20 Genius BBQ Hacks That Will Make You a Grill Master
You have the weather, you have the grill and you have enough food to feed thousands. Now, all you have to do is figure out how to make a summer of backyard BBQs a little less overwhelming.
Don’t worry — these 20 genius BBQ hacks will help take the stress out of alfresco entertaining and turn you into a grill master in the process.
Invest in Decent Tongs
Executive Chef Kevin Templeton, of San Diego’s barleymash and The Smoking Gun, says a must-have tool for any backyard grilling session is a really good pair of tongs.
“Strong and sturdy tongs are key,” he says. “Make sure they aren't too short, so you don’t burn your hands, but don’t use tongs that are too long. They tend to get wobbly, and you can lose your steak while transferring from the grill to the plate.”
Choose Your Cuts Carefully
According to Marc Falsetto, CEO of JEY Hospitality Group, one of the biggest mistakes people make on the BBQ is not using the right cuts of beef. He personally uses certified Angus beef chuck, short rib and 25 percent brisket — a fan favorite in his restaurant Rok:brgr, which has been the reigning champion of South Florida’s Burger Battle for eight years straight.
When making a burger, he also advises against putting anything into the beef. “Just use simple salt and pepper and save everything else to put on top of the burger,” he adds.
Fix Those Flavors
Marinating your meats is the most common way to add flavor to your grilled meats, but it’s not the only thing you can try. If you’re grilling chicken, ribs or pork, spray or baste them with apple juice when they’re already on the grill to keep the meat tender, create a tasty crust and enhance the flavor.
If you like a smoky, herby flavor for your grilled food, place your favorite herbs directly onto the charcoal. Alternatively, use your herbs as a brush to baste the meat. If you’re using an electric grill, pop wood chips in a foil pouch beneath the grate to give your meat and veggies a smoky hint.
Don’t Skimp on Salt
Most people don’t put enough salt on their meat out of fear it will be too salty, but this is what gives it such great flavor and a nice sear, reveals Falsetto.
An easy way to add more salt (and thus depth and flavor) to your meats, fish and veggies is to throw a Himalayan salt block on top of your grill.
Microwave the Meat First
Lots of longtime grillers swear by microwaving your meat beforehand. Not only does it cook faster, it gets rid of carcinogens known as heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, which have been linked to cancer.
UC Davis Cancer Center recommends partially cooking meat in the microwave before grilling, then discarding the juices that collect in the dish. Pre-cooking a burger for a few minutes in the microwave eliminates up to 95 percent of HCAs.
Skewer With Rosemary
Fresh rosemary works really well as a skewer (no more meat or veggies falling through the grill grates) and also adds flavor.
If you don’t have rosemary, use regular skewers — but use two instead of just one. This makes flipping kebabs on the grill much easier. Remember to soak wooden skewers in water beforehand, to stop them from burning.
Put a Thumbprint in Your Patty
A great BBQ hack to ensure your burgers come out right is to put a thumbprint in the center of the patty before you throw it on the grill, says Scott Washburn, the co-founder of Winestyr. “This helps the burger keep its shape as it's cooking, instead of swelling up into a baseball,” he explains.
Washburn also recommends only flipping the burger once, to minimize the amount of juice lost during the grilling process. “If you get the grill piping hot, you should be able to cook the burger for three or four minutes on one side, flip it over and then cook it for about two more minutes before adding cheese and letting that melt for another minute,” he says.
Note: Washburn’s favorite burger is a simple 1/3 pound patty — not too big and not too small.
Light Your Egg Carton on Fire
An easy way to get the fire started on your grill is to fill an empty cardboard egg carton with charcoal bricks. Light the egg carton; by the time it burns down, the bricks should be sufficiently lit.
You can do this when you’re camping or sitting around the fire pit, too — just make sure you don’t use a polystyrene egg carton, as it won’t have the same effect!
Always Have Aluminum Foil on Hand
Aluminum foil is an outstanding tool for the grill, says chef Melissa Knific, who develops recipes at HelloFresh. “It functions as a little pouch to hold small items, like diced potatoes,” she explains. “When sealed, it retains heat to speed up cooking while simultaneously preventing dryness.”
Another great use for foil is to line grates before grilling more delicate proteins, like fish. “This ensures they don’t break apart or fall through when you take them off the grill,” adds Knific. “Just be sure to brush the foil with oil or nonstick spray first.”
Add Ice to Your Patties
If you’re worried your burgers might dry out, simply pop an ice cube into the center of the patties.
Cover the cube up with more ground meat, and as it melts, it will keep the inside nice and moist. A dollop of butter has the same effect!
Let Lemons Work Their Magic
If you like spritzing lemons, limes and other citrus fruits on your hot food (and if you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out), grill them first to loosen them up and help get those juices flowing.
Simply cut the fruit in half, and place it side down on the grill toward the end of your meal. “It only takes a couple of minutes for a nice char, but the payoff is huge,” says Knific. “The heat releases the essential oils in [the fruit] peel to bring out the best characteristics of citrus.”
Quit Pressing Your Patties
Knific’s top tip for getting the best out of a grilled burger is a “don’t” rather than a “do.” “Do whatever you can to not turn a metal spatula into a panini maker!” she says. “The constant poking and prodding of burgers releases the delicious juices that make them, well, juicy. And that means you’re compromising flavor.”
Instead, Knific recommends buying a kitchen thermometer and keeping an eye on your burger’s temperature that way. If you want a rare burger, aim for a temp of 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Medium-rare comes in at 130 degrees, medium at 140 degrees, medium-well at 150 degrees, and if you like your meat well done, let it reach a temperature of 165 degrees.
Put Fish to Bed
Grilled fish tastes amazing, but if it sticks to the grill it can turn into a BBQ disaster. To prevent this, grill your fish on a bed of sliced lemons. An added bonus? A fresh, zingy flavor.
If you don’t have lemons, use your cast iron skillet right on top of the grill. This is great for chopped veggies, too, and still gives that great smoky flavor.
Boost Your Butter
Lots of people think butter makes everything from the grill taste better. Well, go one step further and create compound butter — basically butter with mix-ins. “It’s next level — the perfect accompaniment for a just-grilled steak, chicken breast or fish,” says Knific.
She suggests jazzing up your butter with simple ingredients like Sriracha. You can drop it on a piece of fish soon after you take it off the grill, and it’ll trickle down into the rice (or whatever else may be on the plate) to create an awesome summer sauce.
Keep Sides Simple
If you’re short on preparation time, or feeding a lot of people, take the pressure off with a no-fuss side that’s big on taste and the perfect accompaniment for both grilled meat and veggies.
La Brea Bakery suggests toasting up a few ciabatta rolls — simply brush the bread with some olive oil, rub it with garlic and toast it on a free corner of the grill.
Poach Your Dogs
For the best grilled hot dogs, you need to do a little prep, says Colleen Janke, cooking expert and founder of Savory Kitchen. Start by poaching them in simmering water for five to seven minutes to give the franks an even warmth, thorough cooking and stop them from drying out.
“You can then throw your hot dog on a hot grill for just a few moments to get those gorgeous grill marks and have the traditional summer hot dog taste. Juicy on the inside, crispy on the outside!” adds Janke. “If you jump straight to grilling like most think you should, you're going to end up with hot dogs that are burned on the outside and not warm enough on the inside.”
Serve Like a Boss
There’s more to a great BBQ than your grilling technique. Organization is key — particularly if you’re catering for a large party. First off, keep track of how many burgers to cook rare, medium-rare and so on by using a squeeze bottle filled with ketchup to label the burger rolls.
And speaking of ketchup, a space-saving way to serve condiments is in a muffin tin — it has more than enough sections for mustard, pickles, mayo, etc. Finally, you have to keep those burgers warm until they’re on plates. If you’re using a charcoal grill, it might not have a warming rack. Make your own out of two tin cans, with a small wire rack on top of them.
Don’t Forget Safety
Whatever you throw on the grill, always have safety in mind, say the experts at play safe! be safe!, a fire safety education program for kids created by the BIC Corporation. Make sure your grill and propane tank are in proper working order before you start grilling.
Only ever grill outdoors, with your grill on a level surface away from the house, deck railings, hanging branches, and at least 3 feet away from children and pets. Never leave your grill unattended, and let it cool down completely before moving it or disposing of the ash.
Clean Up With Coconut Oil
Another top tip from Templeton is to clean your grill by scraping all carbon build-up from the grates, then wiping them down with a high heat oil, like coconut oil. However, make sure you don’t use too much oil, as this can cause a flare up and affect the taste of your grilled food.
If your grill has some tough stains, the team at Habitation Box recommends ditching wire brushes, which can fray or get stuck, and using balled-up aluminum foil instead — hold onto it with a pair of tongs and run it over the grill grates before they cool down to get rid of all the debris. You can also use onion or lemon to get your grill gleaming again. Simply slice them in half and rub them over the grates.
Enjoy Your Leftovers
It’s always better to have too much BBQ food than too little, which can lead to leftovers. When it comes to reheating your leftover prime cute, Trish Hoss of Hoss’s Market, recently named “Top Caterer” by the Columbia Business Times and “Best Butcher” by FEAST Magazine, has a few tips. The best way to retain the moisture in the meat while evenly reheating it is by steaming. “Place the leftover brisket in a veggie steam basket above boiling water,” she suggests.
Another option is to put it in a Crock-Pot. “Much like an oven, a slow cooker provides even and consistent reheating,” says Hoss. “This is the perfect way to speed up the warming process, and you can add your saved drippings to enhance the meat’s flavor.”
Alternatively, you can use the sous-vide method. Which involves placing the meat in a plastic bag and cooking it in a water bath. Hoss recommends achieving an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit for the best texture.