The 7 Mistakes You’re Making When Grilling, According to a Pro
Plus expert advice on how to cut your cleanup time in half.
Grilling is an excellent fuss-free cooking method, and quite frankly, we’d rather not make meat (or fish, vegetables, or fruit) any other way in the summer. But here's the thing: According to Chef Andre Rush, one of the top chefs in the United States military and an award-winning member of the U.S. Culinary Arts Team, home cooks make all sorts of errors when grilling. Luckily, none of them are hard to fix. Here’s the Chef’s expert advice on how to barbecue better, with lots of time-saving benefits to boot!
1. Choosing the wrong type of grill method
There are so many different ways to sear foods on a grill that it can understandably be very difficult to know exactly what to do with the grill you’ve got. Charcoal and gas are the main types, but electric and pellet grills are also fairly common, and the rules are different for each one of these options. As a rule of thumb, remember that charcoal is much more hands-on than gas because the heat is inconsistent; you need to know how to use direct and indirect heat to get good results. If you’re more of a novice when it comes to grilling, no problem—just go for gas instead.
2. Opening the lid too often
Keeping the grill top closed is another issue we often see cooks having a hard time with—it’s in our nature to keep checking on what we’re cooking. Just remember that your grill is like an oven, and every time you open the lid, heat escapes and the temperature drops dramatically. It’s especially important to keep the grill top closed when you’re cooking for a short period of time.
3. Moving (or flipping) your meat too early
Once your meat touches the grill grates, leave it alone! Chicken, burgers, fish, and more need time to cook and caramelize, and every time you move them, you essentially start over. Once your steak “un-sticks” from the grill grates, that means it’s ready to be turned over. Also, whatever you do, don’t press it down.
4. Pairing grilled food with the wrong type of wine
Thanks to the sweltering temps of the summertime, it’s easy to assume white or rosé wine is the best option for serving alongside barbecue fare. And not to nitpick—because when it comes to wine, you have to do you—but versatile reds are often the perfect pairs for grilled meat. “I love Josh Cellars Military Salute Edition Lodi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon because its flavor profile is so diverse," says Chef Rush. "It can go with charred chicken, beef, pork, and even seafood.”
5. Making cleanup harder than it needs to be
There are a few different things you can do to make grill-cleaning quick and painless. First, use grill spray or extra virgin olive oil and rub it on your grill’s grates before cooking. It’ll prevent whatever you’re cooking from sticking, plus it’ll make your grill marks much more defined. Second, always clean your grill when it’s still hot with a grill brush. If you wait for it to cool, it’ll take that much longer to clean.
6. Not taking temperatures
All too often, we misjudge a food’s doneness when grilling. It’s easy to assume a piece of meat or fish is done because it’s been on the grill for the recommended amount of time or because it’s covered in defined grill marks, but this is a grave mistake. Relying on visual cues (read: guessing) not only makes it easy to over- or undercook the burgers or chicken, but it puts you, your kids, and your dinner guests at serious risk of food poisoning.
The only way to know for certain is to enlist the help of a food thermometer. When inserting, make sure you put it into the thickest part of the meat to take its internal temperature. It’s also important to know what the recommended cooking temperatures are—find those here.
7. Assuming all vegetables cook in the same amount of time
When grilling delicate foods like vegetables, there are a few things you can do to ensure they come out exactly as you’d like them to. First, get a vegetable rack you can stick on your grill—it’ll deliver the same results as the grates will and help to keep everything contained. Second, don’t cut your veggies too small, especially if you don’t have a rack. The small-sized pieces will either fall through the grates or cook too quickly (or both). Third, and most importantly, remember that not all vegetables cook at the same speed. If you like to take everything off the grates at the same time, try to cook similar vegetables together only. Potatoes and asparagus, for example, have two very different cook times. Broccoli and cauliflower, on the other hand, can grill to perfection together.
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