Everything You Need to Know About Using the Grill

My grill is still coated with the remnants of last Labor Day's cookout. What do I do?

No one wants to taste the sirloin steaks of yesteryear, and you can't depend on the fire to burn off all the residue. Brillo away your mistakes, or, if your grilling surface has rusted, order a replacement from the manufacturer. From now on, use a stiff-bristled grill brush before, during, and after cooking. That way, meat and fish won't stick — and you'll get those perfect grill marks on every piece. If you don't have a brush, crumple up a piece of aluminum foil, grip it with tongs, and then scrub the grill grate clean.

What's the easiest way to fire up a charcoal grill?

Buy a chimney starter, one of those big cylinders that usually have a wooden handle. Get the largest one you can find. The more coals you light, the more things you can cook at once. Even better: no nasty lighter fluid.

Okay, the grill is clean, but the food still sticks.

Follow the advice of grilling guru, author, and TV chef Steven Raichlen, who takes a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil with a pair of tongs and wipes oil onto the hot grate first, reports Esquire. Or do what Israeli grill masters do: Spear half an onion on a barbecue fork, dip the onion in oil, and rub it on the grate.

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Can I marinate, rub, and baste to boost the flavor?

Yes, and almost any recipe you follow indoors will work outdoors. One bonus of marinades with rosemary: The herb's antioxidants help eliminate carcinogens in some grilled beef.

What do I put on a skewer?

Just about anything. Chef and author Chris Schlesinger cuts vegetables into large chunks, he tells the New York Times, so they're seared on the outside but don't go mushy on the inside. And Raichlen gets creative: Instead of using metal or bamboo skewers, he tells Esquire, he skewers lamb on fresh rosemary, pork or peaches on cinnamon sticks, and chicken, shrimp, or swordfish on lemongrass stalks.

What's an easy way to grill fish?

Those delicate fillets need special attention. Schlesinger starts with a clean, hot grill, then lightly oils the fillet. After placing it on the grill, he lets it cook a few minutes before turning it — only once. If you're especially nervous, you can always use a perforated (and oiled) grill pan to keep expensive fillets from crumbling and falling through the grate and onto the coals. Try cooking fish on an aromatic cedar plank (presoaked, of course) to add more smoky tang.

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Do people who grill fruit just have too much time on their hands?

Not at all. Think pineapples, bananas, cantaloupes, oranges, and peaches. In Eat like a Man (Chronicle, $30), contributor John Mariani suggests cutting fruit in half, brushing it with melted butter, sprinkling it with brown sugar if you want, and then grilling. "There are few tastier desserts than grilled fruit," he says, "and somehow, it always surprises people."

Do I really want to make pizza on the grill?

Yes. Yes, you do. Making pizza on the grill is surprisingly easy if you follow this tip from thekitchn.com: Top the pizza after you've put the dough on the grill. Cook it for just a few minutes to give it a wood-fired flavor, flip it over, and then top it. A slightly thicker crust also makes for better grilled pizza.

When does the barbecue sauce go on?

Wait until the last ten or 15 minutes of cooking. Sugar in the sauce can blacken and char if heated too long.

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How can I tell when food is done without cutting into it?

Resist carving into that beautiful steak or juicy chicken breast, and invest in a good meat thermometer with markings that tell when different types of meat are done. Insert it into the thickest portion, avoiding bones, to test for doneness.

Is there an easier way?

All you need is your own two hands. According to celebrity chef Bobby Flay, the simplest way to test the food is to poke it with your finger. Since meat becomes firmer as it cooks, a rare steak feels "squishy," a medium steak feels "springy," and a well-done steak feels "taut." Practice makes perfect, so try it with family first and avoid competitive Guests Who Grill judging you over your shoulder and behind your back.

Other sources: cooksillustrated.com, bhg.com, esquire.com, epicurious.com, nytimes.com, Fire It Up: 400 Recipes for Grilling Everything (Chronicle, $24.95), bobbyflay.com, GQ.

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