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  • Top 10 Grilling Do’s and Don’ts

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    Bring on the seasoning. Grilled foods can stand up to bold flavors, so be liberal with the salt, load on the garlic, amp up the chiles, and squeeze out that lemon. Try a spiced mint marinade for lamb, a Cherry Cola glaze for ribs, or a spicy-sweet brine for chicken. (Get more ideas from our 101 Recipes for the Grill.)

    Prep the grate. Grilling pro Steven Raichlen’s grate mantra is, “Keep it hot. Keep it clean. Keep it lubricated.” Cleaning and oiling the grate thoroughly before cooking will prevent your food from sticking–plus it will help you get those sexy grill marks. Use a stiff wire brush to clean your grill before and after cooking. To oil the grill, dip a cloth in vegetable oil and run it over the grate with tongs.

    Use the right technique for the right food. Here’s some advice on cooking fish and here’s some on grilling chicken. Find more on this topic–including lots about red meat–on our How to Grill page.

    Be mindful of safety. Remember, you’re playing with fire–literally. Set up your grill in an open space, keep a fire extinguisher handy, and watch out for the kids. Watch our video on grilling safety to learn more.

    Set up zones of varying heat. When using a charcoal grill, bank the coals one side so they slope downward toward the center. This will give you one zone of the grill that is very hot (for “direct heat” cooking) and the other zone can be used for slower cooking (or “indirect heat” cooking). Learn more on how to set up a grill from our Become a Better Cook series, or watch this video for how to set up a charcoal grill correctly using direct heat.


    Skimp on the charcoal. A hot fire is crucial to good grilling.

    Cover the grill when cooking directly over the coals. In their classic grilling cookbook, Let the Flames Begin, authors Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby call this the #1 grilling mistake**. When fat drippings hit those hot coals, they turn into puffs of bad-tasting smoke. When the grill is covered, that smoke gives your food bad-tasting flavor. (Makes sense.) “We urge you to build a multi-level fire, keep your eye on what you are grilling, and just move it to the cool part of the grill when flare-ups threaten,” they say.

    Cut into your food to test doneness. This lets those yummy juices escape, plus, your filets are much more appetizing when they don’t look like Edward Scissorhands got a hold of them. Instead, look at your food (it should be golden brown), touch it (watch this video for tips on how to determine when your meat is rare, medium, or well-done), or use an instant-read thermometer.

    Squirt water on flare-ups. Those spray bottles stir up ash, and it will land all over your lamb chops. You can’t prevent flare-ups, but you can control them; just move your food to the cool part of the grill until the flames calm.