Top 10 Grilling Mistakes – and How to Fix Them
Barbecuing is an easy, fun way to get the most flavour out of your food – but simple mistakes can make the difference between a great barbecue, and one so great your neighbors will tell their friends about it. Whether you’re a grill-master or a budding barbecue-r, use these tips to break out of old habits – or prevent such habits from forming. Make your summer barbecue the best it can be by fixing the following common BBQ mistakes:
Mistake 1: Grilling Cold Meat
We’ve all been there: you suddenly start thinking about grilled ribs, a juicy steak, or perhaps some jerk chicken, and become overwhelmingly hungry. So you grab some meat out of the fridge and throw it on the grill without delay. You may quench your hunger quickly, but your food won’t turn near out as good as you dreamed. Cold meat takes longer to heat up, so throwing fridge-cold meat onto the grill will alter standard cooking times. Also, when you grill cold meat, your final product will likely have a dry exterior and undercooked interior.
The Fix: At least half an hour before cooking, take your meat out of the fridge. If you have a bigger cut, let it sit for an hour. Meat should always be at room temperature before you begin grilling in order for it to cook evenly.
Mistake 2: Not Soaking Skewers
Kebab cravings can come on unexpectedly, but, unfortunately, it’s not a dish you can whip up on the spot. Without soaking your skewers properly, the wood will burn before the food is cooked. This is never good – especially if you’ve invited over the whole neighborhood for your famous kebabs.
The Fix: Don’t give up your BBQ title this summer and make sure to soak your skewers overnight. When it comes to kebabs, ensure you plan ahead.
Mistake 3 Cooking on Dirty Grates
Do you really want last week’s hamburgers on today’s salmon? The answer is likely “no.” Many claim that grates with built up crud are well-seasoned; however, that’s just an excuse for not cleaning your barbecue regularly. In reality, those grills are just dirty. “Keep it hot, keep it clean, keep it lubricated” – that’s the mantra of grill-master Steven Raichlen.
The Fix: After a BBQ session, while the grill is still hot, use a grill brush or wooden scraper to remove food remnants. If you haven’t cleaned your grates in a while (or more than a while) you can use a brick of pumice to remove stubborn char. Remember: the next time you use your grill after cleaning, scrape or brush it again, and oil it well with vegetable oil.
Mistake 4: Using the Wrong Tools
A key test of BBQ mastery is what tools one uses, and how they use them. The tools you use can have a great impact on your safety, the safety of your guests, and the quality of your food.
The Fix: Any tool with a short handle around the grill is a recipe for disaster. First and foremost, ensure your spatulas and tongs are of the long-handled variety. (The small price you pay for them could save you from an emergency room visit.) However, it’s not just the tools you have, but how you use them. While tongs work great for chicken, pork chops, hot dogs, steak, skewers, and ribs, according to Weber, they’ll likely mutilate your fish, pizza, brisket, and burgers. Use a spatula for the latter dishes. Also, a long-handled fork may work well for some vegetables, but if you use it for meat, you’ll risk losing precious juices. As an extra safety tip, be sure to replace grill brushes regularly. Over time metal bristles can become fatigued and no one wants to find a metal bristle left behind on their grill after cleaning. Always remember to do a visual check before putting any food on the grilling surface.
Mistake 5: Not Preheating Properly
Preheat, preheat, preheat. Did I mention how important it is to preheat? If you’re direct grilling (aka cooking food directly over flames or hot coals) your food won’t properly sear if your grill’s not hot enough. Not only will your food miss that crispy outter layer, but it’s more likely to stick to your grill grate. If you properly preheat, not only will your meat be perfectly cooked, but you’ll remove some of the residue from prior use.
The Fix: A general rule of thumb for preheating is 10-15 minutes. For searing, 15 minutes is best, but if you want to cook at a lower temperature and have the slow cooking effect, preheat for 10 minutes or slightly less. Keep in mind that the weather will also have an effect on how quickly your grill heats up, so adjust accordingly.
Mistake 6: Using Lighter Fluid
This tip doesn’t apply to gas grills, obviously, but if you’re a charcoal user, listen up. Using lighter fluid may be easy, but it’s not worth the chance of having your food’s flavour altered by this chemical-rich fluid.
The Fix: For the best tasting steak, you’d be wise to use a charcoal chimney instead of lighter fluid. Simply place newspaper at the bottom of the chimney, fill it with charcoal or wood, and light the bottom for a more organic flame.
Mistake 7: Overcrowding the Grill
This mistake can cause issues both with your food’s flavour, and your personal health. If you overcrowd your grill, you run the risk of cross-contamination. Grilling chicken alongside seafood and vegetables, for example, means that bacteria from the chicken could seep into the nearby food. Even if it doesn’t, it’s likely that each food will borrow some flavours from its neighbor – which is often not the intended effect.
The Fix: Grilling your foods separately may take extra time – but your health is well worth it. This also makes it easier to keep track of cooking times and ensure each part of your meal is grilled to perfection. BBQ experts recommend you leave a quarter of your grill empty – which can also help in the case of flare ups, so you have room to move your food.
Mistake 8: Being a Self-Thermometer
It doesn’t hurt to poke your meet to check if its done, or cut into the middle to see its colour. But doing so requires you to frequently open the barbecue lid, which will alter the temperature of your grill (and therefore the cooking time). This technique will also leave your perfect cut of meat with marks and cuts. Luckily, there’s an easier, more effective, and more precise way to go about testing your meat to make sure it’s done.
The Fix: Despite how good you think your BBQ senses are, you’ll never be as accurate as a thermometer. Save time, anxiety, and heat by investing in a digital probe thermometer. Once your steak reaches between 75°C – 80°C, you’ve got yourself a well-done dinner. Want it rare? Hit around 52°C. As for medium, aim for 60°C. With a thermometer, you’ll never waste an expensive cut of meat again!
Mistake 9: Adding Sauce Too Early
Most barbecue sauces contain high amounts of sugar – which can mean a recipe for burnt food if you add it too early in the cooking process. If you brush on your sauce(s) too early, you risk having a burnt, bitter outside layer and raw inside. And once that burnt sugar taste is there, you can’t go back.
The Fix: Think of barbecue sauce as a condiment – not a marinade. Wait until the meat is almost finished cooking (think: the last 10-15 minutes of grilling) before adding it. You still want to expose the sauce to some heat - in order for it to caramelize - but not so long that it burns. Quick note: it never hurts to offer your guests some extra sauce on the side.
Mistake 10: Not Letting Cooked Meat Sit
“If you cut into [the meat] immediately, all those juices will spill out onto your cutting board, and there goes all your flavor,” advises Chef Michael Symon. This tip goes not only for the BBQ, but every other meat cooking method. Whether you use the grill, stovetop, or oven, you should never cut into the meat right after it’s done cooking. Your family and friends may be hungry – but letting your dish rest will ensure your dish is more moist, tender, and juicy.
The Fix: If you’re cooking steak, wait 3-5 minutes before devouring; let larger pieces of meat like pork loin or lamb legs sit for 10 minutes or so. You’ll thank us later.
Article by Taylor Mitchell
- Taylor Mitchell