The joy of sizzling meat on an outdoor grill is practically part of a man’s DNA, a skill usually handed down by preceding generations. But if you still haven’t flipped your first burger, it’s time to start. Here are some basics for bringing the heat.
Start With the Right Gear
There’s no easy way to start without plunging into the greatest of grilling controversies: gas or charcoal? We’re neutral, but most people tend to use gas for convenience, greater safety (no flying ash), and better control over the actual heat. Gas is also good for beginners.
Charcoal adherents swear you get better grilling flavor with briquettes and higher heat helps to sear thick cuts of red meat. If you’re leaning toward charcoal, then buy a charcoal chimney to torch your coals without fluid starters, which can affect flavor and singe your eyebrows if you’re not careful.
You also need a good set of long-handled grilling utensils: at least one but preferably two spatulas (one for veg and one for meat), tongs, forks, skewers, and a good wire brush for cleaning. Heat-resistant gloves are a good idea, especially if throwing corn on the fire (which we highly recommend). An internal meat thermometer gives you confidence in the early days.
Then Practice (and Be Patient)
You don’t have to produce perfect ribs the first time out. Cook a few hot dogs, burgers, and chicken breasts to get used to your setup and gear. Learn how long and slow cooking is better than fast and fiery. Hanging out at the grill is one of life’s great time-outs, a chance to sneak in some alone time and sip on that glass of Ezra Brooks bourbon while someone else stirs the potato salad inside.
Experiment With Rubs, Marinades, and Woods
You can up your game in a hurry by working your food over before it goes on the fire. Try seasoned rubs on red or white meat. Transform the taste of pork loin, poultry, or fish with simple marinades. And throwing slivers of soaked wood chips onto your fires — hickory, apple, mesquite — adds an alluring hint of smoke to the flavor.
Read Some Books on the Subject
Reading about grilling has two educational benefits. A good guide not only suggests new techniques and recipes, but it also makes you want to rush back out to the grill, where the real learning takes place.
Some, well, surefire titles:
- Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling, by Meathead Goldwyn and Greg Blonder (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
- The Thrill of the Grill: Techniques, Recipes, & Down-Home Barbecue, by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby (Harper Collins)
- Born to Grill: An American Celebration, by Cheryl and Bill Jamison (Harvard Common Press)
Expand Your Repertoire
With a few successes under your belt, you can begin to branch out. Experiment with larger cuts of meat. Cook fish on wood planks. Skewer more vegetables for kebabs. And remember that corn we talked about? Bourbon is made from corn, so we can’t resist putting some fresh corn, still in the husks, directly on the grill. Soak them in water for a few hours first. Once on the grill, let the outer leaves turn black before husking. If the corn isn’t slightly charred, put the ear back on the grill while you husk the rest. Slather in butter, drink your bourbon, and feast on.