Want to become a master of grilling? Just like any other skill, it takes the right knowledge, the right tools and secrets from the world’s best. In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to become a grill master.
From finding the perfect grill, to understanding the intricate nature of grilling different meats, you’ll have all you need to get started. As a bonus, you’ll also learn the secrets of some of the world’s most famous grillmasters so you can take a leaf or two out of their playbooks on your road to becoming a grill master.
Health Benefits of Grilling
It’s no surprise that grilling is a multi-billion dollar industry in the US. As well as being the perfect summertime activity, it comes with some great benefits you may not have considered.
1. You Eat Less Fat
When you fry up a burger in a pan on your stove-top, the fat pools and becomes reabsorbed by the meat. When grilling, the excess fat drips off through the grates meaning you consume less fat. This means grilling is a much healthier cooking method for the whole family.
2. You Use Less Butter and Oil
Nothing tastes better than a beautifully grilled steak or some juicy grilled veggies. This cooking technique requires far less oil, butter and other condiments, meaning your food is healthier and contains fewer calories.
3. Meat Retains More Nutrients
When you cook a cut of meat on the grill, it retains more nutrients than cooking traditionally on a stove-top. This includes riboflavin and thiamine, both of which are important nutrients in a healthy diet. Not to mention you reduce the use of non-stick frying pans which contain a host of chemicals.
4. You Save Energy
Cooking a large family meal traditionally on your stove-stop has been shown to raise room temperature by up to 4 degrees, meaning you crank up the air conditioning more during the summer. Grilling outside improves air quality in your home and lowers energy bills.
5. You Cook Faster
Grilling your food over a open fire is a much more efficient mode of cooking. The temperature is higher than your stove top and the grill surface absorbs high temperatures much more rapidly than ovens. So you can save yourself time by opting for grilling your next family meal on the grill.
BBQ Basics: Different Grilling Methods
Now you’re sold on the benefits of grilling and are raring to get going, let’s take a look at the different methods you can use to stoke up your grill.
You’ll want to use charcoal if you’re looking to get that unique seared charcoal flavor many refer to as ‘char-boiled’.
Either charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal are used as fuel on a charcoal grill. The fuel can be lit directly, however the safer, easier method is to use a charcoal chimney.
To get your charcoal grill going, stack coals in a pyramid in the middle of the grill. This maximizes air-flow to give a more efficient burn with less smoke. It’s important to note that charcoal burns hotter than wood or gas, making it harder to control the heat when grilling.
Different Types of Charcoal
Lump charcoal is made by burning trees or logs in a kiln. It’s pure wood without any binders or accelerants which makes it a popular choice. It gives a hot, clean burn and doesn’t give off acrid smoke like briquettes do. The downside is lump charcoal doesn’t burn evenly, meaning it’s hotter when you begin and gets cooler. You need to refuel more often to keep the heat consistent.
Unlike lump charcoal, briquettes are designed to burn evenly and steadily to avoid the need to continually refuel. Briquettes are traditionally made from wood scraps, sawdust, coal dust, borax, and petroleum binders. Because of this, they emit an acrid smoke when first lit.
This is Japan’s super-premium lump charcoal. It’s used in yakitori parlors across Japan as well as in the United States. It burns clean and hot, producing no charcoal flavor.
Although charcoal grilling gives that signature smoky flavor, nothing beats the convenience of gas grilling. It’s as simple as turning it on, letting it pre-heat for 10 minutes, and starting to cook.
The trick with gas grills is keeping the lid closed. If you continuously open the lid to check on the meat, you’ll lose heat and the food will take longer to cook. Limit the amount you open the lid to get the best sear on your meat when gas grilling.
When it comes to grilling, nothing quite beats the incredible flavors produced by smoking wood. Any food lover will tell you that true wood smoke adds an unparalleled flavor to your food.
Pay attention to the quality of the wood you source for smoking. Whether you use oak, hickory, apple-wood or any other type to smoke meats, it’s important it’s properly aged to produce the best quality smoke possible.
Of all the grilling fuels, nothing quite beats the flavors you can get from wood. With many different types of wood available, we’ll cover some of the most popular to choose from below.
Oak is one the most popular choices for smoke grilling. If you’re new to using wood as fuel, this is a good place to start. It gives a milder flavour that doesn’t overpower.
Best meats to smoke: lamb, beef, brisket, sausages
Hickory is a versatile choice which works with many cuts of meats. However, too much can give meats a slightly more bitter flavour.
Best meats to smoke: ribs, pork shoulders, red meat and poultry
Maple gives a wonderfully subtle smokey flavor. This is a good one to use for a sweeter, lighter flavor.
Best meats to smoke: poultry, pork, game foul
Apple-wood is sweet, giving a mild flavor. Apple smoke takes time to flavor meats so requires several hours of smoking to make the most of it.
Best Meat to Smoke: chicken, wild foul, pork
Cherry is sweet and fruity. It gives a mild flavour so is usually best mixed with other hardwoods such as hickory.
Best Meat to Smoke: chicken, turkey, ham.
How To Choose The Right Grill For You
There are several important factors to consider when choosing a grill and below we’ll explore those factors.
BBQ grills come in all shapes and sizes and you can easily spend a few hundred or even enter the thousands realm. But splashing out on the most expensive doesn’t always equate to better quality food. You can make quality dishes on affordable grills.
If you’re just starting out, our best recommendation for an affordable grill is this one here.
Size of Grill
Bigger is better, right? Not necessarily. Size depends on the quantity of food you are cooking and won’t affect the quality of it.
If you cook for a large crowd on a semi-regular basis you want to look at a grill with around 800 sq inches of cooking space. For for a group of friends a grill in the region of 490 sq inches will do fine and if you are only catering for smaller families or are stuck for space, smaller grills in the 350 or less sq inch cooking area will suffice.
For more details on different grills, check out our review page here.
Types of Grill
Gas barbecue grill
Fast, functional and perfect if you already have a natural gas line at your property – you’ll have consistent grills with no need to stress about running out of fuel. If you’re looking for convenience and a fast way to grill, this is a good option for you.
Popular with tailgates and camping, propane grills are great for grilling on the go. They are portable and can also serve as a handy extra grill if you are short on space.
These grills will start fast but the tanks will need refilling. They often have handy legs attached as well. Some newer models can also be converted using a kit to run on natural gas which is a bonus.
Many people still prefer to cook on hot coals as they believe the food tastes better and gives it a more authentic feel. The added bonus with charcoal grills is that they are generally cheaper than gas ones.
What they gain in authentic feel, they lack in speed. Charcoal grills require more preparation time and take longer to heat up. They are not a good option for a quick weeknight dinner.
You can use chimneys and fuel accelerators to speed them up, however. It is advisable to get one with a removable grate in order to insert fuel without disturbing food. This also makes cleaning easier.
If you’re looking for a charcoal grill, here’s a review of some of our top choices.
These are great if you live in an apartment, particularly one that prohibits open flames. The price is often reasonable, coming in somewhere between a charcoal and gas grill. The drawbacks are they are generally smaller than other grills and require a power source, (i.e electricity).
Material & Durability
The outside of the grill will generally be a case of personal preference. Many prefer to go for a stainless steel look, but they are not all created equally and you get what you pay for, with the more expensive grills being often more rust and tarnish resistant. Cost will also be comparative to grill size.
Take a look at our reviews for the best stainless steel grills.
You can get grills with a porcelain coating and these can be more cost effective. They won’t show scratches and fingerprints as easily as a stainless steel one will either which is bonus. The coating might be prone to peeling and, further down the line, rust if not carefully looked after however.
If rust is a worry porcelain over cast aluminium might be worth a try as they are lightweight and far harder to rust. Painted steel is one to avoid however as they really peel easily and therefore rusting.
Grates, burners and igniter
These sections undergo the most wear and tear and so play an important role in grill quality. Grill grates made from stainless steel are preferable as they can take the wear and tear of grilling a lot. Watch out for chipping and rust though.
For heating, consider an electric igniter. Look for a high warranty on your burners as these are the most frequently replaced parts of a BBQ grill. More expensive grills will often offer ten years or more on the warranty.
No matter the grill you opt for there is a chance you will customize it with your own accessories. Different tools will help you expand the dishes you can cook on there such as rib cookers, pizza stones or fish grills.
In the next section, we’ll look at some of the essential tools you’ll need to grill with ease.
BBQ Tools 101: Everything You Need
This is essential and will depend on which grill you’ve opted for, but without it you’ll be going nowhere.
This eliminates the need for lighter fluid or accelerants. The metal tube will light your coals with just a few sheets of newspaper. The larger the model the quicker and easier this process will be.
Long-handled stainless steel tongs with insulated handles are the perfect tool to move meat around a grill. They offer sturdiness, gripping power and wont pierce the meat, losing juice and flavour.
These are a must for flipping burgers and sliding under tender meat or fish that may break using tongs. A good spatula will have an offset handle to allow ease of flipping. Silicon or metal spatulas work best.
Long-handled basting brush
Everyone wants the best flavor and to apply sauces and seasonings, this works great. Heat resistant silicone bristles work best.
Long-handled stiff-wire grill brush
This is necessary for cleaning the grate after use.
Useful to have on hand in case grease build up ignites – better safe than sorry.
This will protect delicate foods from incineration and lock heat and flavour in. Great for baked potatoes and sweetcorn.
Everyone has their own unique way to tell if meat is cooked, but the only reliable way to make sure it is cooked and harmful bacteria has been destroyed is to use meat thermometer.
Instant-read thermometers are best for grilling. They give you a quick reading once they are inserted with an easily readable gauge. To get an accurate reading insert the thermometer into the side of meat about one to two inches towards the center.