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June 26, 2024

20 Tips to Become a Backyard Barbecue Master

BBQ Tips for Everyone

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Meat on a charcoal grill in a backyard barbecue.

iStockPhoto / AlexRaths


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Become the ultimate backyard barbecue boss with our sizzling guide to grilling greatness! Whether you're a seasoned pro or firing up the grill for the first time, we've packed this article with 20 expert tips to help you master the art of BBQ. From perfecting your tri-tip to picking the best grill with a smoker, get ready to turn up the heat and wow your guests with every juicy bite. 

1. Decide on a Gas vs Charcoal Grill

Choosing between a gas grill and a charcoal grill boils down to your grilling priorities. Let's weigh the pros and cons of each.

Gas Grills

Gas grill in a backyard barbecue.
Gas grill in a backyard barbecue.
iStockPhoto / Maksym Ponomarenko

Pros: Super convenient and easy to use. Light up with a single push of a button, and temperature control is a breeze with adjustable knobs. Perfect for beginners or those who value quick grilling sessions.

Cons: Can lack the smoky flavor that charcoal imparts to food. Some may find the taste a bit "cleaner" compared to charcoal. Limited sear potential compared to a hot charcoal bed.

Charcoal Grills

Charcoal grill in a backyard barbecue.
Charcoal grill in a backyard barbecue.
iStockPhoto / Kesu01

Pros: The classic choice for a reason! Charcoal delivers a smoky, delicious flavor that many grillers love. Offers superior heat for searing steaks and burgers. More versatile, as you can use direct and indirect heat for different cooking methods like smoking. Plus, charcoal grills can reach much higher temperatures than gas grills, perfect for achieving that coveted restaurant-quality sear.

Cons: Requires more setup time – lighting the coals and waiting for them to reach proper temperature takes practice. Temperature control is less precise compared to gas grills. Cleaning up ashes can be a bit messy.

So, which one is the ultimate barbecue champion?

Here's the verdict:  If you crave the smoky taste, the satisfaction of mastering a more traditional grilling method, and the ability to sear like a pro, a charcoal grill might be your perfect match.  However, if convenience and precise temperature control are your top priorities, a gas grill might be the way to go. Ultimately, the best grill for barbecuing is the one that suits your preferences and grilling style!

2. Skip the Disposable Grills

Speaking of tools, what about those disposable grills you see at the grocery store? According to BBQ Bible, unless storage space is tighter than your favorite pair of jeans, skip the disposable BBQs. They may seem convenient and cheap, but they're cramped, heat unevenly, and don’t last long. They’re more of a short-term fling than a long-term love affair. For a greener and more satisfying option, go for a compact, budget-friendly kettle BBQ instead.

3. Invest in Good Tools

Tools for making grilled food in a backyard barbecue.
Tools for making grilled food in a backyard barbecue.
iStockPhoto / Elena_Danileiko

Mastering the grill is all about having the right tools to handle the sizzle! UK chef Jamie Oliver swears by essentials like a good spatula, a tough oven glove, and a fish grill basket. But the real MVP? A solid pair of tongs! With these in hand, you've got the power to grill up everything from juicy BBQ tri-tip to perfectly charred veggies with total finesse and zero flubs. Because when your tools are on point, your grilling game is unstoppable!

4. Clean the Grill with an Onion

Cleaning a barbecue grill with an onion.
Cleaning a barbecue grill with an onion.
iStockPhoto / eldadcarin

Wondering how to clean a grill without mess? This next trick is as old-school cool as a checkered tablecloth. We're talking about deglazing your grill with an onion! This little trick not only wipes away any leftover gunk that escaped your cleaning brush, but it infuses your next grilled masterpiece with a hint of smoky, savory onion magic.

Tasting Table explains how it’s done: 

  1. Grab an onion, peel it, and cut it in half.

  2. Gently but firmly scrape the halved onion across the preheated grates.  

This works best on a clean-ish grill that's already nice and hot. By doing this, you're cleaning and flavoring at the same time -  double duty for the win! And don't waste that used onion half: just trim off the dirty bits and toss it alongside your burgers or veggies.

Of course, the best time to clean your grill is when the grates are still warm, so don’t skip it after the cooking is done. With the back of a spatula, scrape anything on the grates into the fire, then use a wire brush to scrub the grates clean. 

5. Use Eco-Friendly Charcoal

Before you grab the first bag of charcoal you see, did you know you can be an eco-conscious grill master? Look for the FSC logo on those charcoal bags, which means the charcoal comes from responsibly managed forests, preserving nature and supporting fair labor practices. Grill on with a guilt-free green conscience!

Iittala Alvar Aalto 120mm Clear Vase
Stump Chunks: Sugar Maple Lump Charcoal
A chef-recommended grilling charcoal option that is FSC and Rainforest certified. Lights quickly and burns hot!

6. Use a Chimney Starter to Light the Coals

Hand adding hot coals from a chimney starter to a charcoal barbecue.
Hand adding hot coals from a chimney starter to a charcoal barbecue.
iStockPhoto / Aleksandr Golubev

When it comes to charcoal grilling, the charcoal itself takes center stage. The most time-consuming part? Getting those coals ready. 

While lighter fluid might seem like a quick and convenient way to get the coals going, it can impart an unwanted flavor to your food. Instead, Food & Wine recommends using a chimney starter. This handy tool is user-friendly: simply load the bottom chamber with newspaper, fill the top with charcoal, and light the paper. The chimney then utilizes the power of convection to efficiently heat the coals. 

Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter
Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter
Designed to quickly produce hot coals for cooking with a specialized cone-shaped grate.

7. Allow Time for Coals to Heat

The amount of time required for the coals to reach optimal temperature depends on the quantity you're using. As a general rule, plan on allowing 15 to 20 minutes for the coals to heat through properly before transferring them to your grill. Remember, patience is key when it comes to grilling. Properly preheated coals are the foundation for achieving perfectly cooked and flavorful food.

Don’t wait for your guests to show up to get started, as they’ll be hanging around, filling up on nibbles before the main event. Good Housekeeping recommends lighting your grill early and starting to cook whenever the coals are ready. Keep the barbecued food warm in a low oven, covered loosely with foil, if necessary.

8. Know When to Use Direct vs. Indirect Cooking

According to Elizabeth Karmel, grill aficionado and author of Steak and Cake: More Than 100 Recipes to Make Any Meal a Smash Hit, the key to juicy grilled chicken hinges on this one simple rule: cook time dictates heat method.

As she explained to Better Homes and Gardens, for speedier grilling sessions under 20 minutes, direct heat is your friend. Think searing fajita veggies or grilling smaller pieces like chicken breasts or thighs. But for larger cuts, indirect heat is the way to go. This method is perfect for slow-roasting a whole chicken or achieving perfectly smoked ribs.

Steak and Cake: More Than 100 Recipes to Make Any Meal a Smash Hit
Steak and Cake: More Than 100 Recipes to Make Any Meal a Smash Hit
Discover just how luscious and indulgent both steak and cake can be with Elizabeth Karmel, Southern baker extraordinaire and one of America’s leading pitmasters.

9. Create Temperature Zones in Your Grill

When using a charcoal grill, you can create dual temperature zones by placing at least 75 percent of the coals to one side. This hot zone is perfect for searing burgers or grilling tri-tip. The remaining coals can be spread out on the other side for a cooler zone, ideal for slow-cooking or indirect grilling. It also provides flexibility to move food to a cooler zone to rest while preparing other items for a backyard barbeque.

10. Cook on Heat, Not on Flames

Burgers cooking on a flaming charcoal grill.
Burgers cooking on a flaming charcoal grill.
iStockPhoto / kieferpix

It’s crucial to avoid cooking directly on flames to prevent burning and achieve even heat distribution. Aim for white-hot coals—gray and glowing—for the hottest and most consistent heat. 

Flames can quickly char your food, altering its taste and texture. Instead, position your food on the cooler grill area or use a raised grill rack to maintain distance from the flames. This ensures your grilled food cooks evenly with a delightful smoky flavor. Also, avoid lifting the grill lid too frequently to retain heat and prevent dry or tough outcomes.

11. Marinate your Meat

Pieces of chicken marinating in a bowl before a backyard barbecue.
Pieces of chicken marinating in a bowl before a backyard barbecue.
iStockPhoto / nerudol

Jamie Oliver advises marinating food overnight in order to let your barbecue flavors develop slowly to avoid overpowering them with smoke. Save a bit of marinade to brush over your meat or fish every 10 minutes as it cooks. This not only adds moisture but also enhances the smoky flavor and gently caramelizes the surface for a delicious finish.

However, Elizabeth Karmel told Better Homes & Gardens that she recommends a shorter marinating time: no more than two hours depending on the ingredients in the marinade. She says that extended marination, especially with enzyme-rich ingredients like pineapple or papaya, can lead to overly soft or mushy textures. Similarly, citrus juices or vinegar-heavy marinades can toughen delicate foods. Her rule of thumb is “the smaller and more delicate the food, the shorter the soak.”

Jamie's Food Tube the Bbq Book: The Ultimate 50 Recipes To Change The Way You Barbecue
Jamie's Food Tube the Bbq Book: The Ultimate 50 Recipes To Change The Way You Barbecue 
DJ BBQ's top BBQ set up advice, cooking techniques and collection of exciting barbeque recipes will transform your barbecue from entertaining to catertaining. Goodbye sad burnt sausages, hello Bodacious Burgers and Rad Rum Ribs!

12. Trim the Fat

Fat equals flavor, but too much can lead to flare-ups, advises Tasting Table. Excess fat, whether it's from a heavy olive oil rub or an untrimmed fat cap on your roast, melts and drips into the flames, causing flare-ups that can char your steak or ribs. Trim excess fat before grilling to avoid over-flaring and ensure your meats are perfectly seared, not scorched.

13. Let Meat Rest Before & After Grilling

Sliced meat resting on a cutting board after barbecuing.
Sliced meat resting on a cutting board after barbecuing.
iStockPhoto / karandaev

Here's another grilling tip from Tasting Table: let your meat rest at room temperature for at least five minutes before hitting the grill. It might seem counterintuitive from a food safety viewpoint, but it's essential for achieving juicy results. Don't worry, your meat won't spoil. Allowing it to acclimate to room temperature enhances texture and ensures a more consistent internal temperature.

It’s equally important to rest your meat AFTER grilling. This allows juices and fats to reabsorb, ensuring optimal flavor and texture. If you slice meat immediately after grilling, those delicious juices will escape onto the cutting board, resulting in a less flavorful experience. So, give it a rest—your taste buds will thank you!

14. Dimple Your Burgers

Raw burger with a dimple in the center to cook evenly.
Raw burger with a dimple in the center to cook evenly.
iStockPhoto / bhofack2

Here's a handy tip from Jamie Purviance, grilling pro and author of Weber's Ultimate Grilling: A Step-by-Step Guide to Barbecue Genius. Burgers often swell in the middle while cooking, making them tricky to top. To prevent this, press a shallow indentation into each patty before grilling using your thumb or the back of a spoon. This simple trick helps burgers cook evenly and maintain a level surface, ensuring they're perfect for your BBQ feast.

Weber's Ultimate Grilling: A Step-by-Step Guide to Barbecue Genius
Weber's Ultimate Grilling: A Step-by-Step Guide to Barbecue Genius
From the experts at Weber, the must-have guide for total grill mastery, with 100 all-new recipes and more than 800 inspiring and instructive photos.

15. Monitor Meat’s Internal Temperature

Digital thermometer in a piece of chicken on a charcoal grill.
Digital thermometer in a piece of chicken on a charcoal grill.
iStockPhoto / Michael Hayward

Wondering what temperature to grill at? Understanding meat temperature guidelines is essential for safe cooking. According to the CDC, recommended internal temperatures include:

  • 145℉ for fish and large cuts like tri-tips and pork chops

  • 160℉ for ground beef

  • 165℉ for pre-cooked meats and poultry. 

For accuracy, invest in a digital thermometer. It ensures your food reaches the correct internal temperature, guaranteeing safe and perfectly cooked meals every time.

Wireless Meat Thermometer with 2 Probes
Wireless Meat Thermometer with 2 Probes
Enjoy the ultimate freedom of outdoor cooking with this meat thermometer. Monitor the cooking process from up to 500 feet away, and seamlessly connect with free apps for iOS and Android.

16. Avoid Over-Flipping

Don’t be tempted to flip, flip, flip! UK butcher Christie Butcher says that flipping meat too often can cause it to lose its juices and become dry. As a general rule, flip the meat only once halfway through the cooking process.

17. Soak Wooden Skewers in Water to Avoid Burning.

Wooden skewers loaded with vegetables on a charcoal grill.
Wooden skewers loaded with vegetables on a charcoal grill.
iStockPhoto / zi3000

If kebabs are on your summer barbecue menu, soak wooden skewers in cold water for at least 30 minutes before use to prevent burning. If you’re using metal skewers, wipe them with a light coating of vegetable oil before use to prevent food from sticking.

For extended cooking sessions, soak several wooden skewers for an hour, drain, freeze, and take out a few at a time as needed for convenience.

Bamboo Roasting Sticks
Bamboo Roasting Sticks
30" bamboo skewers perfect for use with a patio fire pit, backyard fire pit, bonfire pit, or campfire.

18. Use a Grill Basket

Food blogger Whitney Bond recommends placing smaller items like diced vegetables and fruit into a grill basket. This prevents flare-ups and avoids them falling through the grates. Before placing food in the basket, ensure it's coated in oil to prevent sticking. Greasing the basket beforehand will also help maintain the flavors and textures of your grilled delights.

3-Pack of Grill Baskets
3-Pack of Grill Baskets 
Raised edges keep food inside. Wide, curved handles give ultimate control. Small perforations allow heat and smoky barbecue flavor to pass through.

19. Don’t Apply Sauces Too Early

Brush applying sauce or glaze to meat on a barbecue grill.
Brush applying sauce or glaze to meat on a barbecue grill.
iStockPhoto / dwaugh

Barbecue sauces and glazes often contain sugar (especially in Kansas City-style), which can easily burn under high or prolonged heat. Whether you're grilling chicken wings, pork tenderloin, or ribs, BBQ Bible recommends applying the sauce during the last 15 minutes of grilling, turning frequently. If desired, you can also apply a final coat of sauce just before serving to enhance the flavors.

The Barbecue! Bible
The Barbecue! Bible
A 500-recipe celebration of sizzle and smoke, Steven Raichlen’s award-winning The Barbecue! Bible unlocks the secrets of live-fire cooking with top dishes, the tastiest sauces, and insider techniques and tips.

20. Don’t Forget Dessert!

Don't relegate your grill to just savory dishes! Grilling opens up a world of possibilities for creative and crowd-pleasing desserts. Imagine perfectly caramelized peaches with a touch of smoky sweetness, or warm, gooey grilled pound cake drizzled with a tart berry sauce.  

Grilling fruit brings out its natural sugars, creating a unique depth of flavor. Plus, the smoky kiss from the grill adds a surprising and delightful twist to classic desserts. So next time you're planning a barbecue, don't forget to leave room on the grill for a sweet finale – your tastebuds will thank you!

Here are some of our favorite recipes for you to try:

  1. Griddled Doughnut Sandwiches

  2. Barbecued Fruit with Mint Sugar and Boozy Mascarpone

  3. Grilled Lemon Pound Cake with Peaches and Cream

  4. Berry Crisp Foil Packs

  5. Grilled Banana Brownie Sundaes

  6. Pot of S’mores

  7. Apple Cake with Cinnamon Sugar

  8. Grilled Banana Split

  9. Pineapple and Mango Skewers with Coconut Dip

  10. Skillet Cherry Pie

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