Essential Grilling Rules

Grilling on charcoal or gas grills takes practice and patience. Even a grilling guru will overcook a steak once in a while! Follow our tips and rules to ensure the perfect grilling experience.
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  • Make sure you have enough fuel before you start cooking. Most recipes require at least one chimney of charcoal, or about 6 quarts. For gas grills it's always a good idea to keep a spare filled tank on hand.
  • A dirty grill can give foods an off-flavor. Make sure you dispose of any excess charcoal dust and check the drip pan of your gas grill for leftover grease before you turn it on.
  • Preheat! Gas grills need about 15 minutes to preheat, and charcoal grill can take about 30 minutes to reach the proper temperature.
  • Have your tools ready next to the grill. The essentials are long-handled tongs, a basting brush, and a metal spatula.
  • Prevent foods from sticking to the grill grates: Grasp several paper towels in tongs, dip in vegetable oil, and wipe over clean grill grates just before cooking.
  • Barbecue sauce and other sweet, sticky sauces should be applied to the food during the last few minutes of cooking. Brushing sauce on foods too soon can cause the sugars in the sauce to burn, causing off-flavors (and a mess).
  • Whether cooking on charcoal or gas, make sure there is a cooler side, or "dead area" of the grill. In case of flare-ups, foods can be quickly moved to this area of the grill, or moved there to finish cooking at a slower pace.
  • The best way to tell if your burger, chicken, or steak is done is to test it with an instant-read thermometer. Pick up the steak or chop with tongs and insert the thermometer through the side of the meat without touching any bone. Most grills have hot spots, so check each piece of meat, as they will not all cook the same.
  • Keep your guests and family happy while you grill. Set out some nibbles or appetizers that don't need to be grilled, such as cheeses and olives for your guest to eat. You'll have time to get the grilling done without the pressure and rush from hungry eaters.


Originally published on, May 2008.


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