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10 Easy Tips to Make the Most of Summer Grilling

Grilled Food on the Grill

The following information was provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder. Learn more about Carla at Ravenouskitchen.com. 

The official kickoff to summer is just around the corner and with that comes cookouts and some of the tastiest meals of the year. From hot-off-the-grill classics like burgers, ribs and steaks, to the best local produce, Heinen’s is serving up ways to help you make the most of grilling season.

To get things started, check out the following 10 simple tips to boost your grilling mojo for backyard summer bliss.

1.Start With a Clean Grill.
If you’re in the Midwest, your grill has been on hiatus the last four months or so and probably needs a good cleaning. Turn the grill on high heat and hot, turn it off and give the hot grates a good scrub with a ball of aluminum foil. Grill brushes work as well but sometimes the wires become embedded in the grates and end up in your food, which is not a good thing.

Once you’re using the grill regularly it’s a good idea to give the grates a scrub in this way, as no one likes the salmon skin from last night’s meal in tonight’s burgers. Don’t forget to pick up an extra tank of propane to have on hand because you know how the tank has a way of running out of gas in the middle of a party.

2. Always Preheat the Grill
Just like ovens, grills need to be preheated to cook food properly. Charcoal grills tend to produce better overall flavor once the coals are covered with a thin coat of gray ash. Hold your hand about 6-inches above the grate. The heat should force you to move your hand away after about 3 seconds. When using a gas grill, preheat on high with the lid down. The grill should be ready to use in about 10 or 15 minutes.

3. Use the Right Tools
There are a few grilling “must-haves” that will greatly improve your grilling experience. At the top of the list are:

  • A set of spring-loaded, 16-inch tongs that lock closed when not in use. They’re great for flipping and turning burgers, steaks or vegetables.
  • Grill pans for cooking small foods, cut vegetables or fish that typically fall through grates.
  • A large offset spatula with a beveled edge for sliding under food efficiently.
  • A digital instant-read food thermometer to test when thicker cuts of meat or chicken are done.
  • Flat stainless-steel skewers for shish kebabs that don’t catch on fire like the wooden ones. The flat surface will also keep food from spinning when you turn them.
  • A chimney starter for charcoal grills, which will get your charcoal going without lighter fluid, resulting in better flavor.
Grilling Tongs and Steak

4. Avoid Putting Cold Food Directly on the Grill
Allow meat to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to cooking. That way, the food will cook more evenly and quickly, and it will also retain more juices. The only food that should go on the grill straight from the fridge is fish since the quality degrades as it warms.

5. Establish Different Grilling Zones
Adjust the heat so that one side of the grill is hotter than the other. As the meat and vegetables start to cook on the hot side, you can move them to a cooler area, allowing the center to reach doneness while keeping the outside from over cooking. This technique is also a great way to deal with flare ups. Just move the food to the cool site and allow the flames to die down.

6. Don’t Flip Food More than Once
Yes, this is hard to do, but in general, the fewer times you flip the better. Foods will cook more evenly if left alone, they’ll have nicer grill marks and will stick less if left to sear.

Burgers Flipping on the Grill

7. Season Efficiently
Salt and pepper are all most grillers need to make food delicious, but there are many ways to infuse extra flavor including:

  • Dry rubs come in various flavors and are an easy way to add a punch of flavor to ribs, steaks, chicken or pork. Shop the seasoning aisle at Heinen’s and pick up a few to try. For the best results, add the rub the night before so it has a chance to penetrate the meat.
  • Marinades usually include an acid, like vinegar or citrus, along with an oil or fat to keep the meat moist. Marinades require a few hours on the meat to tenderize, but if you forgot to marinate earlier, dip the meat in the marinade and add it to the fire for a few minutes, then dip it repeatedly while cooking until done. It won’t tenderize the meat, but it will impart some flavor. Discard any contaminated marinade remaining from the dipped meat.
  • Barbeque sauces are best added towards the end of cooking. They have a high sugar content and will burn if added to the meat too early. Brush onto both sides of the meat once almost cooked and serve a little extra on the side.
  • If you’d like to infuse some smoky flavor into meat and veggies, make a smoke bomb. Purchase a bag of wood chips of choice (hickory, cherry, apple, etc.) and seal about one cup of the chips in a foil package. Pierce the foil once with the tip of a knife so the smoke can escape and place it on the grill grate while the grill preheats. Once preheated, smoke should begin to escape from the package, which means you are now ready to place burgers, steaks, fish or veg on the grill to cook and smoke with the lid down.
BBQ Sauce Being Brushed on Ribs

8. Undercook Foods Slightly and Allow them to Rest
There is a phenomenon called “carryover cooking” where food continues to cook after being removed from the cooking surface. An analogy is to imagine a large dump truck that tries to stop quickly at a stop sign but it takes a moment for it to come to a full stop. Food is like that truck, and it continues to cook for a bit while resting off heat.

You can expect the temperature of food to go up about five degrees after leaving the grill, so plan accordingly. Giving food a rest after cooking also allows the juices to distribute evenly throughout the meat, so allow a rest of at least 5 minutes for burgers, steaks, pork loins and chicken.

9. Don’t Fatten Burgers and Steaks.
That burst of flame you get is exciting, but the fat and juices really should remain in the meat, not the grill.

10. Make Burgers Evenly Sized
That way they all cook at the same rate, making the job easier for the grill master. All you need is two deli container tops. Place a ¼ lb. ball of ground meat (just break a 1 lb. package into quarters) on the top of a lid. Press the other lid, top-side-down and compress the meat into a patty. It’s genius.

To keep the meat from puffing up in the middle when cooked, make an indentation with your thumb in the middle of each patty. The indentation helps the patty hold its shape, rather than swelling in the center, as it shrinks during the cooking process.

Burger Patties of the Same Size

If you are shying away from grilling or just want a refresher course on the basics, these tips should give you the confidence to unlock your inner grill Meister. Summer and all those delicious grilled meals are almost here. Let’s dive in!

Carla Snyder in her kitchen
By Carla Snyder
Carla has spent the past 30 years in the food world as a caterer, artisan baker, cooking school teacher, food writer and author of 6 cook books including the James Beard nominated Big Book of Appetizers. Her passion is sharing fresh, cooked-from-scratch weeknight meals that cut prep time and practically eliminate that nightly sink full of dishes.

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