Grilling 101: The Ultimate Guide to Hosting Your Best Summer Barbecue

Ready to grill but not sure where to start? This is the ultimate guide to get you through this summer’s barbecue season. We’ve included tips to help you pick the best grill for you, use a fool-proof temperature test, and keep your meat juicy and delicious. You might just become a grill master after your first cookout.

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While they take longer to set up and more time to clean, charcoal grills are cheaper, able to burn much hotter, and impart delicious smoky flavor to almost anything cooking inside. With a bit of practice and close attention to the flame, charcoal grilling is the best option for searing meat and getting that perfect char with grill marks.


Gas grills are easy to use because they reach the correct temperature quickly and require little supervision to function properly. Plus, they’re easy to clean. However, they don’t burn nearly as hot as charcoal grills, so they work best for foods that are quick to cook.


Direct heat

Foods that cook quickly—like burgers or hotdogs—do best with direct heat because the hot temperature sears the meat and holds the juices inside. To set up your charcoal grill for direct heat, move preheated coals to one side of the grill so as to cover two-thirds of the bottom grate. Then nestle the top grate into the grill and cook foods on top of the coals. Shift them to the empty third if they flare up. For a gas grill, simply cook food over the burners.

Indirect heat

To cook foods at a lower temperature for a longer period of time, use indirect heat. For a charcoal grill, divide the preheated coals and move them to opposite sides of the grill. Place the top grate into the grill and position food in the middle of the top grate to cook. For a gas grill, turn off one of the burners and cook food over it.


High heat or low heat?

The temperature of the grill is largely dependent on whether you are using direct (hotter) or indirect (cooler) heat, but is also affected by how long the grill has been burning. To test the temperature without a thermometer, place your hand over the center of the grill. The number of seconds you’re able to keep your hand there corresponds to the temperature of the grill:

  • 1 to 2 seconds: high heat
  • 2 to 4 seconds: medium-high heat
  • 4 to 5 seconds: moderate heat
  • 6 to 7 seconds: medium-low heat
  • 7 to 9 seconds: low heat

Covered or uncovered?

The lid captures heat and makes the grill work like an oven, so it’s best for foods that need to be cooked all the way through (like chicken or pork) and for a longer period of time. To get beautiful char and sear meat to preserve the juices inside, leave the lid open to allow the flames to get as hot as possible.


Even more smoky flavor

Adding wood chips to the grill is a great way to add smoky flavor to food—and it’s simple to do! Simply soak the wood chips before throwing them onto the grill to ensure that they don’t burn right away. Be sure to close the lid to trap the smoke in the grill.


Keep it juicy

There’s nothing worse than dry meat that’s lost its juices, so never press down on anything that’s cooking while it’s on the grill—it’ll squeeze out any from inside!

How to flip

Avoid flipping anything more than once. You’ll avoid the risk of drying out the meat and guarantee beautiful grill marks.


Build up on grates makes food stick and hard to flip. To prevent this problem, carefully grease the grates by wiping them with an oil-soaked paper towel secured to the end of a pair of tongs. Just be sure to avoid dropping any oil into the flame, as that will cause it to flare up.

Keeping it clean

Gas grills are easy to keep clean cookout after cookout—simply brush off stuck-on food with a wire brush, preferably when they grill is still hot, and clean the outside with warm water and soap. Charcoal grills, however, need a bit more attention: when the preheating the grill, use a stainless steel bristle brush to remove any leftover food from the grates, then remove overflowing ash from the tray below the grill. Warm water and soap will take care of the rest.


Click below for our best grilling recipes.


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