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4 Grilling Tips You Can't Live Without

Nothing beats the flavor of a grilled steak or juicy burger, but grilling has its challenges. Does your chicken end up black on the outside and red on the inside? Do your steaks look pale and gray? Have you caused flare-ups that singed your arm hair, or dropped your kebabs through the grates?

Photography by: Marcus Nilsson

Whether you’re cooking outdoors on a gas or charcoal grill, or simply using a grill pan on your stove, here’s how to grill like a pro.


1. Preheat your grill

It’s critical to preheat your grill before putting any food on it. If the grill hasn’t reached its optimal temperature before it comes in contact with your meal, you may need to leave the food on longer, leading to dried-out chicken breasts and overdone steaks.


Searing-hot grates are what create those beautiful, flavorful grill marks on your food. Your food is also far less likely to stick to a hot grill than a cool one. To check if the temperature is ready for grilling, carefully hold your hand, palm side down, four to six inches above the grill.

If you can keep it there for:

  • 5+ seconds, the heat is low
  • 4 seconds, the heat is medium
  • 3 seconds, the heat is medium-hot
  • 1 to 2 seconds, the grill is hot and ready


2. Know when to use direct versus indirect heat

It’s a common conundrum when grilling: The meat is charred and blackened on the outside, but when you cut into it, it’s still raw. Sear your food over the hot zone (direct heat) to get a beautiful brown char on the outside, and then move it to the warm zone (indirect heat) to finish cooking all the way through without scorching. To accomplish the same thing when cooking on a grill pan indoors, sear on the stovetop and then transfer the pan to the oven to finish the cooking. Steaks develop the richest flavor when handled minimally. It’s best to leave them alone as much as possible, turning only once or twice. One more rule to avoid burning and scorching: Never apply barbecue sauce or any other sweet glaze until the very last minutes of cooking. If you apply it too early, the sugar will burn, giving the food a bitter, burnt flavor. Instead, offer several sauces on the table and let your guests choose their favorites. Can't decide whether to use a direct or indirect method? If the food takes less than 20 minutes to cook, use direct heat; if it takes longer, use indirect heat.


3. Avoid flare-ups

Flare-ups -- when fat drips onto hot coals, causing tall flames to lick up and burn your food -- mostly happen on charcoal grills within a few seconds, or right after you turn the food over. To avoid a towering inferno:


  • Properly preheat your grill.
  • Trim excess fat from meat.
  • Don’t add too much oil to your food before or during grilling.
  • Make sure the grease-catch pan is wiped clean of accumulated fats and oils.


At the first sign of a flare-up, quickly move the food that is over the direct heat to the cooler zone and wait for it to burn out. After you marinate your steaks, be sure to remove any excess marinade, which will cause flare-ups. Even worse, "wet" steaks don’t sear; they steam.


4. Keep your kebabs ON, not IN, the grill

Cut meats into larger cubes (about 1 1/2 inches) to keep them moist while grilling. For meats that aren’t easily cubed, such as chicken thighs, cut them into longer strips that can be folded over on themselves when skewering to create even-sized chunks.


Thread meats onto skewers so they are touching, but not crammed together, to keep them juicy and still allow for even cooking.


Wooden skewers are best to use for quickly cooked foods such as vegetables, fruits, and shellfish. For unevenly shaped foods such as shrimp, you can also use two skewers to prevent them from rotating. Soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes before using so they won’t burn.


Metal skewers are best for meat. Choose flat skewers rather than round ones to prevent the food from rotating when you try to flip the kebabs.


Twelve inches is the ideal skewer size. It’s both a manageable length to work with, and a nice individual portion size as well.