Grilling 101: A Beginners Guide to Grilling

With the start of Daylight Savings Time comes more daylight, higher temperatures and the official start of Spring on March 20. We’re gearing up for Spring Break, picnics and parties with this essential guide to grilling for beginners.

Grilling 101- A Beginners Guide to Grilling

Vegetable kebab

Grilling is a great way to produce healthy dishes that are high in flavor, while also producing a heckuva lot less dishes than cooking in your kitchen- but how do you get started? Here’s a primer on grilling for newbies, even grilling pros may learn a thing or two with these tips.

Gas Versus Charcoal – How to Start the Grill

Gas is by far the most convenient grill to own, while charcoal produces a nice smoky flavor that you can’t get with gas. This is an age-old debate that won’t be solved here, but here is how to get started on either one.

Gas Grills– Gas grills are run on propane so first things first, you need to make sure you have enough propane in the tank. Many grills will have an indicator to let you know how much gas you have left in the tank. If you are empty you can always go to a tank exchange at your local Home Improvement store.

GAS:

how to start a gas grill with annotations

1) Turn the gas on at the tank level- you will need to turn the lever the opposite direction it was closed in.

2) Your grill will have an “ignition setting”- on one of the dials -this will look like a flame. Turn your dial to the flame position. Next, hit the actual ignition. This is going to push gas into the burners to get you started.

Charcoal:

Grilling pros who cook on a charcoal grill know that using lighter fluid to start a fires is a major no-no. Even though the lighter fluid “burns off”, their fumes can add a chemical taste to your food.

The easiest I’ve tried to start a charcoal grill is by using paraffin wax cubes. Build your charcoal into a mound and place 1-2 paraffin cubes in the mound. Light the cubes and they will eventually light your charcoal after about 10-15 minutes. For ease of use, paraffin lighter cubes can’t be beat!

Many grilling pros start their fires with a chimney starter– essentially a small chimney you stuff with newspaper on the bottom and charcoal briquettes on the top. Light the newspaper and it will eventually ignite the charcoal. After the charcoal begins to turn grey on top and has begun to ash over, it is ready to dump in the grill after about 15-20 minutes (use heat proof gloves/oven mitts when handling a chimney starter).

Creating Direct/Indirect Zones on Your Grill

cast iron grill grates

By learning how to create direct and indirect heat zones on your grill, you give yourself a lot of options on the grill above and beyond just doing burgers and hotdogs. The easy way to think about this is that cooking on direct heat (ie, over the flame) is like using the broiler in your oven. Cooking on indirect is like baking in an oven. When grilling, when food is cooking too quickly on direct heat, you can easily put it on indirect heat so it will continue to cook without getting burned. The best cooked steaks will first be seared at a high temp on direct heat, and then put on indirect heat to continue to cook (roast) to get to its desired doneness.

Direct: Direct heat is when you grill directly over the heat source (burner or charcoal fire).

Indirect: This is when you cook on the side of the grill with unlit burners OR on the empty/cool side of a charcoal grill.

How to create direct/indirect zones:

On a gas grill, create direct and indirect cooking zones by setting half the grill burners on medium to medium-high heat, and the other burners on the other half to off or on low.

On a charcoal grill, place your charcoal in a pile and move it to one side, with the charcoal taking up half of the grilling area. This creates a FIRE and NO FIRE zone on your grill.

Use A Meat Thermometer and Eliminate the Risk of Scaring Your Friends

Let’s face it, we’ve all over or undercooked something at one point in our lives. No one wants to bite into under cooked chicken, and they don’t want to feel like they are eating leather either. And if it is dark outside, chances are you cannot tell how done the meat is. Use an internal read meat thermometer and eliminate the guesswork out of grilling meats. These are the minimal internal temperatures for meat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Keep in mind that when you take your meat off the grill, it continues to cook, so it is OK to pull it off when it’s a few degrees under the listed temperature.

  • Poultry: 165°F
  • Beef: The USDA lists the minimal internal temp for beef at 145°F. However, if you like your steaks cooked medium, go for 140°F; medium rare, go for 135°F.
  • Pork: 145°F
  • Fish: 145°F

Safety First

Always keep your household fire extinguisher nearby in case your fire gets out of hand. Better safe than sorry. Also keep in mind that foods that are high in fat, like bacon, will drip into the fire and cause flare-ups. It is a good idea to move foods that cause flare-ups onto the indirect heat zone.

Finally, Have Fun and Get Creative!

You can make almost anything on your grill. A grill is like an outdoor oven and is a great way to add great flavor to veggies for salsas and sides, fruit for dessert, even brunch items like French toast. I’ve even made grilled cocktails by grilling the fruit to add smokiness and complex flavor. Have fun with it!

Do you have grilling questions for Robyn? Or is there a specific food you’d like to know how to grill? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us @TheBodyBook.


Robyn Lindars is the fire-crazed foodie behind grillgrrrl.com. She encourages women to grill as it’s a great way to eat healthy, flavorful way to cook without creating a heap of dishes.

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