Grilling is the ultimate form of summer cooking! But it's actually pretty easy to mess it up. So here are 12 common grilling mistakes and how to solve them.
1. You don’t preheat your grill for long enough: For something like a steak, having a hot grill ensures the outside of the meat gets crisp and caramelized while the inside remains moist and tender. If you start with a grill that's too cold, your steak will overcook by the time the outside gets a nice char. A good rule of thumb is to let your grill warm up for about 20 to 30 minutes before using to make sure it's nice and hot.
2. You oil the grill grates instead of oiling the actual food you’re cooking: Oiling your grates can cause dangerous flare ups that can make your food taste bad. It can also cause the oil to burn onto the grates, making clean up a pain. So instead of oiling the grates, just brush whatever item you're grilling (steaks, hot dogs, etc.) in oil. This will prevent them from sticking and keep your grill easier to clean.
3. You’re not adjusting the air vent. (Or you keep it closed the whole time.): Most charcoal grills have top and bottom vents. The bottom vent controls how much oxygen is fed to the fire — so think of that one as the heat control (more oxygen = more heat). The top vent should typically be kept open to keep air flowing, and closing it all the way can actually cause your fire to die. Learning how to control the grill vents can help you adjust the temperature and control your flame.
4. You don’t soak your wooden skewers in water before using them: Standard bamboo skewers can burn fairly easily, especially towards the ends. To prevent this, soak them in water for about 30 minutes before threading your food onto them. This will fill them with water and make them slightly less prone to burning.
5. You’re not taking advantage of your grill’s hot spots: Most grills have places that are naturally hotter and colder, and learning how to take advantage of them can make your grilling game stronger. For most items, starting them on the hotter side gives you a deep, flavorful crust while finishing them on the cooler side assures that they're cooked through without burning on the outside.
6. You’re constantly opening the lid to check on your food: A grill lid keeps the heat in and cooks items from all around, not from just the bottom. By opening it you lose a ton of heat (just like opening an oven door) and your foods may overcook or burn on the outside before they fully cook on the inside.
7. You’re only flipping your steak once: Despite the popular idea that you should only flip a steak once, flipping it more often can actually help you cook it evenly — and cut down on the actual cooking time. Harold McGee says that flipping a steak "every minute instead of once or twice" can make a steak cook in a third of the amount of time — so flip away!
8. You brush your meat with a sweet sauce too early during the cooking process: Sweet sauces (like barbecue sauce) are prone to burning due to the high sugar content in them (high sugar = easy caramelization). To prevent your sauces from getting totally scorched, make sure to brush them on towards the end of cooking. Brushing them on too early can cause them to burn before the meat is done cooking.
9. You grill thin cuts of steak while they’re still partially frozen: It's true that some steaks can be grilled from frozen — especially thicker ones that require longer cooking times. But if you're grilling a thinner cut of steak such as skirt or hanger, you should make sure to completely defrost them before cooking them. That's because by the time the outside heats up enough to caramelize, the inside will be overcooked.
10. You use a fork to pierce and flip your steak: Poking holes in steaks while they're still hot will cause the juices to leak out, thus making your steak drier. For the juiciest steak, avoid the poke-and-turn method and stick to a gentle tong flip.
11. You don’t clean your grill after using it: The best time to clean your grill is when it's still warm so you can easily wipe off the crud. The easiest way to do this is to invest in a metal grill brush and clean it after every use — but if your grill is in super rough shape, a deep cleaning might be in order.
12. You don't let your steaks rest before serving them: Instead of cutting into your steaks right away, you should give them about 10 to 20 minutes to rest. This resting time will prevent them from losing moisture, and ultimately, make for a juicier end product. So plate those sides and pour those drinks while you're waiting — but be patient with the main event.
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