Grillist

Want to Become a Master Griller? Follow These Chefs' Simple and Surprising Tips.

beef steak with chimichurri sauce
Lisovskaya Natalia/Shutterstock

If you think it takes a lifetime to become a master at grilling, then we’ve got some bad news: it absolutely does. But life's a journey, and not everything requires mastering. You can be perfectly content being just a pretty good or even great griller. Regardless of your skill level, you can always learn more. Let these grilling tips from talented chefs and experts from across the country inspire and educate you on how to step up your game. One bonus tip: wear one of those flame-filled Guy Fieri shirts while you cook. It won’t help you grill any better, but you will look dope as hell.

pork ribs
Valerio Pardi/Shutterstock

Fire up the smoked wood...

"When you're grilling outside, consider using real wood instead of charcoal. I like using applewood or any smoked wood. It's super subtle and gives you a much milder flavor that won't overpower the meat." -- Michael Symon, owner, Mabel's BBQ (Las Vegas, Nevada & Cleveland, Ohio)

...or a mix of Japanese binchotan and charcoal

“My secret tool is to use a combination of Japanese binchotan and mesquite charcoal. The mesquite delivers a second layer of awesome flavor profile, but also helps keep the use of binchotan down. Binchotan is very expensive in the charcoal world, but it delivers high heat that can caramelize meats and vegetables beautifully without overcooking the product.” -- Thach Tran, executive chef, Ace Eat Serve (Denver, Colorado)

Kobe beef from grill with thermometer in it
Warren Price Photography/Shutterstock

Make friends with an instant read thermometer

"Your best tool is knowing when your meat is done, and an instant-read thermometer is your best friend. Consistency can be difficult on a grill. The amount of flame, the temperature outside, how windy it is; these are all things that make grilling magic, but it can also mean that the steak that you can perfect time after time on a skillet indoors can be a bit more elusive. Invest in an instant-read thermometer and know what your perfect temperature is -- it’s different for everyone, and you’ll always make magic on the grill." -- Kate Kavanaugh, founder/CEO, Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe (Denver, Colorado)

Clean the grill with an onion

“Cooking on the grill is fun except for the struggle of removing the gunk and buildup. The easy, cheap, chemical-free method of cleaning those grills is by using an onion. Simply scrubbing half an onion face-down on your hot grill should do the trick.” -- Firoz Thanawalla, owner, Chef's Satchel

grilled fish and green veggies
laura zamboni/Shutterstock

Grill a fish, win the cookout

“It’s easier than you expect, and it can be really impressive. Branzino is the best fish to prepare if you’re a beginner; it’s the most forgiving. Make sure the fish is well-oiled and the grates are really hot. Score it, rub the inside with a sauce like olive oil and yuzu kosho, and that’s it. It’s also a good fish to fry whole.” -- Joe Zoccoli, chef de cuisine, Uchi (Austin, Texas)

Sheet pans will help you carry that weight, Ringo

"I like to keep a few aluminum eighth and quarter size sheet pans at my house. They are great for transporting raw ingredients, and holding seasonings like salt and pepper or tools and utensils for the grill. Sheet pans or baker's tray can be found at restaurant supply stores." -- Kyle Rourke, chef/owner, The Waiting Room (Portland, Oregon)

Greek Grilled Halloumi Cheese
Irina Burakova/Shutterstock

Grilled cheese doesn't have to be a sandwich

“Don’t be afraid to throw on things other than burgers on your grill such as vegetables, fruit, bread, or haloumi cheese. Haloumi caramelizes nicely and gets a gorgeous char on the grill. It stays together so it’s easy to throw on with just a light brush of olive oil. And the best way to serve it is just with a good squeeze of fresh lime and a few chopped chilies if you like some heat.” -- Judy Joo, executive chef/owner, Jinjuu (London, England)

Handle grease drips nice and easy

“Have a clean spray bottle filled with water on-hand to control flare-ups from grease dripping onto hot coals.” -- Abe Conlon, chef/co-owner, Fat Rice (Chicago, Illinois)

dinner table with beer
sutlafk/Shutterstock

Drinking, fast and slow

“It takes two beers to grill a 2-inch steak. Beer number one is for side one. When you finish the first beer, flip the steak. Open beer number two. When you finish the second beer, the steak is done. Drink quickly for medium rare, slowly for well done. If you don't drink beer, try it with your beverage of choice.” -- Gerry Klaskala, chef/co-owner, Aria (Atlanta, Georgia)

Use a potato to determine if the grill is ready for meat and veggies

“If you’ve pre-heated your grill and aren’t sure if it’s hot enough for cooking, try this trick. Cut a raw potato in half, set it flesh side down and set a timer for 60 seconds. When the time is up, the potato should have a slight grill mark. If so, then you’re good to get grilling.” -- Bruce Bromberg, chef/co-owner, Blue Ribbon Las Vegas (Las Vegas, Nevada)

Freeze brown butter to make everything look and taste better

Make a batch of brown butter and freeze it in an ice cube tray. When it's grilling time, take a cube and rub it on your steak, fish or vegetables -- just enough to get a thin layer on it. Brown butter won't burn on the grill because of its high smoke point, but it will transfer to your food that particular nuttiness and appetizing color. Plus, it’ll help create a crispy crust.” -- Ivan Beacco, head chef, Cozymeal

beef with chimichurri sauce
Edita Piu/Shutterstock

Give your meat a zing

“I love pairing a zingy, herby sauce like chimichurri or mojo with everything from ribeye steaks to grilled vegetables. Sweet and sour citrus and fresh herbs pair really well with the smoky, savory characteristics of grilled foods, and it’s a great sauce for beginners and grill-masters alike.” -- Victoria Shore, chef, Recess at Krog Street Market (Atlanta, Georgia)

Grill stone fruits, why don’t you!

“Cooking summer fruits over fire brings out their sweetness and adds depth with a bit of smoke. Choose your favorite in-season fruit (think peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, and berries) and cook with butter, brown sugar, and rosemary. This dessert is great as is, or top with whipped cream or mascarpone. Crumble biscotti over the top, and it’s like a fruit crisp.” -- Ann Kirk, pastry chef, Little Dom’s (Los Angeles, California)

Reduce the amount of clean-up

“I always put plastic wrap on my meat platters so I can season the meat. Once it’s on the grill, I remove the plastic for a clean and sanitary platter for serving without doing extra dishes!” -- Michael C. Brown, executive chef, Barrel Republic (Pacific Beach, California)
 

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 Lee Breslouer is a writer and editor based in Colorado, and takes pictures of beers that pair with grilled meats @LeeBreslouer.