According to the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association (HPBA), 55 percent of Americans surveyed fire up their grills on Labor Day. As the holiday is swiftly approaching, we’re all angling for our own barbecues to be the most spectacular bashes possible. That said, you can’t very well have the best barbecue ever without first mastering your grilling technique.
Here are 5 tips and tricks for grilling that, although simple to execute, are sure to put your Labor Day barbecue over the edge.
1. Slow and Steady Does the Trick
It’s hard to resist the urge to turn up the grill on high heat, but faster cooking isn’t always better — and that’s especially true on the grill. “Low and slow” is the mantra of the indirect cooker, writes The New York Times, and it’s a great method for slow cooking larger or denser chunks of meat. This is an ideal method for briskets, pork shoulders, ribs, whole chickens, or a pork butt, according to Barbecue U.
Recommended temperatures for indirect cooking can vary by meat type and by personal doneness preference, but 300 degrees Fahrenheit is a relatively low heat that will also cook entirely through most meats given enough time, says The New York Times. And yes, because you’re cooking less directly, this method will take longer. Be sure to start early enough to allow ample time, or you’ll have some impatient (and hungry) guests on your hands!
Even after your meat finishes cooking, the waiting aspect isn’t quite over, sadly. For best results, the Food Network advises that you give your cooked meat 5 to 10 minutes to re-settle before you begin eating. This will allow for the juices to properly redistribute throughout the cut. As you well know already, it’s worth the wait!
2. Remove Meat From Fridge 20 Minutes Before Cooking
This tip comes from Bobby Flay of the Food Network. He advises that grillers remove meats such as steak around 20 minutes ahead of grilling time. A cold steak will not cook as evenly as one that has a more even heat distribution before cooking. The Kitchn affirms this information, noting that the steak can even be removed up to an hour before cooking. If you’d like a comprehensive guide on cooking the perfect steak, the Kitchn’s resource will do wonders for your grilling routine.
3. Give Your Grill Plenty of Preheat Time
All the experts agree on this one. Eating Well suggests that grillers preheat their grill at least 15 to 25 minutes before cooking time. This period of heating will ensure that your grill reaches the correct temperature, while also killing any present bacteria. If you’re cooking at a low heat, preheat to 250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. For a medium cook, preheat to 300 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. For a high-heat cook, set the temperature to 400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Allowing your grill to heat up properly before placing your meats will allow the meats to be seared on contact with the grate. This approach keeps your meats tender and juicy, also preventing sticking and creating the best possible flavor through the method of caramelization. Bobby Flay of the Food Network says that before you start cooking, the grill should be hot enough so that you can’t hold your hand over the grates — and don’t hold your hand too closely!
4. Spring for Marbled Cuts of Meat
Marbled cuts of meat, particularly steaks, have white flecks and streaks of fat running through them, according to the Food Network. These streaks of fat keep the meat juicy and tender while also adding a richness of flavor. While a steak is a steak and any is delicious, a fattier cut just has more depth and moisture in it to make it a memorable cut.
It might not be quite as healthy for you as a leaner cut, but barbecues are a time to indulge. By that same token, nothing in life is free — be prepared to shell out a few extra bucks for a prime cut of meat.
5. Marinate (for Your Own Health!)
Okay, so maybe we all knew that marinating your meat will give it an extra punch in flavor and tenderness — so it already earns points for deliciousness. But did you also know that it has health benefits? According to Eating Well, marination “also inhibits the formation of potentially carcinogenic HCAs (heterocyclic amines), which form when grilling ‘muscle meats’ like poultry, red meat and fish.”
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), studies have shown that using a marinade can decrease HCA formation by up to 96 percent.