July is National Grilling Month and we here at Dabble are fired up with excitement. But we are also aware that too often summer cookouts suffer from charred meat, burnt hands, and scorched nerves. To get you ignited and ready, we present ten of the most common grilling mistakes and how to avoid them – along with a couple Dabble classes guaranteed to make you a master of the open flame!
1. Mistake: Forgetting to Prep
The last thing you want is to be cutting tomatoes and onions as your burgers go up in flames. So before you light the grill, make sure you’re prepped and ready to go with all your ingredients chopped, mixed, and peeled. This is called “mise en place” – everything in place – and it’s the number one step of any great cook.
2. Mistake: A Dirty Grill
Think of your grill grate like an open sauté pan – it needs to be clean before you cook on it. Those remnants of old burger bits and stuck on grime is going to make great grilling next to impossible (and let’s be frank, it’s disgusting). Use a metal brush on the grates immediately after taking off the food (while the grate is warm) and wipe clean with a warm, wet towel once cooled.
3. Mistake: Skipping the Oil
Just like a sauté pan, a grill grate needs a little oil to help transfer heat and keep food from sticking. Wad a towel and dip it in cooking oil then, using a pair of tongs, rub it over the grill grate as it heats. This will ensure burgers won’t stick, pizza crust browns evenly, and steaks get those beautiful deep grill marks.
4. Mistake: Not Preheating Your Grill
Give your grill at least 15 minutes to heat up, preferably with the lid down. If you’re using charcoal briquettes, make sure they’re fully lit before you put food on the grill. If they’re not, that means the chemicals they contain are still burning off and flavoring your food.
5. Mistake: Getting Saucy
Sauces and glazes give grilled items an extra boost of flavor, but adding them too soon in the cooking process can cause charring as most contain sugars that burn easily. Instead, add them toward the very end of the cooking process. Also be weary of marinades. Marinating is good, but stick to vinegar- or oil-based marinades instead of sugary sauces.
6. Mistake: Grilling Cold or Wet Foods
Meat should be grilled at room temperature, otherwise it will burn on the outside before the inside reaches done-ness. Allow 15 to 20 minutes (the time it should take to preheat the grill) to take the chill off. Additionally, any food that is rinsed before grilling needs to be patted dry before hitting the grill. Food doesn’t start to brown until the surface gets to about 250 degrees, but water can only get to 212 degrees before it evaporates. If the food is wet, it will steam before it grills. Dry food means better browning, which means better flavor.
7. Mistake: Covering Up
It’s easy to think you can just close your grill cover and sip on a cold one while the meat cooks. Truth is, during direct-heat cooking and most of your everyday grilling, you should never cover the grill. Shutting the lid allows the build up of acrid smoke, which you’ll taste in your food. Only cover during indirect grilling.
8. Mistake: Forgoing the Thermometer
Don’t just guess how done your burgers, steaks, and chicken breasts are and definitely don’t cut into the meat to check (this lets the internal juices escape, and who wants a burger or chicken hacked to pieces?). Get an instant-read thermometer for internal temperatures.
9. Mistake: Using Only Direct Heat
“Direct heat zones” can burn foods quickly. Thus, it’s important to make one zone of your grill that isn’t directly above coals or flame (an “indirect heat zone”). Dual temperature zones will help you manage things on the grill, while also giving you a cool spot to place food during grill flare-ups. Use the direct heat zone to fill all those juices inside foods then move them to your indirect heat zone to make sure they cook throughout.
10. Mistake: Rushing Food to Table
The food looks perfect, everyone is hungry and you’re ready to eat, but you must let thick cuts of beef, pork, and other meats (yes, even burgers) rest before serving. Ideally, you want to let food cool to an internal temperature of about 120 degrees before cutting into it (that’s anywhere from 5 minutes for a thin pork chop to 20 minutes for a whole chicken). During that time, the meat proteins firm up and they are better able to hold in the juices – making each piece taste all the better!
Strengthen Your Grill Game with These Great Dabble Classes in Chicago!
Rooftop Grilling: Steakhouse Classics & Martinis – join Whole Foods’ Cooking at Home Specialist in creating a complete steakhouse dinner (complete with sides and salad) and craft martinis! Register here.