Whether you're a cookout rookie or a BBQ guru, these simple but sophisticated hacks will take your skills to the next level.
Matt Giles 1 / 17
Are you a barbecue virtuoso who lives to man the flames? Or a grilling greenhorn who gets weak-kneed at the mere thought of holding the tongs?
Either way, we've got all the ace techniques and easy tricks you need to take your grill work to the next level. For example, the best way to transform a less-pricey slab of meat so it tastes like a prime cut? Age it. Finish a steak perfectly without overcooking it? Reverse-sear it. Keep a burger delectably juicy? Flip it, flip it, flip it!
Yes, with these 16 top tips, a few hours' practice, you too can enter the pantheon of grilling gods (or, at least not fall flaming from the heavens).
Dry-aging a steak gives it such an incredible boost of flavor that restaurants typically sell aged steaks for twice or even three times the price of non-aged. So aging your own is a sure way to show off your chops.
It may seem extreme, but do you want to hit the grilling heights or not?
It’s fairly simple. The goal is to dry out the meat’s exterior—so bacteria forms and imparts flavor—but avoid rot-causing moisture, says The Food Lab author J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, of Serious Eats.
Start with a bone-in prime rib (with the fat cap intact), which will make about six rib-eye steaks. While it’s a bit pricey (about $46/pound at omahasteaks.com), it has enough fat to protect the interior from bacteria—cheaper cuts don’t.
All you need is a mini fridge (“The meat will pick up too many aromas in a regular fridge,” says Lopez-Alt), a cooking rack, a small fan, and some time.
1. Plug in the fridge and the fan. Set the fan inside (cut a tiny hole in the door’s seal for the cord, if necessary) to circulate air and speed up the drying of the fat. 2. Place the meat on a wire shelf or cooking rack (not a plate or solid shelf ). Close the door. 3. Wait three weeks—or, for a more umami (savory) flavor, four. 4. Remove the meat and trim areas that have the texture of beef jerky (typically the fat cap) until the meat is purplish-red.
To give steaks maximum flavor, learn the art of reverse-searing to minimize the risk of overcooking, says Lopez-Alt.
First, blanket the steaks with kosher salt and pepper (1⁄2 teaspoon of each on both sides), which will help the meat stay moist as it cools. Let it rest for about an hour.
Next, fill and light a chimney starter; once the coals turn gray (about 20 minutes), spread them under half the grill and place the steaks on the grill’s other (cool) side. Cover and cook them, flipping occasionally, for about 20 minutes, till the meat’s internal temp is within at least 10° of the final desired temperature. For medium-rare, that would be 115°; for medium, 120°.
Add fresh coals to the hot side of the grill, and when it begins to scream with heat, transfer the steaks and sear. Rest the meat for at least 10 minutes.
You don’t need to drop thousands of bucks on equipment to become an award-winning smoker—take it from Billy Durney, who had only his backyard grill to train on before opening his Hometown Bar-B-Que in Brooklyn in 2013. His simple tricks:
Start with cherry- and apple-wood chips. “Together, they’re the PB&J of smoking,” he says.
To set up the smoker, arrange a 50/50 mix of wood chips and coals under half of a grill’s rack (similar to the reverse sear, image shown) and place the ribs on the cooler side; cover and cook for three hours, or till the smoker’s internal temp is 250°. “If the temperature isn’t consistent,” Durney says, “the water in the meat won’t combust, so the collagen and fat won’t break down”—meaning the ribs won’t fall apart in your mouth. Next, spray the ribs with apple juice, wrap in foil, and cook over indirect heat for one more hour.
A minute-long sear on a separate grill or chimney will add a satisfying char.
Asparagus, zucchini, and onions are the oldies but goodies of the grilling scene. But that’s the problem—they’re dated. So why not try something new?
There are very few veggies that Amanda Cohen, head chef at NYC’s vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy, hasn’t tried to grill at the eatery, from avocados (“not my favorite,” says Cohen) to baby artichokes (a seasonal treat) to lemons (a simple trick to boost lemonade’s flavor).
Her recommendation: Create a uniquely delicious salad by grilling up some dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach, collards, or Swiss chard (the blend of smoke and crispness unlocks different flavor profiles, she says) and pair them with fresh fruits and a cheese like feta.
And the grilling is a snap to do: Toss them with olive oil and salt, place over the flames, then briefly spritz the greens with water (to speed up the cooking time).
“Once you see the first wilt, flip them and cook them till they have a bit of char,” Cohen says. It takes just a minute or so: “They’ll continue to cook once you take them off the grill,” she explains, so don’t overdo it.
If you shy away from greens, cut sweet potatoes into wedges, parboil for a couple of minutes, add a bit of salt and olive oil, and grill for a savory treat.
A blow-dryer can be a griller’s best friend, especially if you don’t have a chimney. Duct-tape a foot or so of zinc piping (available at hardware stores) to the dryer’s mouth. Use it to blow the coals (wear a grilling mitt!), so they burn hotter.
It’s not just a clever marketing campaign to sell more suds.
According to a 2014 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, marinating raw meat in dark beer, like a stout, for at least four hours before grilling reduces by more than 50 percent the presence of carcinogens that form when meat is cooked over an open flame.
Daniel Burns of Brooklyn’s Luksus restaurant recommends making a marinade using Evil Twin’s Even More Jesus, an imperial stout that finishes with notes of caramel and licorice.
In a pan, combine the beer, apple-cider vinegar, soy sauce, honey, and spices (like chili). Set the steaks, burgers, or pork chops in it and marinate in a sealed bag in the fridge for a day.
“The touch test is for people who want to feel macho,” says Lopez-Alt. Both he and Durney recommend using a digital meat thermometer, like the Maverick Bluetooth Barbecue, which has two probes to measure the temperature of the meat and the grill. And it’s Bluetooth-enabled, so you’ll get an alert if the fire isn’t hot enough.
The result of prolonged contact with the grill, cross-hatching is thought by many to be the sign of a grill master, but the practice leads to uneven levels of doneness—and that makes for an unpleasurable meal for both you and your guests.