If you own a grill, you may have flipped a few burgers and hot dogs in your time. (Unless you’re a vegetarian, in which case your grill is probably much cleaner than ours.) But if that’s all the action your outdoor kitchen ever sees, then it’s time to revolutionize the way you think about cooking out.
In this guide, we’ll provide you with in-depth information on grilling everything from branzino to bratwurst. When you’ve finished reading, you’ll be able to turn out impressive full-course meals using only your grill, your knowledge, prime ingredients, and a few handy tools. During the hot summer months, you may find that your indoor kitchen appliances have begun to gather dust.
Before you embark on your grilling adventure, you should familiarize yourself with the basics. Even if you think you’re a seasoned pro, there’s a good chance that you could use a few tips when it comes to equipment and technique.
What Type of Grill to Use
As you’re probably aware, there are several different grill types. The most popular are gas and charcoal units, but pellet grills provide them with some stiff competition. Here’s a short list of the pros and cons for each style.
1. Gas Grills
- Can be ready to cook within minutes
- Easy to use
- Requires very little maintenance
- Minimal smoke flavor
- Usually expensive
- Slight risk of gas leaks if the line isn’t inspected regularly
2. Charcoal Grills
- Delivers excellent smoke flavor
- Relatively inexpensive
- Easy to assemble
- Fuel is inexpensive and easy to come by
- Requires some skill to get the recipes to turn out correctly
- Takes a while to heat the coals
- Difficult to maintain control over the temperature
3. Pellet Grills
- Superb smoke flavor
- Ability to customize recipes by using different types of wood
- Can be fired up within minutes
- Versatility across a range of cooking styles
- Great temperature control
- Sophisticated technology
- Very expensive
- Requires electricity to operate
- Advanced technology increases the likelihood of mechanical difficulties
The Bottom Line
If you’re purchasing a grill for the first time and you can afford a pellet smoker, we would recommend one of these units. Otherwise, go for the next-best thing with a charcoal-fired model. If you already own a gas grill, don’t worry. Most of the techniques we’ve included below will be successful no matter which fuel you’re using.
How To Set Up Your Grill
First things first: Read all the assembly instructions carefully, and set up the grill according to the manufacturer’s directions. If your unit isn’t set up properly, it will lead to disappointment down the road.
Once your grill has been assembled, you should perform a preliminary cleaning or “burn-off” period to remove any factory odors. With gas grills, this is relatively simple—just turn on the burners until the cooking grates are hot, then carefully remove them for a good scrubbing in hot soapy water.
Since you don’t want to waste a whole supply of charcoal on the cleaning process, you can skip the heating step for this type of grill. Simply wash the cooking grates well before your first use.
Pellet grills can receive the same treatment, but you should also start a preliminary fire to test the temperature before adding any food. Fill the hopper with whatever pellets you’ve chosen for your first cook, and set the temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the cooking chamber has maintained this temperature to within 15 degrees for at least ten minutes, you’re ready to start using the grill in earnest.
Speaking of temperature, this number will vary depending on the type of food you’ll be cooking. In the “How To Grill . . .” section below, we’ll specify how hot the fire should be for each recipe. This is another reason why pellet smokers come in handy. With gas, charcoal or Kamado grills, you’re pretty much stuck with the “low,” “medium,” or “high” settings. Pellet grills give you more control over the temperature and more information regarding its accuracy.
One of the best gifts you can give your grill (and yourself!) is a thorough cleaning after each use. Not only will it keep your unit looking great, it will keep greasy residue and food particles from building up over time, thereby extending the life of the grill. Larger particles may even attract rodents and other critters, which could damage the wiring in gas- or pellet-fired models.
When you’ve finished grilling, turn your attention to the cleaning process as soon as possible. Start by giving the cooking grates a thorough scrubbing, using a grill brush or a set of wooden scrapers. Remove the grates as soon as they’re cool enough to handle and wash them in hot soapy water. Porcelain-coated grates are easier to clean, but be careful not to strip any of the enamel away from the metal while you’re scrubbing them.
As for the interior, gas grills can be cleaned using a damp cloth and a little bit of elbow grease. Since propane burns cleanly, there’s no ashy residue left behind. If there are food particles stuck to the bottom, carefully remove them using a scrub brush and sweep into a mini dustpan before discarding. Wipe the lid inside and out with a clean cloth.
If you’re using a charcoal grill, dispense the ashes into a waiting trash can. Clean any residue off the bottom of the cooking chamber using a wire brush, then wipe it clean with a damp cloth. If necessary, give the inside of the lid a good washing with a green scrubbing pad, then wipe the entire lid with a clean cloth.
Many pellet grills come equipped with an ash removal system and a built-in grease tray, with a bucket to catch the drips. The ashes should be cleared from the cooking chamber after each cook. Once the chamber is cool enough, carefully wipe out the grease pan with a damp cloth or green scrubbing pad. You might need to use a putty knife to dislodge any burned-on bits, but be careful not to damage the finish.
Likewise, remove the drip bucket before the fat has had a chance to solidify. We usually dispose of unwanted fat by pouring it into a heatproof container and placing it in the freezer until the container is full, but you might have other methods. Either way, wash the bucket in hot soapy water before returning it to its position. Give the grates the same treatment, replacing them when the rest of the grill has been cleaned.
A good chef is only as good as his tools, whether he’s cooking indoors or out. The following utensils and equipment will be invaluable assets throughout your grilling journey.
- Long, sturdy, spring-loaded grilling tongs with a heatproof handle
- At least two broad, flat spatulas (one with vented holes and one without)
- Two-pronged fork with a long handle
- Digital meat thermometer
- Heatproof gloves (silicone for handling food, durable leather if you plan on shifting hot coals by hand)
- A good supply of disposable aluminum pans
- Aluminum foil or butcher paper
- A supply of oversized zip-top plastic bags
- At least two sturdy platters (one for holding raw ingredients, the other for receiving cooked food from the grill)
- Wire grill brush or wooden scrapers
- A high-quality set of knives (a chef’s knife, a boning knife, a meat cleaver, and a narrow blade for slicing)
- Grill basket
- A set of metal skewers
- Paper towels
- A pepper grinder with coarse, medium, and fine settings
- Grid lifter (for gas or charcoal grills)
- Chimney starter or lighter fluid (for charcoal grills)
- Stick lighter (for charcoal grills)
Every grilling enthusiast should have the following staples in their kitchen. Obviously, you won’t be using every ingredient with every recipe, but they should make regular appearances on your shopping list nonetheless.
- Kosher salt
- Whole black peppercorns
- A seasoned salt blend (Lawry’s or something similar)
- Neutral oil, such as canola
- Stronger-flavored oil for marinades (extra-virgin olive oil is a favorite)
- Light brown sugar
- Apple cider vinegar
- White vinegar
- Worcestershire sauce
- Soy sauce
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Cayenne pepper
- Dried oregano
- Dried basil
- Chili powder
- Capers in brine
- Fresh garlic
Understanding Temperature Control
In the recipes below, we’re going to use terms like “indirect heat” and “medium-high” to explain how certain ingredients should be prepared. This simple glossary should give you a better idea of what these terms mean, regardless of the type of fuel you’re using.
1. Direct Heat
When a recipe instructs you to cook something over direct heat, it wants you to put the ingredients directly over the heat source. For example, if you’re using a charcoal grill, the food should be positioned over the coals, as opposed to adjacent (see Indirect Heat, below).
2. Indirect Heat
Indirect heat is used during long cooking applications, such as smoking and braising. The food is placed over an area of the grill that isn’t in direct contact with the flames, allowing it to cook more slowly. To cook over indirect heat using a gas grill, you would light one of the burners, then place the food over the side that isn’t burning.
3. High Heat
Used for searing and grilling quick-cooking items like pizza or flatbread, high heat refers to any temperature above 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Gas grills will typically feature a “High” setting. For charcoal grills, you’ll know the coals are ready to cook over high heat when you can’t hold your hand just above the cooking grate for longer than two seconds.
4. Medium-High Heat
Thick steaks like filet mignon and rib-eye are usually cooked over medium-high heat. Temperatures that range from 400 to 450 degrees will fall into this category. When you can hold your hand over the coals for four to five seconds before you have to pull away, the coals should be medium-high.
5. Medium Heat
This is the setting you’re bound to use most often for pre-cooked sausages, such as hot dogs and bratwurst. 350 degrees is considered “medium” on most grills. Test the coals by attempting to hold your hand above the grilling grate for six to seven seconds.
6. Medium-Low Heat
For medium-low heat, set your pellet smoker to 300 degrees. A gas grill can achieve the same results by turning just one burner to medium and leaving the others in the “OFF” position. For charcoal, attempt to hold your hand over the coals for eight to ten seconds without moving it. When you can do this, the coals have burned down to medium-low.
7. Low Heat
Anything lower than 300 degrees qualifies as “low” heat. These are the settings you’ll use for smoked pulled pork, beef brisket, or pastrami. It’s easier to maintain these settings on a pellet grill. If you’re planning on using your grill primarily as a smoker, you should look for a pellet-burning unit with an effective digital control panel.
The Resting Period
Larger cuts of meat like pork butt and whole chickens, should always be set aside for at least 20 minutes after being removed from the grill. Even smaller steaks and chops benefit from this resting period.
Why? Because when the meat is cooking, the proteins firm up, causing all the juices to push toward the center. If you slice into it right after you take it off the heat, the edges will be dry and tough, while all the juices will spill out of the middle. The resting period gives the juices time to redistribute, so the meat will be moist and tender throughout.
Tips on Wood Flavor Combinations
When you’re using wood chips or pellets to flavor your food, you want to make sure that the wood type complements the ingredients. If you choose a wood that’s too mild, you won’t get any of the flavor benefits. Conversely, a strong-flavored wood might overpower the taste of delicate grilled fish or vegetables.
The first thing to remember is always to use hardwood for smoking. Soft woods like cedar and pine might smell lovely when you’re walking in the woods, but they’re extremely resinous. That means that they’ll pop and snap a lot while they’re burning, increasing the risk of damage to your grill. The excess resin will also impart a sour, bitter flavor to your food. Fortunately, pellet manufacturers are aware of these risks, so the pellets you buy from leading companies should always be composed of quality hardwood.
Here’s a handy guide to the different types of wood that are generally used for grilling.
- Alder: A light wood with a sweet flavor. Pairs well with fish and vegetables.
- Apple: Very sweet and exceptionally mild. The flavor takes a long time to assert itself, which is why apple is a good choice for low-and-slow cooking applications. Try it with pork butt or turkey for best results.
- Pecan: Extremely sweet. Best paired with other wood flavors for balance.
- Cherry: Light and mild. It provides a nice, fruity complement to stronger flavors, such as hickory and mesquite.
- Maple: Sweet and slightly smoky. Great with leaner cuts of pork, like tenderloin or boneless chops.
- Oak: Assertive flavor, but not too overwhelming. A great choice for prime cuts of beef.
- Hickory: Strong flavor with sweet and savory notes and hints of bacon. Can be bitter when used in large quantities.
- Mesquite: Exceptionally strong and smoky flavor. It should be used sparingly and paired with other, milder woods for best results.
How to Grill . . .
In this section, we’ll walk you through the cooking applications for a multitude of different grilling staples. For your convenience, we’ve added flavoring ideas as well as pro tips to make sure your results are as delicious as possible.
Every pro griller should know how to prepare a good steak. As you’re probably aware, however, not every steak is created equal. The methods for preparing them are as varied as the cuts themselves.
1. Rib-eye, New York Sirloin, Strip Steak, and Filet Mignon
Thick premium steaks require very little seasoning when cooked on the grill. Coarse salt (such as kosher or sea salt) and freshly ground black pepper are the standbys, finished with a light spritz of canola oil to keep the meat from sticking. Rib-eye or sirloin might benefit from a seasoned salt or spice blend, but be careful not to overwhelm the natural sweetness of the beef.
For best results, bring your steak to room temperature before applying your seasoning. If you’re using a charcoal grill, you can remove the steak from the refrigerator while the coals are heating up.
Grill these cuts of beef over high heat for 4-5 minutes on the first side, until they’re lightly charred. Flip and cook for another 3-5 minutes for medium-rare, 6-8 minutes for medium, or 8-10 minutes for medium-well. To watch a seasoned professional turn out a perfectly cooked filet mignon, check out this video tutorial.
You can read more about how to grill Filet Mignon here.
This triangle-shaped cut of meat is popular on the West Coast, but many other Americans have never heard of it. If more people had a chance to sample tri-tip that’s been cooked over an open flame, its star would shine far and wide.
Tri-tip is a lean, tender cut with a mild flavor that would benefit from an overnight marinade. Try a simple combination of Lawry’s seasoned salt and Worcestershire sauce, with a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil added to help the spices adhere. Add the marinade and the tri-tip roast to an oversized zip-top bag, then place the bag in the refrigerator for at least three hours. Use the same method if the meat is pre-cut into tri-tip steaks.
To cook the tri-tip, heat your grill to medium-high. For individual steaks, grill them for about 9-10 minutes per side for medium-rare. If the tri-tip is in the form of a roast (usually two to three pounds), place the meat over medium or indirect heat and cover the lid. Let it cook for 40-45 minutes or until it reaches an internal temperature of 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
The tri-tip roast should rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. Slice the meat as thick or as thin as you desire, making sure to slice across the grain. For a special treat, serve the roast with compound butter made with pressed garlic, chopped capers, and freshly ground black pepper.
3. Flank Steak, Hanger Steak, and Petite Shoulder
When it comes to thinner and less tender cuts, feel free to get creative with marinades and seasoning rubs. Try a blend of cumin, coriander, and cayenne pepper on a flank steak, and use the slices to create your own customized fajitas. Marinate a hanger steak or petite shoulder cut in a blend of Worcestershire, garlic, soy sauce, and lemon juice. Use the rest of your menu as inspiration for the flavor template you’d like to create. The sky’s the limit.
You can bring the meat to room temperature before grilling if you’d like. Either way, make sure to pat the steaks dry before putting them on the grill. If they’re sopping in marinade, they won’t brown properly. Don’t worry—the marinade will have penetrated the meat, giving it extra flavor even if the exterior looks dry before cooking.
Grill these steaks over high heat for 3-4 minutes before flipping and cooking to the desired doneness. The total time could vary, depending on the thickness of the meat. For example, a flank steak might take only an additional minute or two, while the petite shoulder might take 8-10 minutes to get to medium-rare.
Read more here.
This meaty, coarse-grained cut of beef requires a long, slow roast at low temperatures. This is how you’ll achieve the tender, falling-apart texture that’s one of the hallmarks of the dish.
Your recipe for smoked beef brisket may vary, but you should always start with a prime cut. If you’re making Texas-style brisket, invest in a whole packer cut, with both the point and flat muscle intact. Trim the meat, if desired, and season with salt and pepper. Purists claim that this is all the seasoning a beef brisket needs, but you may choose to add garlic powder as well.
If you’re using a pellet grill or charcoal smoker, try to stick with oak or hickory for the brisket. You can mix in a bit of apple or cherry wood for sweetness, but don’t go overboard with those flavors. You want to enhance the meaty taste of the brisket, not overwhelm it.
Wrap the brisket in foil or butcher paper. This is known as the “Texas crutch,” a technique used by beginners. The wrapping will help the meat retain its juiciness while gaining that all-important bark around the edges. Roast at 225 degrees Fahrenheit (or the lowest setting on your gas grill) for 75 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees. For a four-pound brisket, that translates into a five-hour cooking process.
It’s important to give the brisket an adequate resting period of 20 to 30 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute. For more information, see “The Resting Period,” above.
Tip: When you’re testing the meat for doneness, make sure the thermometer is inserted into the meat itself, and not the fat. The fat will likely be hotter than the meat, which could lead you to believe that the brisket is done before its time.
If you want to read more on how to make Texas-style smoked brisket, check out this amazing article.
It may look simple from the outside, but there is a trick to grilling the perfect hamburger patty. In fact, there are several.
First of all, you want to start with ground chuck that’s 85 percent lean. This gives the meat just enough fat to create a juicy burger with no unpleasant gristly bits. Don’t be tempted to get fancy with leaner ground sirloin—the burgers will turn out too dry.
Season the ground beef with about a teaspoon of meat per pound, plus black pepper. If you’d like to add any other dry seasonings, feel free to do so now. We like to add a dash or two of Tabasco and a hint of Dijon mustard as well.
Form the meat into balls, then press them gently down until flat. Each patty should measure about five inches in diameter and three-quarters of an inch thick. Press down with your thumb to create a dime-sized indentation in the center of each patty. This will keep the burgers from bulging back into a ball shape while cooking.
Lightly oil your cooking grates using canola oil and paper towels. Grill burgers over medium-high direct heat for about 3 minutes per side, then move them to indirect heat to finish cooking. If you’d like to add cheese, do so before making the switch to indirect heat. They should stay on the cooler side of the grill for about 2-3 minutes for medium-rare, 4-5 minutes if you prefer a medium-well burger.
Remove the cooked patties to a platter and let them rest for a few minutes before serving. You can use this time to grill the hamburger buns, if you’d like. Serve with your favorite toppings. For large parties, keep condiments in clearly marked containers so that everyone can customize their burgers to their liking.
To watch a perfectly cooked burger make its way from the butcher’s wrap to the serving platter, take a look at this video.
For more information on how to grill burgers, check out this article.
The cut of beef used to make pastrami typically comes from either a low section beneath the ribs, or a wide shoulder cut known as the deckle. If you can’t find either one of these cuts, a traditional brisket flat will get the job done. Either way, you can brine and smoke your own pastrami at home just as easily as you can make corned beef. Since pastrami makes excellent sandwiches, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor for several days after you’ve finished cooking.
You’ll need to cure the beef for at least six days before the smoking process can begin. Make a simple brine, consisting of about 1 cup of water per pound of beef, using 2/3 cup of kosher salt per gallon. Add a handful of peppercorns and some whole garlic cloves, along with a small halved onion.
If you’d like your pastrami to have that hallmark pink color, you should invest in some pink curing salt, also known as Prague powder. Since this substance is extremely concentrated, add no more than a single teaspoon per gallon of water.
When you’ve rinsed and drained the beef, pat it dry with paper towels. Coat it all over with a rub made from cracked multicolored peppercorns, coriander seeds, brown sugar, and dry mustard. The rub might be coarser than you’re used to, and this is a good thing—the oils from the seeds and peppercorns will permeate the meat during the smoking process.
Place the meat fat side up in a disposable aluminum roasting pan. Prepare your grill to cook over low heat. If you’re using a pellet smoker, set the temperature to 225 degrees. If you’re cooking over a charcoal grill and you’d like to add wood chips, you may do so now.
Tip: If you’re using wood chips or pellets to flavor your pastrami, be careful not to get too fancy with the flavoring. We like to use straight-up oak for smoked pastrami, but you can mix in some fruit woods if you prefer.
Smoke the pastrami until the exterior is dark and crusty and the internal temperature reaches 175 degrees. This should take 8 to 10 hours at this temperature. For the “Texas crutch” method, wrap the meat in butcher paper and continue to cook until the internal temperature reaches 195 degrees. This next step should take about 2-3 hours. At this point, the meat should be tender enough to fall apart when you prod it with one finger.
Let the pastrami rest for at least one hour before slicing it across the grain and serving it hot. If you’re saving it for cold sandwiches, let it cool thoroughly and then chill it in the refrigerator for at least six hours, or overnight. It will be easier to carve it into thin slices if it’s cold.
Note: for the next 4 sections, keep in mind that the USDA approved safe cooking temp for pork is 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Read this article from WebMD for more details.
For the grill, choose bone-in pork chops that are about an inch thick. Since you’ll be cooking them over direct heat, you can trim some of the fat off the edges.
Bone-in pork chops will benefit greatly from a quick brining before you throw them on the grill. Whisk together a simple solution of one tablespoon of kosher salt per cup of cold water. If you’d like, you can add a bit of brown sugar or other seasonings, like peppercorns, fresh herbs, or citrus peel to the brine. Place the pork chops in the brine for 30 minutes to two hours. Make sure not to leave them in there any longer, or the meat will turn spongy. Rinse well, pat dry, and season with black pepper or a dry rub. If you use a rub, try to choose one with little to no additional salt.
To cook, sear the chops over high heat for about 3 minutes per side. Switch them to a cooler section of the grill for another 5-7 minutes, flipping them as needed.
Boneless pork chops can receive the same brining treatment, but they shouldn’t be allowed to remain in the brine for any longer than 45 minutes. Similarly, they won’t take as long to cook—perhaps 2 minutes per side to achieve a good sear, then finished on medium heat for another 5 minutes total. Read more on how to grill pork chops.
Pork tenderloin is a great choice for the grill. It’s lean, tender, cooks up quickly, and goes well with a number of different flavors. If possible, select a cut that weighs between 3-4 pounds.
Remove the silverskin (the broad, tough ribbon of sinew) and trim any excess fat from the loin before adding the seasoning of your choice. You can also try a basic marinade of lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, and fresh thyme. If the long end of the loin is significantly thinner than the butt end, you can fold it over and tie it with kitchen twine.
Grill the tenderloin over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes total, flipping the meat halfway through the cooking process. Let it rest for at least 10 minutes before removing the kitchen twine (if used) and slicing it crosswise into thick slices. Because the meat is so lean, you can pair it with any number of delicious sauces. For more ideas on how to prepare the perfect pork tenderloin, take a look at this tutorial. Read more on how to grill pork tenderloin.
Pork butt (also known as Boston butt) is the ideal cut for pulled pork. It’s also a staple in Mexican cuisine, especially as a filling for street tacos.
Season your pork butt with a dry rub consisting of brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, dried herbs (such as oregano), kosher salt, and black pepper. Allow the meat to sit for about an hour at room temperature to allow the flavors to set in. While the meat rests, prepare a “wet mop” mixture of 1 cup apple juice, 1 cup apple cider vinegar, and 1 cup water, adding a few tablespoons of yellow mustard and a handful of crushed red pepper if desired.
Cook at 225 degrees, setting the meat over indirect heat, for at least 90 minutes per pound for boneless pork and two hours per pound for bone-in. Baste the meat with the wet mop mixture every 30 minutes. When the internal temperature has reached 195 degrees, the pork is ready. As with the brisket, be sure to pay close attention to “The Resting Period,” detailed above. For more information on how to make smoked pork butt, click here.
This is one of the most popular options out there, especially for charcoal or pellet grilling. Before you tackle this delicacy, you should first understand the three basic types of pork ribs that are typically found in the butcher case.
1. Baby Back Ribs
The most ubiquitous, and perhaps the easiest to cook, baby back ribs are small and lean, with tons of meat stacked onto the bone.
2. Spare Ribs
These are characterized by their large, broad bones and abundance of connective tissue. They’re especially tender when they’ve been cooked properly.
3. St. Louis Ribs
Identical to spare ribs, but with the tips removed. They’re also harder to cook, so they should be avoided until you’ve gotten into your rib-cooking groove. Start with baby back or spare ribs instead.
To prepare ribs for the grill, marinate them overnight in a mixture of chicken stock, soy sauce, cider vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, and brown sugar. When you’re ready to cook, dry the rack thoroughly and coat it with your favorite spice rub blend. If you choose to make your own, try a combination of kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, paprika, chili powder, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and dried thyme.
Place the rib rack over indirect low-to-medium heat for one hour, flipping them over about halfway through the cooking process. After they’ve cooked for 30 minutes per side, move the rack to direct medium heat for another 20-40 minutes, again turning them over at the halfway point.
Pork ribs are done when the meat can be pierced easily with a fork. Alternatively, give one of the bones a gentle twist (wearing your heatproof gloves to avoid burns). If the bone comes free, your meat is done. Avoid the popular “falling off the bone” designation—if the meat is literally falling off the bone when you turn the rack, it’s overcooked and will probably be too dry as a result.
If you’d like to take a closer look at the different types of ribs and how to prepare them for the grill, this video is an excellent resource.
A staple of every summer cookout, the hot dog is convenient, portable, and just plain fun to eat. They’re also very forgiving when it comes to the grilling process, but that’s no reason to cut corners. Here’s how to ensure that your hot dogs come out perfect every time.
It doesn’t really matter whether your franks are made with pork, beef, or a combination. Choose whichever you prefer. Bear in mind, however, that leaner all-beef franks might dry out if the fire is too hot. If you choose this type, make sure your temperature is set to medium-low before you start to cook.
You’ll also want to take extra care to ensure that your grill is free of residue. This is important before starting the grill for any reason, but when it comes to smooth-skinned sausages like hot dogs, those burned bits can make your meal go south in a hurry.
Set the temperature to medium (350 degrees) for about 10 minutes before turning it down to medium-low. If you’re using a charcoal grill, wait for the coals to burn down to medium-low before adding the franks. Your cooking grates should be well oiled to prevent sticking.
Grill the dogs over medium-low heat for 5-6 minutes, rotating them as needed. To achieve perfect grill marks, line them up perpendicular to the cooking grates. When their ends begin to split, the dogs are ready.
Remove them to a platter and let them rest briefly while you toast the buns. We feel that the perfect accompaniments to a hot dog are yellow mustard, dill relish, and chopped sautéed onions. If you’re hosting a lot of people, you might also want to keep ketchup and sauerkraut on hand.
Here’s a closer look at the hot-dog-grilling process.
Don’t be tempted to cut corners by purchasing the pre-cooked version of bratwurst that’s available in most supermarkets. Fresh brats are plump, savory, and juicy—the epitome of what barbecued food should be.
Prepare your grill for a medium-low cook, taking care to clean the grill grates thoroughly. Apply a generous coating of oil to the grates.
Prick each bratwurst in several places with a sharp knife and place them on the grill. Since the sausages will contain plenty of fat, turn them frequently, taking care to avoid flare-ups. If necessary, move the sausages to indirect heat from time to time.
Fresh bratwurst should take 20-25 minutes to cook thoroughly. Once their internal temperature reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit, they should be safe to eat. If you’re using a gas or pellet grill, crank the heat to medium-high and place the sausages over direct heat to crisp up the skins. This last step isn’t strictly necessary, but we enjoy the contrast between the crispy exterior and the hot, juicy interior.
Tip: Alternatively, you can par-cook the bratwurst in a bath of simmering water and/or beer before you toss them on the grill. Simply place the sausages in a pan, add whatever liquid you desire until it reaches halfway up the sides of the bratwurst. Make sure the liquid is cold before bringing it to a simmer. After 15-20 minutes, the sausages should be cooked through and ready for a quick sear over medium-high heat (about 5-7 minutes total).
Let the sausages rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. You can serve bratwurst on oversized hot dog buns, or on a plate with tons of sauerkraut and artisanal mustard. For a winning flavor combination, look for pretzel-style buns and warm them over medium-low heat while the meat rests. Pile the bratwurst into the buns and top with sauerkraut and spicy brown mustard.
Tip: If all you can find is pre-cooked bratwurst, at least try to make sure it’s a reputable German brand. The sausages should be pale ivory in color, with flecks of black pepper. To finish these bratwursts on the grill, set the temperature to medium and grill them for 7-10 minutes, or until the outsides are brown and crisp.
For more details, check out this amazing article from Taste of Home.
Chicken Breasts (Boneless & Skinless)
Chicken is perhaps the most versatile ingredient you can choose for the grill. For boneless, skinless breasts, try a teriyaki or citrus marinade. You can also sprinkle them lightly with salt and pepper, coat them with cooking spray, and cut the cooked breasts into chunks to use in salads or appetizers. If you’d like to maximize the natural juiciness of the meat, try following the steps we’ve suggested for brining pork chops, above. For beginners, here’s a look at how to prepare simple grilled chicken breasts using the grill.
If boneless breasts have been pounded to a half-inch to quarter-inch thickness, they shouldn’t require more than three minutes per side to reach the FDA’s recommended internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. In these cases, it can be difficult to achieve a proper readout using a meat thermometer. Instead, use a sharp paring knife to make a small slit in the breast. If the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear, it’s done. If the interior is still pink and translucent and both sides have already browned, move the chicken to a cooler section of the grill and close the lid until it’s finished cooking.
If the breasts haven’t been pounded flat, then they’ll require a bit more cooking time. Give them a minimum of 5-7 minutes per side, checking the temperature with a meat thermometer after about 10 minutes. If they’re not done, follow the same instructions outlined above.
Chicken Breasts (Bone-In)
Bone-in breasts may need to be poached before grilling, especially if you’re using a gas or charcoal grill. This will ensure that the meat is cooked through before the outside starts to burn. To do this, simply place the chicken in a saucepan, adding garlic or any other aromatics you have on hand. Cover the ingredients with enough cold water to cover them completely, plus about a half-inch. If you’d like, add cooking sherry or leftover wine to the poaching liquid. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 10 minutes. The chicken may not be cooked through completely, but it will finish up nicely on the grill.
To grill bone-in breasts once they’ve been poached, place them over a medium-hot fire. If you’d like, you can brush them with a finishing glaze, such as barbecue or sweet Thai chili sauce, before adding them to the grill. Be aware that these sauces tend to contain a lot of sugar, so watch them closely to prevent them from burning. Grill for about 8-10 minutes, turning frequently, until the meat is heated through and browned all over.
If you’d prefer, you can cook the breasts over a direct fire without poaching them first. To do this, you’ll want to start by placing them over indirect heat for 15-20 minutes, turning them frequently to ensure even cooking. Once the internal temperature has reached 165 degrees, slide the breasts over to the hotter section of the grill to finish cooking.
For more details, check out this article.
Because thighs become more succulent and tender when cooked for long periods of time, we recommend slow-roasting them in the oven before grilling, especially if you’re using gas or charcoal. Season the thighs (either boneless or bone-in, it doesn’t matter) with a dry spice rub, then roast at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour. After you’ve let it cool for a bit, add whatever sauce you’d like, then grill over medium-high heat for about 10-12 minutes total. You might want to baste the thighs with additional sauce partway through the grilling process to keep the flavors bright.
Note: If you’re using a pellet grill, you can perform the earlier roasting step right in the cooking chamber, then remove the thighs and increase the temperature for the last 10-12 minutes of cooking time. The chicken can cool slightly while the unit reaches the proper temperature.
More on how to grill chicken thighs here.
A Super Bowl party wouldn’t be a Super Bowl party without a heaping plate of these game-day favorites. Some butcher shops will sell the flats and drumettes together in one package, but others might separate them so that you can choose your favorites. The following instructions work just as well for both varieties. For instructions on how to cook full-sized chicken drumsticks, skip ahead to the next section.
Because chicken wings cook quickly, they’re another good candidate for the grill. They also lend themselves well to a whole host of flavors, from sweet to savory to spicy.
To begin, pat your wings dry and coat them in a spice rub. You can experiment with whatever flavors you like, but we like to keep this step simple to allow the sauce to shine. Try a blend of kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne. A touch of vegetable oil will help the spices adhere to the skin, but don’t add too much, or the oil will cause flare-ups.
Set your grill to medium heat and lightly oil the cooking grates. Add the wings in a single layer, taking care not to crowd them. If you’re using a pellet smoker, close the lid and allow the wings to cook undisturbed for 10 minutes before turning them. For gas and charcoal grills, you’ll want to keep a close eye on their progress, turning more frequently to ensure that the skin isn’t sticking to the grates.
The wings should be done after 18-20 minutes of cooking time. After you’ve pulled them off the grill, toss them in the sauce of your choice. Hot sauce, sweet Thai chili sauce, teriyaki, and barbecue are all popular options. For more elegant gatherings, you can get fancy with offerings like ravigote sauce or lemon-caper remoulade. Make sure you serve the wings with plenty of napkins.
Tip: If you prefer your chicken wings extra-crispy, here’s a video tutorial on how to get that skin crackling-crisp every time. In this case, you might prefer to serve the sauce on the side to ensure that the skin doesn’t get too soggy.
Here is a grilled chicken wings recipe.
These are the perfect go-to grilled meal when you want to satisfy a houseful of picky children. Like their smaller counterparts, they can be seasoned in a variety of ways, all of which are sure to please.
Select plump, firm drumsticks from the butcher’s case. If you don’t see any, you might need to ask an attendant to prepare some for you. Plan on about two drumsticks per person. If you have leftovers, they’ll make a delectable chicken pot pie the next day.
Pat the skin thoroughly dry with paper towels. This is an important step for all skin-on poultry, but it’s vital when it comes to preparing grilled drumsticks. If there’s too much moisture on the skin, the drumsticks will come out greasy and limp. Take this time to check the joint area for any loose parts. You don’t want your dinner to be a choking hazard, especially if there are small children involved.
Season the chicken as desired, following the steps outlined in “Chicken Wings,” above. If you want to keep it simpler still, skip the garlic and onion powder and stick with kosher salt, black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne. Make sure your grilling grates are covered with a light coating of oil or cooking spray.
Grill drumsticks over medium heat, turning frequently, for 35-40 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees. You want the meat to be dark and succulent, with juices that run clear when you remove the thermometer. You can close the lid on the grill during this time, checking on the progress every 15 minutes or so and turning as needed.
Remove the drumsticks from the heat and let them rest for 5-10 minutes. Serve them as is, or with a dipping sauce on the side.
For more information, here is a step by step guide.
You’ve probably heard of “beer-can chicken,” a cooking method that involves grill-roasting an entire chicken atop an open can of inexpensive beer. That’s not the only way to prepare whole chickens on the grill, but it is one of the most popular because it’s largely hands-free. The beer will impart moisture to the chicken as the bird cooks, no basting required.
Whether you choose to use the beer can method or not, whole chickens should cook for about 1-1/2 to 2 hours at 350 to 400 degrees. Make sure to pat the bird dry inside and out with paper towels before grilling and season with plenty of kosher salt. Position the chicken neck-side up on the grill so that the drumsticks are resting underneath it. If it won’t stay up, it’s fine to lay it breast-side up on the grilling rack. For these purposes, you’ll want to close the lid of the grill for most of the cooking process, checking the temperature after the first 60 minutes.
Tip: Try blending 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, 1 tablespoon of fennel seed, and 1 tablespoon of dried herbs, then using the mixture to season a 3-4 pound chicken. The meat will be tender, moist, and redolent with hints of anise.
Alternatively, you can spatchcock the chicken (or have your butcher do this step for you) and grill the bird, breast side up, over indirect heat for about 1 hour. To crisp up the skin, flip the chicken over onto the hotter section of the grill for 5-7 minutes before removing it from the heat.
You can also check out this amazing recipe of Carolina BBQ smoked chicken from HarvestEating.com
It’s possible to cook an entire turkey on the grill, as long as your unit is large enough. It’s also essential to be able to close the lid securely, since you’re basically using the grill as an oven. This process is known as “grill-roasting,” and it’s becoming increasingly popular around the holidays, when people want to free up as much space as possible in the traditional oven.
To grill-roast a turkey, you’ll need a disposable aluminum roasting pan and a V-rack.
Rinse the bird thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels. Rub the skin thoroughly with salt and rub with melted butter or olive oil, or a combination. If you’d like, you can truss the bird by tucking the wing tips beneath the breasts and tying the drumsticks together using kitchen twine. Set the bird on the oiled V-rack in the roasting pan and carefully add 2 cups of water or chicken broth to the pan.
Preheat the grill on high, leaving the cover on, for 15 minutes. If you’re using a gas grill, turn one burner off. Set the roasting pan over the turned-off burner or the coolest section of the grill, closing the lid at once. Keep an eye on the temperature to ensure that it stays around 450 degrees for the entire cooking process. If a charcoal fire starts to burn too low, carefully add more briquettes by briefly removing the pan and using your grid lifter to access the burn pot.
Rotate the pan after the first hour of cooking, but try not to lift the lid unless absolutely necessary, as this will result in rapid heat loss. The turkey is done when a thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit. This should take about 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Allow the bird to rest for 30 to 60 minutes before carving.
Tip: You can also spatchcock the bird beforehand in order to speed up the cooking process. Here’s a video with additional tips on how to brine and grill a spatchcocked turkey.
Here are more detailed information on how to grill a whole turkey.
Lamb rib chops are succulent when cooked over an open flame. Select firm, meaty chops with a straight bone and a deep crimson hue. Season them with a blend of lemon zest, rosemary, kosher salt, black pepper, and olive oil. Lamb chops are fairly small, so you can apply the “marinade” by spooning the mixture carefully over the meat, turning them so that both sides are thoroughly coated.
To cook lamb chops on the grill, preheat the unit to medium-high (400 to 450 degrees). Since there’s plenty of oil in the marinade, there’s no need to oil the grates when following this recipe. Just be sure to add the chops carefully to avoid flare-ups. Grill for 3-4 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 135 degrees Fahrenheit for rare, 140 for medium-rare.
While we love the way the fresh, piney scent of rosemary pairs with the sweet richness of the chops, there are plenty of other options. Here’s a delightful technique utilizing lemon butter.
You can also keep the seasoning simple with salt and pepper, and serve the chops with mint sauce or jelly on the side.
This Mediterranean delicacy consists of a whole fish, dressed and seasoned and grilled with the head still on. If you can’t find branzino—a small fish with mild white flesh—you can substitute fresh trout. Whichever fish you use, check to make sure the eyes are clear and the gills are bright red. Firm, taut skin is another hallmark of freshness.
To prepare a branzino for the grill, stuff the cavity with your choice of herbs and other aromatics. Citrus fruits, basil, mint, and fresh ginger are all traditional choices. Season the skin and the cavity with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and brush the skin with olive oil. You may also wish to prepare a simple marinade using olive oil, garlic, and whatever aromatics you’re using to stuff the fish.
Preheat the grill to medium-high and oil the cooking grates. Carefully transfer the whole fish to the direct-heat portion of the grill and cook undisturbed for 6-8 minutes, or until the skin is crisp.
Flip the branzino by carefully positioning a spatula beneath the head and using your long-handled tongs to secure the cavity. Instead of performing a flipping motion,
gently roll the fish until it’s resting on the opposite side. Grill for an additional 5-7 minutes. The branzino is done when the skin is crisp all over and the eyes have both turned white.
Remove the fish to a platter. From the tail end, peel back the skin with a fork until it lifts off in a single sheet. Discard the skin and run a knife along the back of the fish so that the top and bottom fillets are separated. You may also remove any additional skin from the back.
Carefully separate the top fillet from the bottom with a spoon, then set it aside. Use the spoon to remove the spine and separate the bottom fillet (you may have to lift the head to see what you’re doing), then set it next to the top fillet. With a fork, remove the skin from the bottom fillet. Dispose of the head, tail, and stuffing.
Serve the branzino with a side of olive oil and coarse salt, or whatever marinade you used in the earlier steps. Just be sure not to recycle any marinade that’s come into contact with the raw fish.
When you’re choosing salmon for the grill, select thick meaty fillets that won’t fall apart during cooking. Season the fish with salt and freshly ground black pepper and coat with cooking spray or vegetable oil. Make sure the grill grate is sufficiently oiled as well to prevent sticking. Cook the fillets over high heat, undisturbed, for 4-5 minutes.
Instead of flipping, roll the fillets gently over to their other side to continue cooking. As a rule, fish should cook for about 8 minutes per inch of thickness. The salmon is done when the fillets are mostly opaque inside and flake away easily with a fork. Transfer grilled fish to a serving platter and serve with plenty of fresh lemon.
More on the topic here.
Halibut is a firm white fish that holds up well during the grilling process. Lemon is a classic accompaniment, but this version adds in a touch of honey for sweetness.
Before you purchase any fresh fish fillet, it’s a good idea to ask if you can smell it first. The fish should have a faint briny scent, but no “fishy” smell at all. If it smells too pungent, it’s probably past its prime.
Lightly season your halibut fillets with oil, kosher salt, black pepper, and lemon. Add additional flavorings if desired, but try to stick with mild, sweet flavors that will complement the fish.
Oil the cooking grates and preheat the grill to medium-high. Cook the halibut for 4-5 minutes on one side, then gently roll them over and cook for an additional 3 minutes. The fish is done when the interior is white and opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Remove to a plate and serve with lemon slices or additional sauce, if desired.
Swordfish steaks can be seasoned much like salmon and halibut, with a mixture of kosher salt, pepper, oil, and lemon. It also goes well with Asian-inspired flavors like teriyaki and coconut milk.
To prepare swordfish on the grill, lightly oil the cooking grates. Season the fish as desired. If you choose to use a marinade, make sure not to leave the fish in the mixture for any longer than 1 hour. If it stays in the marinade too long, the flesh will become unpleasantly gummy when cooked.
Grill swordfish steaks over medium heat for 5-6 minutes per side, basting with oil or butter if desired. Test the fish for doneness by poking a fork into the thickest part of the steak at a 45-degree angle. Twist the fork and pull up gently to see if the fish is flaky and opaque. If the fork doesn’t pull out easily, the fish needs a few more minutes on the fire.
Tip: Since swordfish is such a firm, meaty fish, it can hold up to stronger flavors than some of its counterparts. Here’s an intriguing method that utilizes the bold, sweet tastes of mesquite and pecan during the cooking process.
More details on how to grill Swordfish here.
Lobster is always an elegant option. When it’s cooked over an open flame, the natural sweetness of the crustacean gets a savory boost. The presentation is especially impressive, so save this dish for special occasions.
For this recipe, you’ll need to cut into the lobster before it’s cooked. If you have an issue with this, you might want to invest in pre-cooked lobster tails and give them a quick finish on the grill. If you go this route, grill the tails over medium heat until they have a good char on the outside and are warmed all the way through. However, we recommend the from-scratch method, as the meat will have a more authentic flavor.
With a sharp, heavy knife, separate the lobster tails from the bodies. Split the tails along the center, being careful not to cut all the way through the meat. Next, “open” the tails along with the cuts you’ve made, splaying the two halves apart like a book. Season them with a blend of olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Preheat the grill to medium and place the tails flesh-side down over direct heat. For 6-8 ounce tails, grill for 6-7 minutes, then flip them shell-side down. If you’d like, baste the exposed flesh with herb butter. Grill for an additional 5 minutes, or until the flesh is opaque and the shells are bright orangey-red. The internal temperature should read 135 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
Remove the tails from the grill and serve with drawn herb butter and lemon wedges. To get a feel for the process, check out this video tutorial on grilled lobster tails.
Here are more details on how to grill lobster tails from Weber.
Grilled shrimp makes for an exotic presentation, but the cooking process is simple enough for a weeknight meal.
Choose plump raw shrimp with a firm texture, discarding any that have a limp or milky appearance. Remove and discard the shells. Place the shelled shrimp in a marinade of olive oil, parsley, garlic, lemon, salt, and pepper.
After 30 to 60 minutes, remove the shrimp and pat it dry. Thread onto skewers, being careful to leave at least 1/4 inch between each shrimp. Cook over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes per side, checking them frequently. The shrimp are done when the tails have curled and the flesh is white and opaque throughout.
Still looking for tips? This video tutorial should help you fill in the gaps.
Yes, you can grill pizza—and it’s excellent when it’s done correctly. The key is not to leave the dough over direct heat for too long, or you’ll end up with a crust that’s burnt on the outside and mushy on the inside.
To start, dust the underside of a heavy-gauge baking sheet with plenty of cornmeal. Set aside your desired toppings. We would recommend going very light on the sauce and cheese for grilled pizza—you’re going for a crisp texture, not a casserole. In fact, you’ll probably want to keep all toppings to a minimum, just adding enough to give the crust a snap of flavor.
Topping should be cut into very small pieces. For watery ingredients like peppers, onions, and eggplant, you might want to give them a quick turn on the grill themselves so they don’t make the crust too soggy. See the “Vegetables” section below for tips.
Stretch out the pizza crust with your hands. Only resort to a rolling pin if the dough is too resistant to be shaped by hand without tearing. When you have a round that measures 8 to 10 inches in diameter, place the dough on the prepared cookie sheet and brush the top with olive oil.
Spray the grilling grates with cooking spray and set the grill to high. If you’re using a pellet grill, set the temperature to 500 degrees. When the grates are hot, flip the dough, oil-side down, onto the cooking surface. Grill for 2-3 minutes over direct heat, moving it to a cooler section if the dough blackens too quickly.
When the dough is golden brown and lightly charred on the bottom and bubbles have begun to form on the surface, flip it back onto the cookie sheet with the cooked side facing up. Scatter your toppings over the surface, then carefully slide the prepared pie back over indirect heat and close the lid. The pizza is done when the underside is golden brown and the cheese has melted.
More on how to grill pizza here.
You can prepare simple bread on the grill using the same technique described above. Just season the pizza crust or bread dough with a blend of kosher salt and black pepper after brushing it with oil, adding additional flavorings if you’d like.
After you’ve set the dough over direct heat, quickly brush the opposite side with olive oil and season it the same way. Once both sides are crusty and brown, remove the flatbread and cut it into wedges for serving.
For a Lebanese version that’s an ideal accompaniment for hummus or baba ganoush, check out this technique.
If you’re grilling veggies, you want them to be oversized and firm. Small or limp vegetables won’t hold up as well to the cooking process, and might even fall between the grill grates to commingle with the ashes.
Veggies require very little preparation when they’re cooked over a hot fire. A light coating of olive oil, a sprinkle of coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, and you’re good to go. If you’d like, you can finish them off with a dash of fresh lemon juice once they’ve finished cooking.
Here are some guidelines on how to prepare and cook vegetables on the grill. If you’re cooking several at once, start with the ones that require a longer cooking time, and add the rest as you go along.
- Tomatoes: Leave on the vine, if possible, so you can use the stem as a handle. Otherwise, thread them onto skewers.
- Asparagus: Snap off the woody ends by bending the stalks gently about two-thirds of the way down. The stalks should break naturally at the correct spot.
- Summer squash and eggplant: Trim the top and edges, then cut lengthwise into planks.
- Portobello mushrooms: Cut off stem and remove gills using a clean spoon.
- Cremini or button mushrooms: Remove stems. Cut larger mushrooms in half, if necessary.
- Onions: Remove skin and cut into quarters, root to stem.
- Bell peppers: Remove seeds and cut into quarters.
To cook, use the following guidelines, flipping the veggies or skewers halfway through:
- Onions, peppers, squash, eggplant, and mushrooms: 7-9 minutes total
- Asparagus and tomatoes: 4-6 minutes total
Looking for additional tips? This video will show you how it’s done.
Corn on the Cob
No, corn isn’t a vegetable. It’s technically a grain, which is why we’ve given it its own section instead of lumping it with the veggies listed above. Oh, and when it’s cooked over the grill, it’s unlike any corn you’ve ever had. Once we tried it, we vowed never to subject ourselves to the waterlogged steamed version ever again.
Tip: While some people recommend soaking the corn in water before grilling it in the husks, we’ve had good luck with the following method. Just be sure to turn the ears frequently so that the silks don’t catch on fire and ruin the corn.
To begin, choose ears of corn with firm green husks and slightly moist stems. Preheat the grill to medium and place the corn over direct heat. Leave spaces of about 1/2 inch between each ear to allow the heat to distribute evenly. Grill for a total of about 30 minutes, turning the corn every 5 minutes or so as the husks begin to char.
Remove the corn from the grill and allow it to cool slightly before removing the husks. Serve with plenty of butter and salt.
While this is our favorite way to prepare corn on the grill, it’s not the only one. This tutorial will show you how to grill corn using three different methods: In the husk, over indirect heat, or wrapped in foil and placed directly on the coals. Or you can check this great article.
Whether you’re a practiced griller looking to pick up some new tips, or a beginner trying to start off on the right foot, we hope this guide has provided you with the information you need. For our part, we’ve enjoyed the opportunity to hone our technique, and have taken great pleasure in the results.
Best of luck to you, and happy grilling!