Everything You Need to Become a Grill Master This Summer
These tools and techniques can take you to the top of the trade.
Grilling, for some, is a way of life. You might choose to cook on an indoor or outdoor grill, sear on high heat, or smoke food slowly using gas or charcoal. Any of these can easily become a year-round habit. With grills that have side burners, wind guards, and shelves, you can even cook dishes of every course outdoors, from breakfast pancakes to dinnertime casseroles.
But there’s a lot of learning room in the space between eager griller and grill master. Take experimentation out of the equation and transform your passion into expertise with these 10 helpful tools, tips, and techniques.
1. Invest in a Meat Thermometer
A good meat thermometer is essential for grilling perfection. It eliminates guesswork and helps prevent food-related illness. Meat thermometers range in style; some feature digital controls with an LED display to read temperatures instantly or come with leave-in probes that connect to a phone app. Try one that serves a dual purpose of flipping meat and checking temp such as the Digital Meat Thermometer Fork—a favorite in our researched guide to the best meat thermometers.
2. Use a Temperature Gauge
It’s easier to grill food to optimum doneness if you know for certain that your grill is operating at the proper temperature. Here’s where a temperature gauge, grill calibrator, or thermometer comes in handy. They test ambient temperature so you know if your grill’s heat is on target or needs adjusting. As a bonus, some of them also act as fuel gauges, letting you know when you’re running low. To choose a temperature gauge, look for one like this one from Dozyant, which was voted Best Overall in our researched guide for best grill thermometers.
3. Look for Long-Handle Tongs
Tongs make it easier and safer to cook above flames, keeping your hands and arms further away from the heat—plus, they make your food more succulent. When you have a great pair of tongs, you don’t have to poke the meat with a fork or knife, keeping valuable juices inside where they belong while it’s cooking. Choose a great pair of tongs that can grip food and have comfortable handles, like the Joinkitch Stainless Steel Cooking Tongs from our researched guide for the best grill tongs.
4. Secure Food and Tools With Grill Clips
Grill clips have several functions and come in a few designs, depending on their purpose. Clip a probe from a grill or meat thermometer to the interior grate to measure ambient heat. Use grill clips to secure bunches of long vegetables like asparagus, green beans, or scallions together to form a “raft” and prevent them from falling through the grate. Another terrific way to use them is to keep vegan food away from animal proteins.
5. Skewer Foods for Even Cooking
Sets of kabob skewers, like this one from LANNEY, are indispensable to grill masters. The skewers come in many different styles, from long metal skewers to shorter bamboo ones. Regardless of the material, their pointed ends offer the advantage of piercing and holding different kinds of foods together, helping them flavor each other as they cook and keeping small pieces from slipping through grill grates. Skewers also help you grill your food evenly, since you can turn it all over at the same time. And having everything held together makes it easy to baste with a marinade or season with a rub as well.
6. Cook With Griddle Plates and Baskets
Because grills of all types come with grates, it’s wise to invest in one or more grill plates or griddles, such as the LITTLE GRIDDLE BBQ Griddle. They help cook foods from whole fish and fish fillets to vegetables more efficiently. Any foods that might fall through the grate, like mushrooms or cut peppers and onions, are also best managed with a griddle or basket of some sort. With a griddle, you can sauté ingredients or make pancakes outdoors like a true grill master.
7. Marinate Meats
Some grill masters prefer going the simple route, only salting and peppering proteins before slapping them on a hot grill. But others prefer to infuse meats and other foods with flavor by using marinades, which also tenderize meats. A great marinade has a balance of acids, oils, and seasonings; a good one to try is Chiavetta’s Barbecue Marinade.
Make homemade marinades spicy or keep them mild—it’s up to you. Add fresh herbs or luxury ingredients like Madagascar vanilla or Italian truffles. Just make sure to mix the marinades well before adding your protein or vegetables. If you choose to reuse any leftover marinade afterward, remember to boil it after removing raw protein to kill off any harmful bacteria that’s been left behind.
8. Add Flavor With Rubs
Rubs, like marinades, add flavor and seal in juices. Seasoning your proteins or veggies before they hit the heat is a sure-fire way to up their taste game. You can buy premade rubs, which contain curated herb and spice combinations made to specifically enhance the flavor of fish, chicken, steak, or vegetables—Traeger Veggie Rub is one worth trying. Home chefs can also have fun coming up with their own marinades. (We vote for coffee- or chocolate-based rubs, too, for deep and unique flavors.)
9. Smoke on the Grill With Chips or Pellets
A freestanding smoker is a great tool to have, but you can add a smoked flavor to food on the grill, by tossing some hickory, cedar, apple, or other wood chips or pellets into your charcoal grill. (Fresh herbs impart terrific flavor, too.) If you want your food to have a more intense, smoky flavor, build your own smoker using a foil pan, soaked chips, and a perforated foil top that steams directly under the grid. Alternatively, you can purchase pellet tube smoker such as the top-rated Skoo Pellet Smoker, which is an accessory designed to smoke grilled foods.
10. Keep the Grill Clean
A dirty grill makes your food taste bad, plain and simple. A grill master has all sorts of tricks for cleaning grill plates, such as rubbing them with a cut onion or soaking them in coffee. But first and foremost, you need a great brush. Try one like the Kona 360 Clean Grill Brush, the top choice in our researched guide to the best grill brushes.
Prices listed here are accurate as of publication on February 28, 2022.