Grilling Techniques

10 Barbecue Hacks: Simple Tricks to Take Your Grilling to the Next Level

Lemons and limes on the grill

Last week, two new groups of graduates left Barbecue University with diplomas in hand. I’m proud to have helped them ascend the ladder of barbecue enlightenment. Here are some of the “secret” techniques from the school to help you up your game at the grill.

  1. Keep it hot: Of course you light your charcoal in a chimney starter. When you pour out the coals, leave one or two burning embers in the starter, then add a fresh batch of charcoal. The embers will light the coals—no newspaper or fire starter needed.
  2. Keep it clean: A clean grill grate is essential to prevent sticking and give you great tasting food. Ideally, you’ll have a grill brush, but if you don’t, make a luddite grill brush by crumpling a sheet of aluminum foil into a ball. Clutch it between the jaws of long-handled tongs, and use it to scrub the bars of the grate.
  3. Keep it lubricated: One cool way to oil your grate is to impale half of an onion on a long-handled meat fork and dip in vegetable oil. Rub it across the bars of the grate. (I learned this tip from an Israeli grill master.)
    Onion on grill
  4. Keep it lubricated 2: Grease your grill grate with a chunk of bacon or steak fat. Great smell. Great flavor.
  5. Where there’s smoke: Grilling on a gas grill? Don’t despair—you can still add a smoke flavor. Place unsoaked hardwood chunks under the grate between the inverted V-shaped Flavorizer bars. Or make a smoking pouch by folding a cup or so of unsoaked hardwood chips in heavy duty aluminum foil to make a pillow shaped pouch. Poke holes in the top with a skewer and place under the grate directly over one of the burners and start grilling when you see smoke.
  6. Spin control: Prevent skewered foods like shrimp from spinning by threading them on two parallel bamboo skewers. Or use our Best of Barbecue Double Prong Skewers. I learned this tip in Japan.
  7. Flame-free skewers: The bamboo skewer is the backbone of great sates and shish kebab. Conventional wisdom holds that by soaking the skewers in water first, you can prevent the exposed part from burning. Conventional wisdom is wrong. Instead, make a grill shield by folding a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil like a business letter, then sliding it beneath the exposed part of the skewers. Or use our Best of Barbecue Grill Shield.
  8. Beer bottle fire control: Flare-ups threatening your food? Make a beer bottle fire extinguisher. Place your thumb over the top of an open longneck bottle of beer. Shake the bottle gently, then slide your thumb back a little to direct a thin stream of beer toward the fire. Great for basting grilled meats, too.
  9. Char man of the board: Everybody loves planked salmon. Next time you make it, don’t soak the plank first as is recommend in many cookbooks (including in my own). Instead, char the plank on one side over a hot fire (just until you see smoke), then turn it over and place the fish on top. Direct grill the fish over a hot fire: the bottom of the plank will char, too, releasing an incredible smoke flavor. Awesome just got better.
    Planked trout charred-450
  10. Grill your lemons: A squeeze of lemon or lime juice is the classic sauce for grilled fish. Boost its flavor by grilling or smoking the lemon. Looks cool and tastes even better. Note: grilled lemonade or margaritas made with grilled limes are beyond awesome.
    Lemons limes on grill-450