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Grilling Tips

Created June 20, 2022
There's nothing quite like a tasty meal hot off the grill. Learn how to master your next cookout or summer family dinner when you follow these grilling tips for beginners.

Follow these grilling tips to rock your meal every time.

  • Get to know your grill! Putting your grill into action lets you find possible hot spots, gauge how long it takes to heat, and learn how it performs in different types of weather.
  • Brush the grill rack with vegetable oil or spray with cooking spray before heating the grill to prevent food from sticking and to help with cleanup.
  • For direct heat grilling, keep the heat as even as possible. For more even cooking throughout the grilling time, place thicker foods in the center and smaller pieces on the edges of the grill rack.
  • Turn foods with grilling tongs rather than piercing them with a fork to help retain the natural juices in the food.
  • Let meats rest 5 to 10 minutes after removing them from the grill and before serving to allow the juices to return to the surface for moister and juicier meat.
  • Leave space between pieces of food, so they cook more evenly.
  • Boost flavor by basting with sauces. When using sugar-based sauces, like barbecue sauce or honey, brush the sauce on at the very end of the cooking process.

When the Heat Is On 

Whether you need gas, electric, or charcoal grilling tips, the secret to cooking is in the heat.

  • Most gas grills and electric grills have accurate heat controls that can be dialed to the desired cooking temperature. Simply follow your grill manufacturer's directions.
  • Charcoal grills depend on charcoal for fuel and are a bit more temperamental about getting fired up. Coals are ready to use when they're about 75 percent ash gray. Standard charcoal briquettes will be ready in 20 to 25 minutes, and ready-to-light briquettes in 15 minutes.
  • To determine the coals' temperature, hold your hand, palm side down, about 5 inches above the grill rack, and start to count. If you can only keep your hand there for 2 seconds, the temperature is high; 3 seconds is medium-high; 4 seconds is medium; 5 seconds is low. Always pull your hand away before it begins to hurt.

Direct and Indirect Grilling Tips

Not all foods are grilled the same way. See the Grill Master's Timing Guide for directions and easy comparison.

  • Direct-heat grilling means the food is cooked on the grill directly over the heat source. Hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, fish, pork chops, and vegetables are typically cooked with this method.
  • Indirect-heat grilling is when food is cooked away from the heat source. This is preferred for larger, longer-cooking foods such as whole chickens, whole turkeys, and roasts.

Grilling Safety Tips

These tips will ensure your grilled meal is safe to eat.

  • Trim visible fat from meats to avoid flare-ups.
  • Always marinate foods in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
  • Always serve grilled meat on a clean plate. Never serve cooked meat from the same unwashed plate you used to carry raw meat to the grill. Also, make sure to wash your hands after handling any raw meat and use clean utensils to avoid any cross contamination. Learn more about food safety at USDA.gov.
  • If you want to reuse a marinade (that has had raw meat in it) as a sauce, heat the marinade to boiling, then boil 1 minute before serving.
  • Perishable food should be eaten within 2 hours, 1 hour if the ambient temperature is 90ºF or above.

How Does Weather Affect Grilling?

Does heat and humidity or below-freezing temperatures affect grilling? Check your grill manufacturer's use-and-care manual for tips and hints on grilling in different climates and weather conditions. These general tips may be helpful as you grill through all seasons:

  • Place the grill out of the wind. If in the wind, neither the grill nor the food will stay as hot as it should.
  • Charcoal grilling times will be faster on hot, calm days and slower on chilly, windy ones. Grilling in cold weather requires more charcoal, a longer time to heat the coals, and longer grilling times.
  • Gas grilling will need slightly longer heating times and a higher heat setting to speed the cooking if the weather is cool or windy.