How to Grill

Let's Get Started!

Simple Marinated Steak. Linda Larsen

Summer is grilling season! If you haven't grilled before, these tips and hints will help you grill safely with the best, juiciest, most savory results.

Let's Get Started!

Whether you use a charcoal grill you can buy at, propane grill you can buy at, or a natural gas grill you can buy at, there are steps to take before you start cooking.

  • The grill should be on a heatproof surface well away from buildings, brush and overhanging trees. Never grill inside your home, even in an open garage.
  • Inspect your grill before you start, making sure the racks are clean, the cover fits snugly, and there are no cracks or holes in the grill pan.
  • Start with a clean grill, especially if it's the first time you are grilling this season. Ash left over from cooking creates lye when mixed with water, which can rust the grill pan. You do need an ash layer for the best heat retention, but old ash isn't doing your grill any good.
  • Follow manufacturer's instructions for lighting gas or charcoal grills.
  • A charcoal fire takes 30-45 minutes to reach the proper cooking heat after you light it. You can tell when the coals are at proper cooking temperature because gray ash will form evenly over the briquettes.


Charcoal Grill

Charcoal grilling presents quite a challenge to the grillmaster. (That's you!) But learning about the type of charcoal to purchase, how many briquettes to light, the arrangement and cooking times is fun!

Here are some tips.

  • The number of briquettes you use depends on the size of your gill, the amount of food you will be cooking, weather conditions and cooking time.
  • As a general rule, plan on using about 30 briquettes to cook 1 pound of meat. A five-pound bag contains 75 to 90 briquettes. Make sure you have enough briquettes to cover the grill pan in a single layer, extending about 2-3" beyond the area of the food on the grill. First place the briquettes in the grill pan to check for quantity, then stack them for lighting or remove to place in a chimney starter.
  • When the weather is cold or windy, you will need more briquettes to reach an ideal cooking temperature. More about that later. To light charcoal with the pyramid method, stack the charcoal into a rough pyramid shape. Soak the charcoal with at least 1/2 cup of lighter fluid (never use gasoline!!!). Wait a few minutes to let the chemicals soak into the briquettes, then light the charcoal with a long handled match or fire starter. As the coals begin to burn and ash forms, arrange them with long handled tons into a single layer. Don't squirt lighter fluid onto hot coals, since the fluid could catch on fire and burn back up to your hand.
  • I really like using a chimney starter from It looks like a coffee can with a handle, divided into two compartments by a metal disc. It lets you get a really good fire going with no chemicals.
    1. Place crumpled newspapers in the bottom portion of the starter
    2. Remove the rack from the grill and place the chimney starter in the bottom.
    3. Fill the top half of the starter with charcoal.
    4. Then light the newsletter through holes in the bottom of the starter. The fire will draw up through the starter, lighting the charcoal.
    5. Leave the chimney starter where it is, and in about 20-30 minutes the coals will be ready.
    6. With a heavy, long-sleeved oven mitt, carefully empty the coals into the grill pan.
    7. Arrange the coals into an even layer with long tongs.
  • Electric starters you can buy at are fun and easy to use. They are plug-in heating elements that also start the fire with no chemicals. Place the electric starter in the grill pan and stack the charcoal briquettes over it in a pyramid shape. Plug in the starter, making sure you are using a heavy-duty extension cord. Ash will begin to form on the coals after 8-10 minutes. Then unplug the starter, pull it out with tongs and set aside on a heatproof surface. Then arrange the briquettes with tongs into an even layer.


Gas Grill

Gas grills use lava rocks, which come with the grill. The rocks are heated by the gas flame and cook like charcoal.

  • Keeping the rocks clean is about the only task you'll have with a gas grill. If there is a buildup of grease on the rocks you will have flare-ups during cooking which can burn the food. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning or replacing the lava rocks.
  • A good habit to develop is to turn the burner to high for five minutes after you're finished cooking to help burn off grease and other drippings.
  • Occasionally rearrange and turn the lava rocks so heating and cleaning is more even.
  • Replace the lava rocks when they don't look clean, and start to break apart. Do not stack lava racks. They should be only one layer deep on the grate.

One tool you should have is a hinged grill basket you can buy at, for cooking delicate cuts of fish, fruits, and vegetables.

On the next pages you'll find instructions for maintaining temperature, about indirect and direct heat cooking, how to build a two-level fire, and some great recipes for your grilling adventures.

Grilling uses two different cooking methods: indirect and direct heat. In direct heat cooking, food is placed on the cooking rack directly over hot coals. Indirect heat is used for more delicate foods and for longer cooking times used for larger cuts of meat, as when you're barbecuing a turkey. The grill is always covered when cooking with indirect heat.

Learning the temperature of the coals is the only trick in direct grilling.

If you use a gas grill, pay attention to the heat settings. The ceramic coals should be ready when 3/4 of them are coated with ash. On a charcoal grill, if you are very careful, you can check the temperature by holding your hand, palm down, over the coals at the cooking height and count the number of seconds you can hold your hand there before you have to pull it away.

  • 5 seconds = Low
  • 4 seconds = Medium
  • 3 seconds = Medium-High
  • 2 seconds = High

Use the following descriptions to check cooking temperature by observing the coals:

  • Ash coating thickens, red glow less visible = Low
  • Coals covered with light gray ash = Medium
  • Red glow visible through the ash coating = High

For two-level grilling, or a hot side and a cooler side, arrange 3-4 layers of coals on one side of the grill; just 1 layer on the other. This method lets you control temperature as you cook. Sear foods on the hot side, then move to the cooler side to cook through.

For indirect cooking on a charcoal grill, place an equal number of briquettes on each side of the grill pan, leaving an empty space in the center. Light the briquettes. When you're ready to cook, place a drip pan between the coals and add water to the pan to a level of 1/2". Place the food over the drip pan and cover the grill.

You will need to add 5-6 briquettes to each side of the pan as needed to maintain even heat, about every 45 minutes.

For indirect cooking on a dual burner gas grill, set the drip pan on the lava rocks on one side of the grill and add water to 1/2". Preheat the other burner on high for 5-10 minutes. Turn the temperature down to medium, then put the food on the rack over the drip pan and cover.

For indirect cooking on a single burner gas grill, preheat the grill on high for 5-10 minutes. Turn the temperature down to low, and place a large foil baking pan on the rack. You can also line half of the cooking rack with a double thickness of heavy duty foil. Place food in the pan or on the foil, cover and cook.

Cooking The Food

  • Never leave the grill alone when you are cooking food. Flare ups can quickly become a fire, and it's very easy to overcook or burn food on the grill. Once you start, stay there and pay attention!
  • Adding wood chips and chunks can add marvelous flavor to your food. Soak mesquite, alder, hickory and pecan chips for one hour before scattering over the hot coals.
  • Wooden skewers should be soaked in water for an hour before use. They are best used for very quickly cooked foods, like veggies and fruits.
  • Metal skewers should be flat, with long handles. Round skewers cause the food to roll when turned, so foods won't cook evenly. Use metal skewers when cooking meat kabobs.
  • Follow the recipe cooking times carefully, and make sure to cover the grill if the recipe calls for it.
  • Sauces containing sugar and fat will cause flareups and the food may burn. Unless the recipe instructions are different, apply sauces and glazes during the last 10 minutes of cooking time.
  • Grilling times are affected by the weather, and how long the food is being cooked. Maintaining cooking temps is an art, but there are some rules to follow.
    • When you want to lower the cooking temperature, raise the cooking rack, spread the coals apart, or close the vents on the outside of the grill pan halfway.
    • To raise the temperature, lower the cooking rack, tap ash from the coals, move the coals more closely together, or open the vents. You can also gradually add more charcoal to the outer edges of the coals.
      • If the weather is cold, you will need more briquettes to reach an ideal cooking temperature. Grilling will take longer.
      • Wind will make the fire hotter.
      • On a humid day, the coals will burn slower.
      • The temperature and thickness of the food when it's placed on the grill will affect the cooking time. Cold and thicker foods will take longer to cook.
      • The closer the cooking rack is to the coals, the faster the food will cook.
      • Hardwood fires will burn hotter than charcoal briquettes.
  • The most reliable way to test when food is done is by using a thermometer. There are many types available on the market, from instant read thermometers to complicated thermometer forks.
  • Follow the recipe instructions for doneness tests. See Food Safety for more safety and doneness tests.
  • Move the food around on the grill for the most even cooking results; this is where building a two-level fire is handy. Don't turn food too often, and use tongs to handle the food instead of a fork. Piercing the food with a fork will release juices that you want in the food, and can cause flareups.

Now go to the next page to get recipes!

After you're done grilling, close the grill cover and turn the gas grill off or close the vents on your charcoal grill. Keep an eye on the grill and the coals as everything is cooling down. Move the grill or remove the used briquettes only when everything is completely cool. Charcoal briquettes should be placed in the garbage only when you can't feel any warmth at all in them. This will take at least 48 hours.

Make sure to keep an eye on kids and pets so they stay away from the grill until it is cool.

Keeping the grill clean is the best way to prolong the life of your grill and to make the next barbecue session easier. Unless you use your charcoal grill two or three times a week, clean out all the ashes from the grill pan, rinse the grill using a hose, then spray the inside with a mixture of 2 Tb. vinegar mixed with 1 gallon of water. Let it dry completely, turning the grill upside down to speed things up. Store in a dry place.

And have a safe, fun time grilling this summer!

Here are some of my favorite grilled recipes:

  • Five Ingredient Grilled Entrees
    This collection of super simple recipes will keep you going all summer.
  • Grilled Cheese Bread
    Cheese, butter, and spices melt into crusty bread in this fabulous recipe. It will make any meal a party!
  • Summer Steaks
    A simple yet spicy marinade really brings out the flavor of juicy, smoky grilled steaks in this easy recipe.
  • Basil Cheese Breadstick
    This treatment turns a large loaf of sourdough bread into a gorgeous flower of breadsticks. It looks like one of those huge fried onions you find at steak houses; but it tastes better.
  • Grilled Pineapple
    You can grill any fairly sturdy fruit using this coating and method. Peaches and mangoes would be fabulous.
  • Seafood Mixed Grill
    Fresh seafood is cooked with lemon juice and butter in a foil packet in this delectable, easy, and elegant recipe.
  • Pesto Stuffed Burgers
    You really must serve these fabulous burgers on toasted English muffins for the best effect.
  • Mexican Fish Packets
    I've received more emails telling me how much this recipe is loved. Try it soon!
  • Grilled New Potatoes
    Buy some disposable foil pans to use during the grilling season and make this easy and delicious recipe often.
  • Grilled Turkey Tenderloins
    Turkey tenderloins are moist and juicy, and so flavorful when grilled with a little honey.
  • Grilled Angel Food with Fruit Salsa
    This fabulous recipe is so easy and so good for you! Try it with a frozen (thawed) sliced pound cake too.
  • Grilled Steak with Herb Butter
    I think this is my favorite steak recipe of all time. Pistachios, basil, garlic, and butter; what's not to love?
  • Presentation Packets
    You don't need to wait for Father's Day to make these delicious dinners on the grill. Mix and match and have fun!
  • Hot and Cold Summer Salads
    All the hot summer salads grill meat or seafood and combine the succulent cuts with cool greens, fruits and vegetables. Yum.
  • Grilled Meat with Fruit
    This large collection of grilled meat with succulent fruit is so special. Bookmark this page and return to it often this summer.
  • Memorial Day Menus
    And in honor of Memorial Day, the unofficial start of the grilling season, these grilled menus will see you through the holiday in style.