Summer's Almost Here—Do You Know How to Use a Barbecue?
Setting up a charcoal grill can be intimidating: it’s hot, it can get messy if you’re not prepared, and it’s unfamiliar to lots of home cooks. But with a little know-how, you’ll be grilling with confidence all summer long.
The Best Barbecue Tools and Techniques
The first thing to consider is your equipment, namely your grill. Weber Original Kettle grills ($165; amazon.com) are sturdy, reliable, and will last a lifetime even if you don’t treat it exactly right (I mean, that thing lives outdoors). A 22-inch model will give you plenty of grate space so you can cook up bigger pieces of protein—think, whole chickens or a few racks of ribs—along with your side of vegetables, toast, or even dessert.
When you purchase your grill, go ahead and pick up a chimney starter ($23; amazon.com) as well. They’re the easiest and tidiest way to get your coals hot without nasty smelling and tasting lighter fluid. Add a pair of long tongs ($16; amazon.com) to your cart, a grill brush ($10; amazon.com) for cleaning those grates, and a long spatula ($15; amazon.com) for turning burgers and fish filets. That trio often comes with the grill but double check as you’ll use them literally every time you grill. Throw in a pair of heat safe gloves and your basics are covered.
A few other things that are nice to have on hand: a long handled lighter for starting the coals in the chimney, a big roll of heavy duty foil, and a grill cover ($16; amazon.com). The covers are often sold separately but they’re key to keeping your grill in good shape through summer and beyond.
When it comes to charcoal, you have a few options. Depending on what you’re grilling you may want to use briquettes or hardwood lump charcoal. Briquettes burn longer and more evenly—great for slower cooking items like chicken wings and thick cut pork chops—than hardwood lump charcoal which provides faster more intense heat ideal for searing burgers, sausages, or skirt steaks. If you do choose briquettes beware of bags labeled “matchlight.” Those are doused with lighter fluid and will compromise the flavor of your food.
Once you light it up (check out that handy video above) simply think of your grill as a portable oven and stove. Sear directly over hot grates just like you would in a hot skillet, cook over indirect for a comparable medium heat, and close the lid to create an oven-like environment. Always use a meat thermometer for more precision and safety.
Lastly, make sure to take care of your equipment. A dirty grill will have more flare-ups and smoke, and is more likely to burn your meats. Clean your grill frequently with a grill brush to remove stuck on food, and plan to thoroughly clean your grill a few times a year.
Best Practices for Barbecue Sauce
Don't apply barbecue sauce too early in the grilling process. The sugars in the sauce will burn at too high of heat and impart a burnt flavor and often create an undesirable, tough texture. Instead, apply the sauce when the meat is about 10 minutes from your desired level of doneness. This allows the meat to caramelize and imparts the best flavors.
Use a brush or even a sauce mop to apply the sauce evenly. Apply about two coats, and don’t put too much pressure on the meat during the application.
For sauced meats that cook low and slow, never cook directly over the flame. Using a covered grill only, food should be placed between the heat sources and limit lifting the lid as much as possible, besides the saucing process.
Last word: barbecuing is the kind of thing that takes a few tries to get the hang of. But, like riding a bike, once you learn, you’ll never forget. For more grilling tips and tricks, don’t miss our comprehensive guide to How to Grill Anything.