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Grillist

Grilled Foods You Have Zero Excuse for Ever Screwing Up

Welcome to Grillist, our annual celebration of all things smoke and fire. Join us all summer long as we get up in your grill with expert BBQ advice, insightful interviews, and bad grilling puns -- but mostly those first two.

There's a time to show off with a rack of ribs or a stuffed pork roast at a cookout, but more often than not the average griller's instinct is to throw something easy on the coals come cookout time. The problem is, the so-called easiest things to grill are the ones that are most often massacred. A burnt roast or botched pig head is a noble failed experiment -- at least you tried!. A bunch of jacked-up chicken legs is an embarrassment.

To identify crimes against grilling and how to prevent them, we enlisted two people who know a thing or two: James Beard-winning chefs Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton, who literally wrote the book on grilling (well, one book, called Around the Fire), in addition to manning the kitchens at Bistro Agnes and Argentinean steak house Ox in Portland, Oregon. Follow their advice and you'll never hang your head in shame over a botched pre-cooked sausage again.

Burned burgers
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Burgers

Common grilling crimes: pushing down on the burger; flipping the burger constantly; making patties too fat

Burgers seem like such an easy move: Just make your patties, toss them on the grill, and bask in the glory. But that doesn’t stop people from constantly messing with them once they hit the heat. Some people flip the burgers 19 times, causing them to be uneven and charred. Others can't stop pressing them down, resulting in flare-ups and the meat being crammed through the grill.

"It’s 80% on one side: get that good char, then flip it over and finish it. Then get it off," says Greg, noting that making patties too fat basically transforms them into meatballs as they cook. The secret to a great burger, he adds, is letting it cool down after it touches your warm, greasy hands. "It's really important to make the patty and chill it. If you make it, then throw it on the grill, you use your hands to warm up the fat. Form it, then get that patty back in the cooler and let it chill out a little bit. It's gonna stay together more and be a better burger in general."

Chicken legs

Common grilling crimes: cooking it skin-side down; overcooking; undercooking

Cooking chicken skin-side down means you’re compromising the best part. Cooking it over high heat means you're drying out the outside while the inside is bloodier than the third act of a Tarantino movie.

"Treat your grill like an oven," says Gabrielle. "If you don't have a lid that you can close, attempt it with something like a large metal bowl. We really believe in having multiple heat zones, and that helps a lot with a slow-cooking item like chicken. Leave it on the non-skin side and most of the time you don’t even need to flip it over... you've got a dry, crispy skin with delicious flavor. The last thing you want to do is start on the skin side... if it sticks you lose the best part."

Burned asparagus
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Asparagus

Common grilling crimes: letting it fall through the grate; burning the hell out of it; over-seasoning

Asparagus is great on the grill, provided you don't send it falling through the grates like sinners cast off into the third pit of Hell. This is where you can get clever. "No matter how careful you are that you put [asparagus] on at the perfect 90-degree angle with your grill grate, they move around and they roll and you lose them," says Gabrielle. "If you don't have a grill basket you can put on top of the grate, take a cooling rack -- like one you put cookies on -- and turn it upside down so it's flat on the grill and you've got a bunch of little squares on a grill grate. They can't fall through."

Another crime: covering your sprigs with oil, which causes huge flare-ups and char. The Dentons say you should put those sexy green bastards on naked, then brush them with olive oil -- which you shouldn't be heating too much to begin with -- and a sprinkle of salt.

Steak

Common grilling crimes:cooking too many at one time; not having a cool spot on the grill

If you want to really step up your game, you go with steak. The problem is, overloading the grill compromises the heat -- you need a hot spot and a cool one -- and chucking a bunch of steaks on at once means you can't give each the attention that it deserves, resulting in a bunch of shriveled, charred meat. If that’s your thing, well, congrats: You’re presidential. But you're also in the minority. "You don’t want to throw 12 rib eyes on a grill and try to control the temperature," says Gabrielle.

Greg offers a workaround for this: Go big. "Choose large format items so you don’t have to short-order cook: A whole skirt steak, or if you’re going big go with a roast," he says. That way, you can have cuts at all different temps throughout the roast. And you look pretty baller with a big-ass hunk of meat.

Burned hot dogs
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Hot dogs

Common grilling crimes:leaving them on too damn long

How the hell do you mess up something that you can technically eat right out of the package? All too often, hot dogs are afterthoughts that spend more time on the grill than an LA commuter in traffic. That gets them burned and shriveled, giving the sausages a bum rap as an afterthought. "They sometimes become the things that collect the nasty bits on the grill," says Gabrielle, a self-professed hot-dog enthusiast. "Maybe go for the hot dog first while it’s nice and good and plump, then go for the burger."

Brats

Common grilling crimes:overcooking them until they’re shriveled; undercooking; puncturing the sides

Overcook a brat and you’ve got something that looks like a cautionary tale about safe sex. Underdo it and you’re serving seared pork sushi. The Dentons say it’s just a matter of patience. "Go with low, slow cooking. You can’t put a brat on high heat: It’s going to heat up too fast: You’re going to burn the outside and all that great fat inside that little intestine shoots out all over that portabella mushroom you cooked for your vegetarian friend," says Greg.

Gabrielle, meanwhile, recommends giving them a bath in beer before getting them to the grill: "Maybe just quickly poach them in beer, then throw them on the grill. That really helps it heat through evenly without getting too charred or dehydrated."

Corn

Common grilling crimes:impatience; grilling husk-in but not properly cleaning out the hairs

Yeah, it looks cool to throw a bunch of corn on the cob -- husk and all -- onto the grill. You know what isn’t cool? Watching an entire cookout gag on corn hairs while chomping through undercooked corn. Like asparagus, the Dentons recommend throwing that corn on completely naked and treating it with patience before hitting it with a little butter at the end. Just pay attention:

"It’s important to not put it over crazy high heat. If it’s a good, fresh piece of corn that’s just as sweet as can be, you don’t want to cook it to the point that the cob is heated all the way through," says Gabrielle. "Just take a good 15 minutes, rotating it an inch or two at a time so you’re getting all sides -- rolling it, basically -- so all aspects are grilled pretty evenly."

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Andy Kryza is a senior editor who has been choking people with corn hairs for far too long. Follow him to cookout redemption @apkryza.