5 Tips for Starting Grilling Season Off Right

Entertain this summer like a pro with these great start tips

Throw outdoor grilling parties like a pro with these 5 quick tips!

It’s been a long and harsh winter across the nation with snow and ice storms forcing even the most die hard barbecue and grilling fans to keep their cooking relegated to the kitchen. But with the start of spring comes warmer temperatures and longer days, the perfect combination for those looking to fire up their backyard smokers and grills for the season’s first backyard cookout.

Click here for the 5 Tips for Starting Grilling Season Off Right (Slideshow)

Whether your grill has been braving the elements on the back porch or has been stowed away in the garage during the offseason, the months of inactivity have likely left it looking nothing like the star of so many barbecues last season.

Grill grates that had at one point been pristine have now collected a not-so-appetizing layer of rust, while grease from countless cookouts has sat idle during the downtime, just waiting to cause flare-ups during that first cookout. Meanwhile, the once shiny exterior of your trusty kettle grill has been rendered dull and dirty during the off-season and those unused bags of charcoal that were put away for warmer days have emerged damp from improper storage.

All hope is not lost, however, as we have several tips to get that grill looking like new again and to ensure that the next several months are filled with countless smoke- and flame-filled memories. Before the first hot dogs, rack of ribs, or T-bone steaks get some live-fire loving, check out our step-by-step guide to help you “spring” back in to barbecue and grilling season,

Courtesy of Clint Cantwell, live-fire cooking expert and editor of Grilling.com.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Summer means grilling , and grilling means brushing up on your outdoor cooking skills. Here's what you need to know to make the most of this grilling season.

The tips below will get you started, but there are a lot of grill designs out there. Consult your grill's manual for specifics about heating, cleaning and maintenance for your model.

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How to Grill Burgers and Hot Dogs


Heat: Direct (uncovered), medium-high
Time: 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium
Test Kitchen Tip: After forming patties, use your thumb to make a shallow 1½ -inch-wide indent in the top of each patty. This will help the patties stay flat, so you'll end up with burgers, not baseballs. Be sure to grill them indent-side-up first.

Hot Dogs

Heat: Direct (uncovered), medium-high
Time: 6 to 8 minutes, turning occasionally
Test Kitchen Tip: To prevent dogs from falling through the grill grates, line them up perpendicular to the grates. Then, use a long spatula to roll them all rather than turning each one individually.

Turkey Burgers

Heat: Direct (uncovered), medium-high
Time: 4 to 7 minutes per side
Test Kitchen Tip: Avoid the urge to press down on the patties while they cook, or you will squeeze out some of the tasty juices and make the burger dry.

Using only high heat can grill most steaks perfectly. If you see flare ups is the only time you would really need to move them around on the grill. Some cuts of steak are so thick that they would burn on the outside if grilled over direct heat alone and wouldn't reach the desired internal doneness. This is why you should consider the sear and slide approach for steaks thicker than an inch. After you've seared both sides nicely over direct high heat, slide the steaks to a part of the grill that is not so hot, ideally over indirect heat, and complete the grilling process there.

Steaks grilled over high heat will lose moisture. This means that the fat and juices are literally pushed out of the meat. Over time, as we've made steaks easier to digest, this is an unfortunate reality. Perhaps the most important part of maintaining this moisture when grilling a steak is to take it off the heat before it becomes too dry.

You usually only have a minute or two to execute this. When steaks go from medium rare to medium, or from medium to medium well can happen quickly. You must be vigilant to catch that window. Never walk away from a steak on the grill. Be cautious as it’s always better to take a steak off when it’s underdone than to let it over cook, because you can always return it to the grill.

9 Best Indoor Grilling Tips

Just because you live in an apartment, doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the great taste outdoor grill. Follow our tips and you can bring the backyard cookout indoors, whatever the weather:

1. Get a Good Grill Pan

Go for a heavy cast iron pan. Cast iron retains heat really well and gives your food the grill marks you want.

2. Be Prepared

Make sure to pre-season your grill in advance of your first indoor grill. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, apply a generous layer of canola or vegetable oil to the pan with a paper towel and place the pan in the oven for half an hour. Then turn off the heat and leave the pan in the oven until it is completely cold.

When using the grill, oil the food, NOT the pan. Heat the pan over a high heat until it starts smoking, then grill the pre-oiled food according to the recipe

3. Crosshatch with Ease

Want those restaurant-grade grill marks? It’s easy! Grill the food at a 45-degree angle to the ridges for roughly 4 minutes, then rotate each piece 90 degrees, and grill so the ridges now run at a 45-degree angle in the opposite direction. Cook for a further 2 to 3 minutes. Cook the other side of the food as normal, as it won’t be visible on the plate.

4. Smokin’…

To reduce smoke levels, go easy on the oil and sauce and don’t press the food down to squeeze out the juices. This just makes the food dry out and more likely to burn.

5. Leave It Alone

Be patient: Flipping the food too early can cause it to cook unevenly or even disintegrate.

6. Fake It

It’s hard to get that smoky flavor from an indoor grill pan, but you can purchase or make smoky-flavored sauces, glazes, and spice rubs to give food added interest.

7. Make the Right Choice

The best foods for grilling indoors are steaks, boneless chicken breasts, burgers, hot dogs, fish fillets, and shrimp. Fatty meats such as duck can lead to messy splashes and lots of smoke. Also avoid large cuts of meats like whole poultry or pork shoulders.

8. Healthy Temperature

A cheap, instant-read thermometer is the best tool for accurately judging whether meat is cooked. The USDA recommends temperatures of 150 degrees for medium-rare steaks and lamb chops up to 170 degrees for medium-well chicken and turkey breasts.

9. Rest

Not for you, but for your meat! Remove meat from the grill pan when it is about 5 degrees below the target internal temperature, then loosely cover with foil and leave for up to 15 minutes before slicing. The temperature will rise about 5 degrees in that time, allowing the juices to redistribute and produce a juicy and delicious piece of meat.

Top 5 Tips for Grilling Veggies & Fruits

When you think of grilling, chicken and beef might be the first things that come to mind. But veggies (and even some fruits) can make a healthy and delicious addition to your grilling menu. Whether as a side dish or the main meal, they add great variety and wonderful flavor. Here are some of our favorite tips and tricks for grilling vegetables and fruit:

Size and shape matter - When slicing veggies for the grill, remember to make thick cuts anything too thin can slip through the grates of your grill. Thin vegetables, like asparagus, will need to be placed perpendicular to the grates. Consider picking up a grill pan to easily prevent against losing any vegetables.

Marinate your veggies and fruit – Increase the flavor of your recipes by using marinades and spice blends on your vegetables and fruits before grilling. Garam masala or Chimichuri can add an unexpected flavor to your favorite veggies, while spice blends on fruit will create a unique dessert.

Grill similar things together - Have you ever skewered a kabob of different vegetables? Some of the vegetables burn before the others are done. Instead, try putting all the onions together on one skewer, all the peppers together, and so on. This will allow you to perfectly cook each ingredient, then combine them all in a bowl to serve.

The heat is on - Depending on what you are making, sometimes it’s best to use direct heat on the grates to get those wonderful grill marks, then move the items off the direct heat to fully cook them without burning. This technique works well with harder ingredients like carrots and cauliflower.

Use unique ingredients - Try grilling romaine hearts to create a new version of a classic Caesar salad, or grill fresh in-season fruits (think peaches) to caramelize the sugars and create a wonderful and simple dessert to finish off your meal.

Tips for Grilling Chicken:

  • Trim off the fat from the chicken breast
  • Since all chicken breasts have an uneven thickness, pounding the meat out with a meat mallet will create a more uniform thickness and ensure that the breasts cook evenly. Begin by placing one or two breast in a ziplock bag. Seal the bag shut and begin pounding the chicken to about ½ inch thick. Continue until all breasts have the same thickness.
  • Marinate chicken for 30 minutes in dale’s Seasoning or dale’s Reduced Sodium Blend.
  • Brush the grill with oil before grilling to prevent the chicken from sticking.
  • Once the grill is ready, place the marinated chicken on the grill and only turn when the chicken breast is mostly opaque.
  • Use an instant read meat thermometer to make sure the chicken is cooked to the correct temperature.
  • Chicken is done when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees and juices run clear.
  • Find some of our favorite dale’s chicken recipes here.

Table of Contents

Inspect the Grill from Top to Bottom

The first thing to do is safely move your grill from its storage location to a solid surface, like the driveway, so you can give it a good wash. Check the inside for bugs or critters that have turned it into their winter home. You’ll have to evict them.

You’ll also want to inspect the grates and ensure they aren’t rusting, flaking, or chipping away. The rust and chipped coating will affect your food taste and can potentially cause health problems or injury if swallowed.

Clean the Inside


Now that you’ve inspected your grill, it’s time to give the inside a good cleaning and start the season fresh. You can follow these steps to clean both a gas or charcoal grill.

You’ll want to also clean the flame tamers, which are those little tents that cover the burner tubes below the grates. Use a grill brush to scrape away any thick residue, then wash each flame tamer with soapy water.

Using the grill brush, clean the burner tubes in an up-and-down motion (not side to side) to avoid clogging the little holes. Clean the inside of the grill using a putty knife to remove any thick gunk that’s accumulated.

Also, remove the bottom tray, and throw away any scraped debris into the trash. Then, clean the tray with warm soapy water and a sponge. Do the same with the grease pan.

Give the Outside a Solid Wash

The outside of a grill is typically constructed from a combination of stainless, painted, and enameled steel. If you’re cleaning a stainless-steel grill, be sure to use a nonabrasive stainless-steel cleaner, along with a microfiber cloth.

If you’re cleaning a painted or enameled grill, just use warm soapy water and a microfiber cloth. Allow your grill to dry in the sun.

Check the Fuel Source?


If you have a gas grill, you’ll want to check the fuel lines to ensure they’re working properly and aren’t leaking. Luckily, propane has a pretty distinct smell. Sometimes, the odor alone will tell you if something isn’t right.

Follow these steps to check the fuel line:

  • Grab a bowl of warm soapy water and a basting or pastry brush.
  • Make sure the propane tank is full, and turn on the valve.
  • Slowly brush the soapy water over the hose and its connections.
  • If there’s a leak, you’ll notice little bubbles forming.

Aside from checking your gas lines, you’ll want to make sure you have a full propane tank for the start of the season. There’s nothing worse than getting ready to grill your first meal only to find you don’t have any fuel.

If you have a charcoal grill, just make sure you have plenty of fresh charcoal briquets or lump charcoal, as well as fire starter cubes.

Upgrade Your Tools If Necessary

Now that your grill is starting to really shine, you’ll want to make sure you have all the tools you need for a successful season of grilling everything under the sun.

From loose bristles on your cleaning brush to old wonky thermometers, there are a lot of things you might need to replace. After all, you don’t want to discover mid-cookout that those old skewers are finally kaput.

Find the Perfect Recipes


Finally, your grill is in mint condition and sparkly clean. There’s no better way to ruin that gorgeous shine than with piles of burger meat and saucy baby back ribs.

If you want to keep those grates clean a bit longer, though, there are plenty of delicious foil-friendly recipes that can help with that.

And if you think that the grill is mainly meant for meat-eaters, we’ll have to prove you wrong with these delicious vegetarian recipes and pescetarian recipes.

There’s so much you can do on a grill. Sometimes, the best meals come from just experimenting with flavors you love, so try something new this year!

It can take a minute to get your grill ready for the season, so pick a warm, sunny day and get it shining again. The sooner you do, the sooner you can celebrate with the year’s first cookout!

Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »

Our 13 Best Grilling Tips for Summer

It's time to start planning your next summer cookout.

The temperatures are rising and the sun is setting a little later. That means one thing: It&aposs time to fire up your grill and cook outside.

If this is your first time grilling or you just need a grilling refresher, these expert tips will have you firing up the grill like a pro.

Gas vs. Charcoal

The age-old debate over which grilling method is "better" involves multiple variables, from flavor to cost to convenience. While no studies prove that either is healthier, gas does burn cleaner. Charcoal grills emit more carbon monoxide, particulate matter and soot into the atmosphere, contributing to increased pollution and higher concentrations of ground-level ozone. From a taste perspective, on the other hand, many people prefer the smokier, richer taste of food cooked on a charcoal grill.

Get It Hot!

Preheat your grill 15 to 25 minutes before you start cooking to make sure it reaches the right temperature (and to kill any bacteria). Your grill should be 400-450ଏ for high, 350-400ଏ for medium-high, 300-350ଏ for medium and 250-300ଏ for low heat. A properly heated grill sears foods on contact, keeps the insides moist and helps prevent sticking. While searing doesn&apost "seal in" the juices (contrary to popular belief ), it does create improved flavors through caramelization.


If you do choose charcoal grilling, we recommend additive-free lump charcoal, which is just charred wood. Conventional briquettes may contain wood scraps and sawdust as well as coal dust, sodium nitrate, borax and additives like paraffin or lighter fluid. 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.

Brush It Off

It&aposs 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.

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.)

Safety First

Food safety is a top priority, so keep these simple rules from the USDA in mind: avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards, utensils and platters for raw and cooked foods refrigerate foods while marinating and never baste with the marinating liquid. (Make extra marinade just for basting or boil your marinating liquid first.)

Marinate Your Meat

Marinating does more than infuse food with flavor it 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), marinating can reduce HCA formation by as much as 92 to 99 percent.

A Chimney Starter

A chimney starter (weber.com, $14.99) 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 about 20 minutes the coals will be ready to spread evenly in the bottom of the grill-no kindling, no lighter fluid, no perfect pyramid required.

Is It Done?

The best way to know if protein is fully cooked is to check its internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer.

Use A Grill Basket

Use a grill basket (bedbathandbeyond.com, $9.99-24.99) for foods that might fall through the grill rack or are too cumbersome to turn over one by one (vegetables, fish, tofu, fruits, etc.).

The Hand Test

To gauge the temperature of a grill without a thermometer, place your open palm about 5 inches above the grill rack the fire is high if you have to move your hand in 2 seconds, medium if you have to move your hand in 5 seconds and low if you have to move your hand in 10 seconds.

Tame The Flames

Flare-ups happen when fat drips onto the heat source and catches fire. This causes carcinogenic PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) to form and accumulate on your food. Meat licked by flames also tastes "off" and flames may char the outside of food before the inside has thoroughly cooked. To reduce flare-ups, select lean cuts of meat, trim excess fat and remove poultry skin. And, keep a squirt bottle of water near the grill to quickly douse any unexpected flare-ups.

Give It A Rest

Let finished meats rest on a clean platter, tented with foil, for about 10 minutes before carving so juices can redistribute evenly.

Don&rsquot forget to let the steak rest.

𠇌ooking the steak to tenꃞgrees below your desired temp and then resting it allows for the collagen in the meat to thicken the juices as it cools slightly,” says Prentiss. “This creates a way juicier steak than just cooking straight to temp.

Sharp agrees. “Let it rest. This is crucial,” he says. “Just because the steak is out of the pan doesn’t mean it stopped cooking. Keep it in a warm place—you don&apost want a cold steak𠅊nd rest it for about as long as you cooked it.”

Chef Carlos recommends allowing the steak to rest for half the cooking time before serving—so if your steak takes 10 minutes to cook, you𠆝 let it rest for five.

If you’re not able to keep the steak warm while it rests, or you want to eat it quite hot, Prentiss recommends returning the steak to the grill after it’s rested and bringing it up to the internal temperature of your preference before eating.