10 Unexpected Grill Tips You've Probably Never Thought Of
Have you ever looked down at those half-grilled patties and wondered "have I explored all the possible ways to cook this meat with this fire?" Well we did. And after calling a panel of meat-scorching experts, we discovered that there's a seemingly infinite number of juicy, delicious, alternative ways to grill. But infinite is a lot, so read these 10 techniques to elevate the average backyard barbecue instead.
1. Reduce soda over a flame to make a baste
According to world-champion pitmaster Mike Mills, owner of 17th Street Bar & Grill, you can reduce soda to make a seriously delicious baste for grilled foods. “Put [soda] on the simmer until the water is gone and the flavoring of the sugar remains,” he said, “and then baste the meat right at the end.” That “right at the end” part is super-important, because if you baste too early, the sugar will burn, forming a crust that is 100% less delicious than pizza crust.
2. Grill your food underground
This is a technique that’s been used for thousands of years, but it’s a bit more involved than just digging an open hole, or having a failed attempt at a backyard Luau (it’s never gonna happen, Kevin). Start with some embers in your pit burning low, then get an oven rack and place aluminum-wrapped meat cuts on top of it. Cover that with a piece of sheet metal or another rack wrapped in foil. Pack dirt atop the whole pile and your feast will be ready in a few hours.
3. For well-done steaks, allow the meat to reach room temperature before grilling
“Let [your steaks] come to room temperature before cooking them, otherwise it won’t get cooked all the way through before the outside is burnt,” says former pitmaster of famed barbecue joint La Barbecue and current owner of Lewis Barbecue, John Lewis. For those more into medium-rare steaks, you’ll want the raw meat to be a little colder before it hits the grates to give you a nice sear on the outside without overcooking that scrumptious pink center.
The obvious tip? Having a beverage in your hand.
Whipping out any one of these unexpected grilling maneuvers will make you the boss of the backyard BBQ game, but that doesn’t mean your guests won’t fire you for having a poor beverage choice. Uncork a bottle of Carnivor Cabernet at your next cookout, because bold moves call for an equally bold wine.
4. Your charcoal kettle grill can be used as a pretty passable smoker
Next, we turned to barbecue expert and author of The Grand Barbecue, Doug Worgul, who advises to cook meat indirectly rather than hot and fast. Just position all the coals to one side and set the grill lid holes right over the meat. The vents will actually pull the smoke out turning the grill into a mini smoker. “Doing that’s going to break down the connective tissues and the collagen,” says Worgul. “It’s going to render fat out over time, yet leave the meat moist and flavorful with a really nice crust.”
5. Barbecue in a trashcan for longer cooking times
Barbecue obsessive John Lewis threw some more helpful advice our way about cooking for longer periods of time: “You just can’t get the meat far enough away from the fire on a backyard grill, but a trashcan works great,” he says. The can puts enough physical space just by placing your grill grates on top and sticking the coals in the bottom. Pro-tip: make sure it’s, like, not a used trashcan.
6. Use welding gloves to play with fire
Stop chasing burning coals around the kettle with tongs like some kind of weird, hellish chopstick game. According to John Lewis, to move the hot stuff right where you want, grab a pair of welding gloves. They’re also protective enough for moving burning logs and woodchips.
7. Use a brûlée torch to caramelize sauces
“One tool that we utilize a lot are torches for ‘finishing’ our meats,” says Mike Emerson of famed St. Louis barbecue joint Pappy’s Smokehouse. That’s right, fire on top of fire (fire-ception?). Our expert said that the average home griller would do fine with a small brûlée torch.
8. You can use hot rocks like some sort of damn caveman grill
Don’t have a grill? Don’t feel like driving to the hardware store? Like your meat cooked over the history of fossilized sediment? You can set up a flat rock to stand over a fire or even just throw it directly on a campfire and heat it up for 30 minutes or so. Carefully take it out (maybe using those fancy gloves up there), grease it up, and throw some chicken or bacon on it, letting the residual heat cook them through. According to experts, Basalt rock is the best for heating up.
9. Put dried herbs or dried grape vines on the coals for subtle flavor
Another tip from Doug Worgul: “You can use dried grape vines instead of some of the more traditional smoking woods for great flavor all the way through.” He went on to recommend that burning thyme or rosemary on top of the coals will score you some killer aromatics.
10. Do not oversmoke the meat
When it comes to smoking, Worgul says less is more. Loading brisket slabs up with too much smoke that whole time can actually be way worse than overcooking the meat. “Oversmoking will make your food bitter and taste bad,” he says. So worry less about cook time and more about smoke buildup on the grill.