With a little practice, you can master these simple techniques and get terrific results every time.
Preparing the Grill
Always start with a clean grill: Use specially made stiff wire brushes to sweep the grates, then wipe away any residue with an oiled cloth or paper towel. It's much easier to remove stuck-on bits from a warm grill, so you may want to get in the habit of cleaning the grates after each use, once they've cooled slightly. To protect your hands from the heat, use long-handled tongs to hold the oiled cloth.
Heating the Grill
When building the fire for charcoal grills, stack the coals two or three deep. Once they're hot, spread coals in a single layer, and let cool to desired temperature. Leave an area free of coals to create indirect heat. This will allow you to shift foods during cooking to prevent burning and to keep cooked foods warm until ready to serve.
Ready to Grill
The coals are ready when they have a slight red glow and more than two-thirds are covered in ash; this should take about 20 minutes. To determine grill temperature, try this technique: If you can hold your palm 6 inches above the fire for no more than 2 seconds, it's at high heat; if you can hold it for up to 7 seconds, it's at medium heat.
Oiling the Grates
Prevent food from sticking to the grill by lightly oiling the grates. The best time to do this is just before placing the food on the grill; otherwise, the oil may burn off. To coat hot grates, dab a kitchen cloth with oil, holding the cloth with long-handled tongs while rubbing the grates.
Before placing marinated food on the grill, let the excess marinade drip off. When basting foods during grilling, be careful not to let any of the sauce drip onto the hot coals. Also, keep a spray bottle filled with water close by so you can douse any flames.
Start by placing food directly over the hottest heat (or what is called for in the recipe), then move it to a cooler spot if you see that the outside is charring before the inside is done.
Food needs to be turned to cook evenly, but the fewer times the better. If the food doesn't release easily from the grates, continue cooking until it does (do not tear). Also, avoid piercing food (especially meats) with a fork, as this causes juices to escape. Instead, use tongs for steaks, chops, and firm fish (such as tuna); a wide spatula for burgers, vegetables, and delicate fish.
If you plan to baste meats during grilling, set aside some sauce at the beginning for serving; discard any sauce that has been in contact with the basting brush. Also, place grilled foods on a clean platter, not on the same one that held raw meat.