Recipes & Techniques

20 Must-Know Grilling Hacks You Need to Try


In our experience, the serious practitioners of barbecue always have a few tricks up their sleeves. Below, we share with you some of the most useful we’ve collected, along with several recipes to back them up. For more grilling tips and hacks, check out Steven’s book Project Fire.

20 Grilling Hacks

*When checking the internal temperature of a thin food, such as a fish steak, thin pork chop, or chicken breast. insert the probe of your instant-read thermometer through the side (parallel to the grill grate) for the most accurate reading. Ditto for bratwurst, hot dogs, or other sausages: go in through the end.

Bratwurst “Hot Tub”

Bratwurst "Hot Tub" - Grilling Hacks

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*If you grill over charcoal, store it in an airtight container, like a lidded metal trashcan or plastic container. A pair of sturdy rubber gloves—preferably black—will help you handle lump charcoal or briquettes without dirtying your hands. Other nice-to-have tools? A sharp utility knife or scissors to open the bag cleanly, and a large scoop for transferring charcoal to your chimney starter.

*Follow the “rule of palm.” If the food you’re grilling is thinner than the palm of your hand (about 3/4 inch) direct grill leaving the grill lid up, If thicker, lower the lid and grill away from direct flames.

*Using your thumbs or the back of a spoon, make a shallow dimple in one side of your burger patties to prevent them from puffing during the cook. (Cook all ground meats to 160 degrees.)

The Ur-Burger

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*Don’t apply sauces or glazes too early. Many contain sugar, which scorches when exposed to high or prolonged heat. So whether you’re barbecuing chicken wings, pork tenderloin, or ribs, apply the sauce the last 15 minutes of grilling, turning frequently. You can, if you wish, sauce it again just before serving.

First-Timer’s Ribs

First Timer's Ribs

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*When direct grilling, never desert your post. The fire gods will smite you.

*Assemble everything you anticipate needing (food, seasoning, specialized tools, etc.) on a rimmed sheet pan and position it near your grill to avoid hurried trips back to the kitchen. The correct name for this organization is mise en place.

*Grilling food on bamboo skewers? Make a “grill shield” by folding a 12×18 sheet of foil into thirds. Lay the shield on the front of the grill and arrange the bare ends of the skewers over the foil. (There’s no need to soak the skewers in water prior to grilling.)

Shrimp Boka Dushi

Shrimp Boka Dushi - Grilling Hacks

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*When smoking skin-on chicken (or turkey), always finish it at a temperature of at least 350 degrees to render the fat and avoid rubbery, inedible poultry skin.

Lemon Sesame Chicken Wings

Lemon Sesame Chicken Wings

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*Nearly every gas or pellet grill has hot spots. Preheat your grill to medium. Lay slices of cheap loaf-style bread shoulder to shoulder on the grate, flipping when they begin to toast. You’ll likely see variations in the color from slice to slice; perhaps some slices will be quite dark, indicating hot spots on your grill. Take a photo to remind yourself of the pattern.

*Don’t crowd your grill. I try to leave at least 30 percent food-free so I have options if flare-ups occur.

*Use two bamboo skewers for each kebab you assemble. This keeps the food from spinning as you turn it. BTW, in our experience, soaking the skewers in water before grilling doesn’t protect them from burning.

*When melting cheese on top of burgers or other foods, improvise a grill dome by using the lid of a roasting pan.

*For the best sear on steaks, season them generously with coarse salt about 45 minutes before grilling.

*Save the juice from dill pickles or pickled jalapeños to add flavor to your brines. (Dill pickle juice is especially good with pork.)

*After a grill session, take a minute to efficiently clean your grill grate. While the grill is still very hot, dip a grill brush in water and draw it across the bars of the grate. (The process is similar to deglazing a pan.)

*Like to entertain friends and family with meals grilled outdoors? Remember, not every party has to start after 5 p.m. In fact, breakfast or brunch often works out better for everyone—especially families—as most of the afternoon and evening are free for other activities. And breakfast can be a relatively inexpensive meal for the host. Grilled frittatas, breakfast pizzas, and bacon or breakfast sausages can feed a crowd for a few dollars. And unless you hang with the Bloody Mary and mimosa crowd, the liquor tab will be lower, too.

Beer-Can Breakfast Burgers

Beer-Can Breakfast Burgers

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*Check the level of propane in your tank by pouring hot water over the side of the tank. The metal will feel warm where there’s air space, cool where the propane is. Keep a spare tank on hand in case you run low during a cook. Transport filled tanks in sturdy plastic milk crates (the kind sold for storage in big box stores) to keep the propane from tipping or rolling

*Improvise a grill press for dishes like by pollo al mattone by covering fire bricks with aluminum foil. Or use a cast iron skillet or a Himalayan salt brick.

Beer-Mark Bitterman’s Salt Brick Grilled Chicken

Salt Brick Grilled Chicken

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*If you own a gas grill but don’t own a smoker box, you have inexpensive options to get great smoked flavors into your food. Enclose wood chips (soaked for longer cooking sessions; unsoaked for shorter ones) in a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Fold the edges of the foil to make a tight seal. Poke several holes in the packet with the tines of a fork or the tip of a knife. Lay the packet over the burners or flavorizer bars. Alternatively, replace the packet with unsoaked chunks of smoking wood.

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