Where can I find really basic tips on how to get started with grilling?
April 22, 2007 10:47 PM   Subscribe

I just bought a big grill for my new backyard but I'm feeling bad that my wife does all the grilling (she's an amazing cook). I'd like to help out more but I don't know where to start. Are there any really basic books on how to get started cooking on a gas grill? Everything I find online is a cesspool of ads or nonsense, so I'm asking here.

It seems like I should know how to cook meats, fish, and veggies on the grill not just to help out with meal prep, but to pass as "one of the guys" at backyard parties.

Ideally, I'm looking for instructions that are fit for someone that has never touched a grill before. I'd like to be able to cook:

- chicken
- fish (mostly salmon)
- peppers, asparagus, corn
- burgers (most likely turkey)

Like I said, I've never done this before so I'm completely clueless. I don't want to break down and get a "for dummies" book unless I really have to. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.
posted by mathowie to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Frozen stuff will usually burn on the outside before it's fully cooked. (unless it's thin like a store-bought hamburger)

Preheat the bbq but don't leave the temperature cranked while cooking - this will again give you a burned outside, undercooked inside.

When cooking a variety of different foods, try to time when you throw things on so everything will be done around the same time (i.e, don't put on the hot dogs at the same time as the steak)

Hope this wasn't too basic for you.
posted by davey_darling at 11:09 PM on April 22, 2007

I learned to grill by osmosis, so I don't really have a book recommendation. I've heard good things about this guy: http://www.bbqu.net/ who was educated right there in Portland before doing a fellowship in food.

Getting some background is good, but the best way to learn to grill food is to grill food.
posted by Good Brain at 11:09 PM on April 22, 2007

My first instinct would be that you should seek advice from the land of the BBQ, so here's the first cromulent-looking result from a search for "BBQ" in domain: .au

Includes recipes, tips & tricks & book reviews.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:29 PM on April 22, 2007

My grill-happy SO claims that this book is the backyard BBQ bible. I don't know nothing about it, otherwise, as having him play grillmaster is an excellent excuse for me to go start on the wine before the meal.
posted by jamaro at 11:40 PM on April 22, 2007

Wait, he said this one for gas grills.
posted by jamaro at 11:42 PM on April 22, 2007

Best answer: The best way to learn to grill is by grilling but I will try to give some pointers based on my experience with a gas grill.

First, you need two extra pieces of equipment besides the grill. A meat thermometer with a wired probe, something like this and a thermometer to measure the air temperature inside the grill which is most probably attached to your grill hood.

I usually preheat my grill to about 350-400 F on high using all burners, and then turn down the heat to medium or even low depending on what I am cooking and how thick the meat is. Lower temperatures for peppers, tomatoes, thicker meat; higher temperatures for corn, thinner slices of meat.

Use the probe thermometer to cook the meat to about 160-170 F depending on how done you like it, and you will figure out in a couple of turns how to do it without burning the outside. When it doubt, turn the flame down.

Avoid fat fires. It is worth repeating so -- avoid fat fires. If you get a flare-up, move the meat off to a cooler spot on the grill. This also means keep an eye on the meat at all times while being `one of the guys.'

The key to grilling chicken properly, IMO, is marinating it. Any liquid you like -- white wine, brine, lemon juice, yogurt, -- or a combination of one or more of the above will do the trick. Even beer.Marinate in the fridge for 8 hours and take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before you throw it on the grill. And be extra double careful measuring the temperature of the thickest part of the chicken while avoiding the bone to ensure all salmonella is dead.

Never use a grilling fork. It punctures the meat, and makes the juices run out. Use only a spatula or tongs.

It always helped me to think of the grill as an oven with a broiler at the bottom. So, if you are comfortable with roasting things in the oven, you could transfer most of that knowledge over to the grill.

Lastly, try grilling some pineapples, apples, and peaches for dessert, and try some grilled halloumi in pita for a snack while waiting for the food.
posted by hariya at 11:44 PM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

We made Ahi burgers with asparagus and julienned carrots tonight, and for the veggies, we used this great cage about the size of a router, that could be flipped over.

Don't put frozen anything on the grill, that should go without saying. Yeck.

When in doubt, pour beer on it.

For salmon, filets are easiest because you can cook them skin down, covering for extra heat if they're very thick. Grizzly Joe's is a wonderful cheat.

Kebabs are really fun to do at parties, just chop up peppers, meats, fruit, etc. and set out several saucing choices and skewers.

Corn: keep the husks on and blacken them.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:56 PM on April 22, 2007

If you want to grill salmon, get cedar planks. These are good for smoking the fish and are available at your local grocer's.

You can use hardware store planks if the wood is 1/8" thick and untreated. If it has any fire retardant or other treatment, do not use it and just pay more at the grocer's to be safe.

Soak the planks in water for a couple hours. Be sure the plank is fully submerged, or flip it over after an hour to submerge the other side.

Put together a mixture of olive oil, Honeycup sweet honey mustard, and chopped, fresh dill to taste. You can use other kinds of mustards, but I have found this works best. Let this sit for 30 minutes to meld.

Get your grill nice and hot.

Put the salmon skin-side down on the plank. Brush your salmon flesh-side up with the sauce. Give it five minutes to soak in.

Put the plank on the grill and place the cover on the grill. Cook for 15-20 minutes, a little longer if the salmon steak is thicker than 1". The cover will hold in cedar smoke, which imparts a sweet smokiness to the salmon.

Sneak a peek every five minutes during cooking to make sure your planks don't catch fire. If they do, you didn't soak them long enough.

Cut into the salmon at the end and see if the steak is pink inside. If it is, cook it a little longer. If not, serve and enjoy.


A good accompaniment is roasted asparagus, which is in season right now.

Wrap up stalks of asparagus in aluminium foil, sprinkled with olive oil and a little salt+pepper.

Put the foil-wrapped mix into the grill about 10 minutes into cooking your salmon. The asparagus should be ready about the same time as the salmon. You want the stalks to have a little bite — soggy is no good.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:01 AM on April 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

I unreservedly recommend Steve Raichlen's "Barbecue Bible", which not only contains good beginner instructions (and explanations of WHY) but has many fine recipes and some nice stories too.

He has a website as well.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:55 AM on April 23, 2007

Grilling vegetables: a little marinade or butter, wrapped inside aluminum foil so the juices can't run out (making them dry and horrible). If you have good quality vegetables, you basically just want to not ruin them, since it's safe to undercook them (and people will be happy with crisp veggies as long as they aren't potatoes).
posted by joannemerriam at 3:28 AM on April 23, 2007

Start simple, Matt. Work yourself up to more complicated things as your confidence grows. Here's two easy recipes:

Chicken Breasts
Marinate boned, skin off chicken breasts in your favorite marinade (super simple = Italian salad dressing). Leave in marinade 30 min to 1 hour. Drain excess. Pre-heat grill for five minutes on high, then turn down to medium. Cook 5-7 minutes on first side (with cover closed), turn. Cook 3-4 minutes on second side, check for doneness (shouldn't have any pink). Serve with grilled summer veggies (squash, corn) and salad. Faster than going to McDonald's.

Sometimes, when I bring chicken home from the grocery store, I put it in marinate before freezing it. The chicken marinates while freezing, and again while thawing out.

Inside - Boil brats in crappy cheap beer for 25 minutes. (Don't waste good beer on this.) Caution! Beer will foam up and boil over, so watch it closely and turn heat down till just boiling. Outside - Grill brats for 5 minutes total, turning halfway through. Serve with saurkraut, chopped onions, spicy mustard on buns.

If you contribute the meat portion of the meal, and your wife does the veggie / sides, you'll both be cooking and you'll have an opportunity to watch her and learn.

I love my grill!
posted by Corky at 3:32 AM on April 23, 2007

Best answer: The Cook's Illustrated Guide To Grilling And Barbecue is, like all their stuff, filled with explanations for why you're supposed to do what you're supposed to do with the food. With useful illustrations.

From the reviews: "...this approach is ideal for those who are nervous about outdoor cooking and want to know what to expect."
"a comprehensive nuts and bolts volume that thoroughly examines outdoor cooking—starting with the basics. The 12-page introduction to grilling, "Outdoor Cooking 101," walks you step-by-step through the essentials of grilling, grill-roasting, and barbecuing using both charcoal and gas grills."

I -- vegetarian -- can make no first-hand claims for it, but I had a read-through when I bought it for my father, and was impressed.

As for the peppers, asparagus, corn: add chunks of red onion and parboiled potato, throw it all on skewers, marinate in vinaigrette, and grill; I think veg must be the easiest, but watch out for different cooking times -- potato's usually the fussiest. And, keep in mind that the fewer letters in "barbecue," the better it tastes.
posted by kmennie at 3:57 AM on April 23, 2007

I can second the recommendation for the Cook's Illustrated Guide - all of the CI stuff is not only broken down to basic steps, but the lead up to each recipe or technique usually tells you what was tried/what failed leading up to the decision to something a certain way. If your personal flavor of geek is "World's Tallest Toddler" ("but why did...?", "but how did...?"), you'll do well with this one - my husband does.
posted by ersatzkat at 4:06 AM on April 23, 2007

Alton Brown's I'm Just Here For the Food has a good chapter of grilling, plus gives you the basics for a host of other cooking methodologies. Once you learn a few rules, the rest of cooking out is art and instinct.

I'd also suggest checking out a few episodes of Good Eats via your information gathering approach of choice. He's got several on cooking with gas and coal.

And if you want to "be one of the guys" when it comes to cooking out, work on your own custom rubs and marinades. Usually when I cookout, the conversation around the grill turns to what's in the rub more than what's going on with the meat.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:44 AM on April 23, 2007

I grill w/ charcoal, but lots of stuff is universal.

1) Corn: Soak in water for half an hour beforehand, leave husks ON, don't be afraid of the husks blackening.

2) Veggies: You can use the grill as a heater and wrap the veggies in tinfoil with a marinade and cook sealed, or let them soak beforehand and cook directly on the flame. I just made garlic and olive oil marinated mushroom skewers last night, delicious. You don't want to overcook veggies, on a very hot flame, just let them brown or blacken on the outside. They'll still be mostly raw inside, and very tender.

3) Start with thin foods. Thicker steaks and cuts of fish take much more precision than thinner ones. Flank steaks/steak strips on skewers are easy and quick. Likewise, peppers and zucchini cut into thin (< 3/4) strips cook quickly and remain moist. br>
4) If you haven't got a system down for a food, buy and prepare too much. Start early and do process of elimination, put on 4 of them and try/test the first one when you think it's not yet done. If it tastes good, take the rest off and note the time it took. If it needs more, wait another minute or so and try the next one, etc.

5) Put it in and don't touch it. I see people flipping and flipping and nudging and pressing their burgers, and then they pull out a bit of dry leather at the end. Patience, it'll cook all by itself. Only move it to un-stick it from the grill if necessary (oil it beforehand and you shouldn't have to).
posted by Skorgu at 5:44 AM on April 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

Books are great, but I assert that grilling is the epitome of a shared, socialable activity.
So don't forget another excellent resource: Cranky Old Neighbor Guy.
He's probably down the street.
Wears black socks with Birks.
Potbelly and three kids.
And he would LOVE to pass on the Man-Wisdom to a Grill-Cub.
Nothing beats one-on-one instruction, and for the price of some Michelob (get the Non-Ironic Six-Pak) you might make a new friend to boot.
Always grill with a buddy!
posted by Dizzy at 6:28 AM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ok, maybe this is too obvious, but rather than Cranky Old Neighbor Guy or books, if your wife is an awesome grill cook, why don't you get her to show you how she does it?
posted by MsMolly at 6:58 AM on April 23, 2007

I learned a lot about grilling through trial and error and watching a LOT of food go on and off the grill. I had friends in Seattle that would have a weekly BBQ at their place. Every Wednesday at 6 pm they'd turn the grill on, they'd have some side dishes and condiments and a dessert. You'd bring your meat or meat substitute and they'd figure out how to cook it along with everything else.

So I guess what I'm saying is that, in addition to the Cooks Illustrated book which is really what I was coming here to recommend, is that you need to practice. Every night that it's decent to grill, go grill something. If you're cooking something else as a main course, grill some veggies. Grill some bread if you're having something else. Just get on the grill and learn from what you do there. Grill every day that it's not snowing from now until Wintertime. Grill in the rain.

Also, and this is just a personal aside. If you are one of those people that does a lot of things at once (and I am saying this as if I don't KNOW you are one of these people) make sure you carry a timer or something else with you as you do your other non-grilling stuff. It's easy to look at food and say "oh that must be done, it's all blackish on the outside" when it's still undone inside. Let the thermometer guide you as you start, when you cook multiple things make yourself a list of when each should go on and off (on paper, I am serious) and keep an eye on your watch. One of the things that makes good grillers really good is the exquisite ballet they can do putting foods on and taking them off so that they're all cooked and done at more or less the same time. It's takes practice and the continuous partial attention we're used to putting into techie projects doesn't quie translate there
posted by jessamyn at 7:19 AM on April 23, 2007

I'm feeling bad that my wife does all the grilling (she's an amazing cook).

Does she sometimes feel bad that she can't pitch in with designing / moderating a huge online community blog / question & answer site? Maybe you shouldn't feel so bad and just appreciate each other's areas of skill. Not trying to be snarky, my thought is just that you probably have your hands pretty full already. Perhaps you can help with the preparing of stuff / clean-up while she cooks?

That said, you have a lot of good grilling advice above, especially from hariya. When it comes to rubs, you can't beat Cavenders.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:27 AM on April 23, 2007

I really second the beer and brat idea....It is dead simple and you will find it extremely difficult to under or over cook the finished product which is I think most people's fear with a new cooking style. The next thing I would try would be to do veggies which are are cut to uniform pieces and put in an aluminum foil "package" along with a fat of some sort and herbs of your choosing. Put that on one of the shelves of your grill if you have one (so it gets indirect heat) or off to the side and then forget about it until its time to enjoy them.
posted by mmascolino at 7:39 AM on April 23, 2007

It's really not rocket science, in fact, it's kinda primal. You get the fire really hot(sometimes a challenge with a gas grill) and put the stuff on.

A probe thermometer with a lead is helpful, so you can stick it in the meat and leave it alone until it's done. The thermometer only works for things about the thickness of a chicken breast or thicker. For steaks and chops, you have to learn what degree of firmness corresponds with doneness. At first, you have to feel it, then make a small cut to look in and see.

One method taught to many people when they're just starting out is to hold your hand out flat, palm down, fingers and thumb parallel. Feel the firmness of the muscle between your thumb and first finger. Close to the bone of the first finger is the firmness of a well done steak, and as you move out to the side of the muscle, it gets softer. Medium is about half-way out. I don't know if this helps, because you still have to get a feel for it, but some people use it.

Never put meat on a cold grill. It'll stick and burn. Get the grill hot, give it a spray with cooking spray, and you're ready. If you use the aerosol stuff like I do, be aware that it's gonna flame up if you keep spraying, so just use little short bursts.

In general, the cheaper the cut, the more important the marinade. If you've got some nice ribeyes, just grill 'em right and they'll be perfect. Don't put anything beyond salt and pepper on them. For things that do require marinades, cumin is a nice spice to use, because it kinda has a smoky flavor on it's own that pairs well with grilled meat. Make sure you marinate for several hours, then drain the marinade before putting the item on the grill. You don't want it flaming up and burning your stuff, and oil fires leave a smoky, unpleasant residue on the items. Accordingly, don't brush the marinade on them items while they're grilling. It won't impart any extra flavor in that short time, and the moisture will impair the formation of a nice sear.

Get some lava rocks, if your grill doesn't have a heat spreader at the bottom, or if it just has the little crappy ones like they mostly do.

Have beer on hand, both for putting out fat fires, which are particularly a problem with marinated meats, and for quenching the inevitable thirst you get from grilling in front of a hot fire.

I like to grill corn smeared with garlic and butter, wrapped in foil, but all other veggies come out best grilled directly ion the surface, so they'll get the grill marks. If you grill the veggies on foil, you might as well just bake 'em. The great thing about grilling is the sear and the smokiness, so you gotta get it hot, and don't over crowd things. Every grill has it's hot spots and cooler ones, so you need to learn those and stay off the cold spots when you're putting stuff on, and you can move mostly done items to those spots if you need to put something else on.

If you start with the fire too hot, and both sides of your meat are well-seared before the inside is done(this will also happen if you put something on that was still frozen in the middle, pull it off and microwave it, covered, briefly. This is only done to save you from a disaster, certainly not on routine basis. It's not something you want to advertise, but it can save your ass if you screw up.

When you're ready to step up to the real deal - actual charcoal grilling - get a chimney starter and lump charcoal(not briquets)you'll have grillable coals before your gas grill has come up to temp. Get used to charcoal-grilled meat and you'll never go back to gas.

The last and most important thing, crucial to all good grilling, is to have a cold beverage in your hand at all times.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:39 AM on April 23, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the awesome tips everyone, I'll definitely check out the Cooks Illustrated guide and get out there and practice with some basics covered here.

if your wife is an awesome grill cook, why don't you get her to show you how she does it?

I kinda wanted to surprise her, by grilling myself lunch for a couple weeks as practice, then making dinner one of these nights as a surprise.
posted by mathowie at 8:04 AM on April 23, 2007

matt, I understand you're mostly interested in grilling fish and veggies, but when it comes to grilling meat chris schlesinger is the man

he's like the leonardo da vinci of the grill
posted by matteo at 8:57 AM on April 23, 2007

You didn't ask for recipes, but this is the best thing I've ever grilled - Jay's Jerk Chicken from Allrecipes.
posted by peep at 8:57 AM on April 23, 2007

Accordingly, don't brush the marinade on them items while they're grilling. It won't impart any extra flavor in that short time, and the moisture will impair the formation of a nice sear.

Actually, I find that with some sugar-based marinades, you can really do a nice glaze. I've got a brown-sugar (brown sugar, paprika, black pepper, chili powder) -based rub that I use on pork chops. I get them defrosted, wash them in water, and then with them still wet, place them on the plate and sprinkle the rub on them really, really thick. The rub kind of 'melts' down as the water absorbs the sugar. Flip and do it again. Mix some of the rub with some water in a small bowl, (Because you NEVER want to use marinade that's touched raw meat while you're cooking the meat...). Head out to the grill, plunk the meat on the highest heat area, sear it pretty good on the bottom and then flip it. Apply the rub-juice to the seared side. Then flip it again after the second side is seared, and apply rub-juice. Move the chop to a cooler spot on the grill and do this 2 or 3 more times until you're out of juice. Then let it cook. You end up with a nicely candy-coated pork chop that's just the right level of sweet and spicey.

Those frozen hamburgers you buy in giant stacks at the supermarket are fun. You can pull them right out of the freezer and throw them right on the grill. I flavor them with worcestershire sauce, lawry's seasoned salt, and rosemary, and then cook a thick ring of red onion ON the grill (timing takes practice) and put it on top of the burger when I put the cheese on ... let both melt in for a sec.

I grill with charcoal, FWIW, but I learned on gas. Later this summer I'll have both, but will still use charcoal. I also grill by firmness and how much 'juice' is coming out of the meat. You want some juice to be coming out, but not too much. And I third either doing extensive experimenting yourself or 'hiring' a friend/neighbour for the cost of some beer... ;)

Be careful applying spices that include salt while the meat's on the grill. (I'm guilty of this, but ...) The salt, when it hits any sheet metal (i.e. ... the grill's burners, or your entire bottom of your grill if the grill's made out of stamped metal instead of cast metal), will corrode that metal away and within a few years in the wet, wet, wet Northwest will make the grill worthless/useless. This is one of the reasons I switched to charcoal for my most active grilling.

My favorite chicken marinade, btw, is good ol' Lawry's 30-minute Tequila Lime. Makes great chicken for salad. Stubbs' Chicken Marinade, which (@ Matt) I'm pretty sure that Freddy's will have, is *great* too.
posted by SpecialK at 9:32 AM on April 23, 2007

Lots of good advice above, but I wanted to add one thing- burgers that are low in fat are very hard to grill without drying them out- turkey burgers doubly so, because they're extra gross if they are pink inside, unlike beef burgers. Consider filling a pocket inside with cheese, brushing them with garlic oil before grilling, mixing in a couple tablespoons of yogurt and fresh herbs, or chopped onions that have already been carmelized in olive oil. You could also try mixing them with fattier ground meat, like pork or (not too lean) beef, if you're not totally set on strictly turkey. Make them nice and fat, and experiment with the thermometer in the middle to ensure that you are pulling them off the grill when they are cooked, but not dried.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:45 AM on April 23, 2007

As the happy owner of three grills and countless grilling books, I've found this Weber book to be the most helpful, most useful, and most delicious. It has a great how-to section up front that is actually very thorough and useful, and then, of course, tons of recipies. Everything I've tried from this book has come out great, and I've learned lots of generally helpful junk from it too.
posted by spilon at 11:14 AM on April 23, 2007

I just wanted to say: Don't be afraid to experiment with your grill!

The reason it's so popular with guys who don't traditionally cook is that there are only two basic rules for cooking:

1. Buy meat
2. Add heat

The more complete (but not nearly as poetic) rules are:

1. Buy meat (or any other kind of cookable itme that won't fall through your grill's rack, including veggies, tofu, fruits, bread dough)
2. Add heat
posted by o2b at 12:35 PM on April 23, 2007

I have a couple of books by Steven Raichlen, the guy in a couple posts above, and have found them quite helpful. "The Barbecue Bible" has tons of world recipes (and plenty of tips) and "How To Grill" has detailed instructions that go into more depth than the "Bible".
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 1:34 PM on April 23, 2007

Oh matt, and we thought you were a man. ;-)

Two key things to remember: "Low & slow"

Too much heat and you'll just char everything. Turn the heat down a little bit and let things cook for another minute or two.

Let a steak sit for a minute or two before slicing into it.
posted by drstein at 2:14 PM on April 23, 2007

So what grill did you get? You have to brag about the model. So we can all do this....

"Ah yes, the [make/model]"
*Cross arms and nod knowingly*
"[Tim Allen pig snort noises]"
posted by Jazz Hands at 6:37 PM on April 23, 2007

SpecialK: " Accordingly, don't brush the marinade on them items while they're grilling. It won't impart any extra flavor in that short time, and the moisture will impair the formation of a nice sear.

Actually, I find that with some sugar-based marinades, you can really do a nice glaze. I've got a brown-sugar (brown sugar, paprika, black pepper, chili powder) -based rub that I use on pork chops.

Yeah, something without oil in it is OK, but you don't want to be putting a wet, oily marinade on your items because it'll cause flame-ups and prevent you from seeing the juices seeping out near the bone, which is an indicator of approaching doneness.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:29 AM on April 24, 2007

...cook a thick ring of red onion ON the grill (timing takes practice) and put it on top of the burger when I put the cheese on ... let both melt in for a sec.

I tried this tonight, and it was really, really good. Thanks, SpecialK!
posted by Songdog at 7:26 PM on April 24, 2007

How To Grill has been by my side for all my grilling adventures.
posted by potch at 12:27 PM on May 2, 2007

I'm late the to BBQ here, but I like to use wood chips in a smoker box for my gas grill. I've found that gas grills don't add as much "grill flavor" as a charcoal grill or open fire as I like. You can find mesquite chips or even old wine barrel chunks, soak them for a while, and throw them in a stainless steel box on the grill and your food will taste a bit more like you were grilling old-school.
posted by pb at 11:11 AM on May 10, 2007

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