists to remove meat from the bone. It’s thinner than a chef’s knife, with a blade around 5 to 7 inches. It’s also flexible. This particular knife is great for big tasks like cutting up a chicken, and small tasks like trimming fat from meat. It’s also handy for cutting bread or cookie dough into specific shapes, or even making a decorative fruit plate. For a deep dive, check out our guide on how to use a boning knife.
Utility Knife: The trusty utility knife, an oft forgotten kitchen tool. This knife is slightly smaller than a chef’s knife and is perfect for cutting things that don’t need a chef’s knife but are also too big for a paring knife. You’ll want this knife handy for slicing side and topping ingredients, like tomatoes and cheese, and for slicing sandwiches or burgers in half for the kiddos. For more utility knife uses, check out our guide here.
Paring Knife: This is the baby of the knife family – small, versatile and delicate. It’s used for fine peeling, scoring and trimming, among other things. Serious cooks can’t live without them, and it will come in handy if the ingredients to your backyard BBQ include things like shrimp, peeled veggies, and fruit salads. For a closer look at all the paring knife and all of its uses, look here.
Know Your Grill Types and How to Use Them
Let’s talk grills. The charcoal grill is probably the most commonly known grill, and it can be as simple as a large black circular container. It takes a while to learn to cook with charcoal mainly because the timing can be an issue and the temperature isn’t as easy to control.
There are also brazier grills, which are the ones most people use and that you’ll see in parks. A kettle grill usually has the wheels and lid, with a vent. Cart grills are usually found on display at Home Depot and other hardware stores, and they usually run on gas.
Speaking of which, gas grills are increasingly more common because of the ease of temperature control and how quickly they can be ready for use. Propane grills add portability to a grill, but it can be harder to gauge how much fuel you have left. Cleanup on gas grills is also easier because there’s no ashes to dump. They can be quite expensive though, so keep that in mind.
If you’re cramped for space or restricted in what you can use, an electric grill is a good alternative, although you’re always going to need a power source nearby. You’ll also sacrifice that smoked flavor and might have to get some liquid smoke as an alternative.
A pellet grill was common and then fell out of fashion, but it’s seeing a resurgence lately. Pellet grills are heated by wood pellets, but also have a computer to control a fan that stokes the fire. One lesser known grill is the infrared grill, which heats food fast and is ready in minutes. It’s also quite expensive.
A Little Deeper on Grill Types
Honestly, while there are certain nuances to grilling, the end results are not that much different. The main differences between gas and charcoal is the type of smoke, which can affect flavor. That won’t matter really if you’re grilling dogs and burgers, as they’re only cooking for a short amount of time. When you’re smoking meat for 16 hours, it’s going to make a difference.
That’s where wood comes in and why you just might want to invest in a smoker. Wood chips and chunks – yes, there is a difference and it does matter, as explained by Weber) – can add flavor to slow cooked meats like ribs, pulled pork and beef brisket. You can find wood chips and chunks in several varieties, from the subtly sweet flavor of apple to the big and bold flavor of mesquite.
You don’t have to own a smoker to have fun with all of the flavor varieties of grilling wood, either – you can experiment with them in a charcoal, gas, or even an electric grill (you can find tips for each, along with wood type and meat pairing suggestions here).
This is also where the difference between chips and chunks comes in, as well. Chips are great for meats with shorter cooking times, like poultry, steak and fish, while chunks are ideal for ribs, beef brisket and pork butt, which require longer longer intervals Speaking of beef, poultry, pork, lamb and fish, let’s move on to the meat and potatoes – or really just the meats.
Know Your Meats and How to Cook Them
Different meats need to be prepared and cooked different ways, and temperatures vary, as well. It’s important to make sure you hit the target temperatures for different types of meat. You can find more on this with this very detailed grilling time and temperature chart from Bro BBQ, which not only covers all of your meats, but veggies as well. When it comes to different cuts of meat and the types of dishes they’re used in, you can check out our guides to different cuts of meat.
Our guide to poultry cuts is a good way to acclimate yourself to the different parts of poultry and ways to cook them. Skewers are always a good addition to a barbecue, and we also have a great recipe for Chicken Saltimbocca, if you want to give your cookout an Italian twist, or you can go Greek with this recipe for Lemon Chicken Kabobs.
Practice These Grilling Tips and Tricks
Now that you’ve gotten the rundown on your different tools, grills and meats, here are some basic rapid-fire grilling tips that cover the gamut.
Tip #1: Get ready. Make sure you’re using a clean grill, which will help with sticking and also allow for better flavor – this is where your handy grill brush comes in. And while this is quite a debate among professional chefs, you could also try oiling your grill grates to help prevent food from sticking.
Tip #2: Warm Up. When it comes to meat, warm it up first – don’t just throw it from the fridge to the grill. Room temperature for about half an hour is ideal.
Tip #3: Go bold. Don’t be shy with the seasonings. The bigger the meat, the more it needs. Twice as much as you need salt-wise is a good rule of thumb. Also, if you’re doing a BBQ rub, take your time and make sure to really work it in.
Tip #4: Don’t rush. Give your grill time to preheat and reach optimal temperature. Also, watch out for flare ups with charcoal, which can char food instead of cooking it evenly. Try to create heat zones, where you know the heat is highest, and then move it to a lower zone when needed.
Tip #5: Go small. If you’re short on time, skewers are your friend. Smaller chunks of meat cook more quickly. Just be careful when putting veggies and meat on the same skewer though, as the veggies will get burned before the meat is ready. If making kabobs, be sure to choose softer vegetables with a similar cooking time as your meats, like mushrooms, zucchini, and peppers.
Tip #6: Hold the sauce – until the end. If you sauce your meat too early, it will burn off quickly, especially the sweet ones.
Tip #7: Don’t get handsy. Remember to let the grill do the work, excessive flipping can harm the end product. When it comes to adding flavor, a marinade injection can do wonders as well.
Tip #7: Watch your temp. The biggest mistake you can make is removing meat too early. Employ a thermometer and use it against a heat chart. That way you can trust the numbers and don’t have to rely on feel.
Tip #8: Take time to rest – your meat that is. Another common grilling mistake is taking the meat straight from the grill onto a plate for eating. Let the meat rest, usually about 5 minutes. A little time to rest helps keep all those flavorful juices inside so your meat doesn’t dry out before you even take a bite.
Tip #10: Call for backup. Summertime might be the best time for grilling, but it’s also the best time for rain. Have a backup plan in case the weather forecast derails your plans, which brings us to the last tip of our meat grilling guide.
If the Forecast Calls for Rain, Bring the Party Indoors!
The worst is when the weather won’t cooperate. Luckily, there are indoor alternatives that can get you the same type of desired effect. Hello indoor BBQ party!
If you’re looking to replicate that smoky flavor indoors, a cast iron skillet is an excellent alternative. It’s versatile, durable and well loved. It works just as good over a fire as it does on the stove. Just remember to crack a window! And here’s our deep-dive guide on cast irons.
Not many people know this, but the broiler option on an oven is a great way to char and get a good grill-like appearance. You can also use it to make skewers, or to crisp up some stovetop ribs. Liquid smoke and a planker can also lend that BBQ quality to stove cooked food, as well as different spices like smoked paprika, smoked salt, black cardamom, and chipotle peppers – you can even go for some smoked cheese and olive oil!
And don’t forget, BBQ sauce is your friend.
Now that you know how to call for backup, here are a few recipes to keep bookmarked if your BBQ day comes and the forecast rains on your parade.
For something to give the kids when they’re being restless, try our recipe for indoor S’Mores. Want some smoky burgers? How about Smoky grilled pork chops? Or maybe some fall-off-the-bone ribs? Finally, this recipe for oven BBQ chicken is simple but so good.
There you have it. We’ve covered a lot, but that’s only to prepare you for your lifetime of grilling adventures. Happy backyard BBQing everyone!