Big BBQ Tips for Cookouts

Want to make your next cookout awesome? Here are some of our favorite tips when breaking out the grill. Be sure to also check out our post on the best parks for BBQing in San Diego.

Family having barbecue in Balboa Park

1. Gas vs. Charcoal?

Which grilling method is “better” is the never ending debate, from flavor to cost to convenience. Gas burns cleaner, but isn’t necessarily healthier for you. Charcoal emits more carbon monoxide, particulate matter and soot into the atmosphere, contributing to increased pollution. From a taste perspective, on the other hand, many people prefer the smokier, richer taste of food cooked on a charcoal grill.

2. Get It Hot!

Preheat your grill 15-25 minutes before you start cooking to make sure it reaches the right temperature (and to kill any bacteria). A properly heated grill sears foods on contact, keeps the insides moist and helps prevent sticking. While searing doesn’t “seal in” the juices (contrary to popular belief), it does create improved flavors through caramelization.

3. Brush It Off

It’s easier to remove debris when the grill is hot, so after preheating, use a long-handled wire grill brush on your grill rack to clean off charred debris from prior meals. Scrape again immediately after use.

4. Additive-Free

If you do choose charcoal grilling, we recommend additive-free lump charcoal, which is just charred wood. As for lighter fluid, we recommend avoiding it altogether. Lighter fluid can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, leave an unpleasant residue on food and pose a serious danger if used improperly.

5. Oil It Up

Even on a clean grill, lean foods may stick when placed directly on the rack. Reduce sticking by oiling your hot grill rack with a vegetable oil-soaked paper towel: hold it with tongs and rub it over the rack. (Do not use cooking spray on a hot grill!!)

6. Marinate Your Meat

Marinating does more than infuse food with flavor; it also inhibits the creation of carcinogenic HCAs (heterocyclic amines), which form when grilling meats like poultry, red meat and fish.

7. A Chimney Starter

A chimney starter makes starting a charcoal fire a breeze. Just place crumpled paper in the bottom of the chimney, fill it with charcoal and light the paper. In 20 minutes or less the coals will be ready to spread evenly in the bottom of the grill—no kindling, no lighter fluid, no perfect pyramid required.

8. Is It Done?

The best way to know if protein is fully cooked is to check its internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer. This item is found in any grocery store or even Wal-Mart.

9. Flipping Meat

Avoid piercing your meat with a fork or prongs. The juices will escape, making the meat drier and less flavorful. Use a spatula or tongs to move and flip your food.

Tiny BBQ tips for cookouts

Kebabs on the grill

  1. Have a spray bottle full of water nearby your grill in cause of flare-ups.
  2. Don’t leave the meat out in room temperature for longer than one hour. This will make bacteria grow at an exponential rate, plus it will make the meat less fresh. If you need to thaw out your meat, do so overnight, or all day in the refrigerator.
  3. If you’re a charcoal fan, first line the inside bottom of your cooker with a couple of sheets of aluminum foil before you put your briquettes in. This will give you a quicker and easier clean-up of the gray coals and ash once you’re done barbecuing.
  4. If using a smoker, minimize the amount of times you open it. I know you’re anxious to see how the meat is doing, but opening it frequently will keep the smoker below the necessary heat levels.
  5.  The leaner steak cuts possess more flavors but will be a little tougher if cooked past medium.
  6.  Cooking chicken? If you intend to eat the skin, rub the outside with a little butter or oil and then lightly season it. It’ll give the chicken a nice, crispy, savory skin. Not eating the skin? Don’t season the outside, as it can’t penetrate the skin.
  7. Get a Dutch oven or a large pot (depending on the amount of stuff you grill) with a lid when transporting your cooked meats inside. It will help keep your barbecue moist, juicy, and warm until it’s time to chow down.
  8. Quick and easy way to grill large vegetables such as potatoes and ears of corn: coat heavily in butter, sprinkle on some seasoned salt, wrap securely in aluminum foil, and throw it on the grill.
  9.  To reduce the amount of browning or blackening of meat, only apply barbecue or other tomato-based sauces containing sugars during the last 10 or so minutes of grilling using a brush (if possible).
  10.  Lots of people like steaks rare, but don’t do the same for your hamburger. Make sure the center is brown not pink at all! There is more bacteria that exists in ground beef meaning you have to cook it for longer in order to rid the meat of the bacteria.
  11.  Don’t add any salt until the meat is cooked to prevent it from getting dry and tough, as the salt will draw away moisture.
  12. Remember, it takes a bit of an adventurous spirit and a whole bunch of trial and error before you get really good at barbecuing. Experiment with different kinds and cuts of meat, vegetables, flavorings and seasonings, types of grills and smokers, and cooking methods. You just might just have a hidden talent that has yet to surface. Happy grilling!