Get easy tips for great grilling, plus guidelines for food handling and more.
BBQ Chicken with grilled corn
Photo by Meredith

Great grilling requires more than just putting your food over fire. If you want juicy chicken that's cooked on the inside but not burnt to a crisp on the outside, if you want tender steaks and chops with gorgeous grill marks, if you want fish cooked just right, then you want these hot tips for getting the best results from your grill. Read on to get our top tips for great grilling.

Grilling with Direct Vs. Indirect Heat

The difference between direct and indirect heat comes down to temperature and time. Each method produces very different results.

With direct heat grilling, food is placed directly over a source of high heat and the grill lid is usually left off. Since food cooks in mere minutes, thin cuts of meat, fillets, kabobs, and vegetables are your best choices.

Indirect heat is used for larger pieces of meat: roasts, very thick steaks, and whole fish. In this method, the food is cooked just off the heat at about 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). The lid is closed, and the cooking times are somewhat longer. On a gas grill this generally means firing up the two outside burners, and cooking the meat over the middle, unlit burner. When using charcoals, the coals are pushed to the sides of the grill, leaving a place in the middle to cook.

Some grilled recipes call for a combination of high and low cooking temperatures. Grilled chicken, for example, can start over high heat to get grill marks or crusty skin, and then move to lower heat to finish cooking inside without charring outside.

Charcoal arranged for indirect grilling
Charcoal arranged for indirect grilling | Photo by Meredith

What's the Difference Between Grilling and Barbequing?

  • Grilled food is cooked over direct or indirect heat — or a combination of both — at higher temperatures for relatively short periods of time. Think fast and hot.
  • Barbequed food is cooked over indirect heat using very low temperatures over long periods of time. Think low and slow.

What about gas grilling versus charcoal grilling? It's the great debate in grilling. Here's where we look at the issues inflaming the debate.

Preheat the Grill

Preheating the grill before you get cooking is as important as preheating your oven before you start baking. If your grill comes with a built-in thermometer, you'll keep the lid closed while the grill heats up and start grilling when the thermometer tells you it's at the proper temperature. That said, the gold standard is still the caveman method: Hold your hand approximately 6 inches above the heat source, about where the food will be cooking, and count how many seconds you can keep your hand there. "One-barbeque, two-barbeque..."

  • High Heat: 3 seconds or 500 F (260 C)
  • Medium High Heat: 5 seconds or 400 F (205 C)
  • Medium Heat: 7 seconds or 350 F (175 C)
  • Medium Low Heat: 10 seconds or 325 F (165 C)
  • Low Heat: 12 seconds or 300 F (150 C)

See our collection of BBQ and Grilling Recipes.

Know How Long to Grill

Timing is everything when it comes to grilling — there might be only a minute or two between a moist and tender chop and dry, tough shoe leather. And know that two seemingly identical cuts of meat will often cook at different times — depending on exact thickness, texture, age, and temperature of the raw meat. To play it safe, start checking for doneness before the time suggested in the recipe. As they say, your results may vary.

To get the best and most consistent results, use an instant-read meat thermometer to check for doneness. Insert it into the thickest part of the meat, away from the bone, to measure the internal temperature. If you don't have a meat thermometer, you can revert to a more basic method. Slice the meat and observe the color of the juices. If the juices are red, the meat is rare. Pink indicates medium rare, and clear means well done.

Once you remove the meat to a platter, let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving to allow the meat the reabsorb the juices.

Tuscan style grilled steak
Bistecca alla Fiorentina | Photo by Meredith

Food Handling and Safety

Follow these guidelines when you're prepping and grilling:

  • Prepare all ingredients before you begin grilling. A hot grill cooks fast. Being prepped and ready makes grilling a lot less frantic.
  • Don't let raw meat and fish come into contact with other foods. Use separate cutting boards for raw and cooked meats, or thoroughly sanitize mixed-use cutting boards. Wash with hot soapy water, spray with a 5 percent solution of chlorine bleach, and air dry. Plastic cutting boards can be sanitized in the dishwasher.
  • Do not carve cooked meat on the board used to hold or cut raw meat. For more, check out our Top Tips for Safe Summer Grilling.
  • Cut the fatty edge of steaks and chops to prevent curling. Slice through the fat at 2- to 3-inch intervals, cutting just to the meat.
  • Most basting sauces can be brushed on any time during grilling. The exception is sugar-based sauces, which include many commercial barbeque sauces. These tend to burn if applied too early; so apply these only during the last few minutes of cooking.
  • Boil marinades that you will be using as basting sauce at the table for 3 minutes.
  • Use long-handled tongs or spatulas to turn the meat. This will help keep your meat moist and tender. Poking and stabbing the meat releases juices into the fire. For more info on essential tools, check out Barbeque Accessories That Will Up Your Grilling Game.

6 Easy Tips for Grilling

Here they are, six simple tricks for grilling perfection.

tips for grilling