Grilling Methods and Techniques

Whether you grill with charcoal or gas, the particular technique you use to grill may depend a little on which type you own. Each has its advantages!

Charcoal grills provide a more distinctive flavor and backyard aroma, and it's easy to combine woodchips or other natural ingredients with the coals for additional flavor. However, charcoal is messy and sometimes difficult to ignite, and once lit it takes a little while to reach the desired temperature. (Hint: To avoid lighter fluid, try using a starter cone or chimney starter.)

Gas grills ignite easily and maintain an even temperature from start to finish, but they are more expensive than charcoal grills, they do not provide a smoky flavor, and they are not suited for burning wood chips. 

Basic Methods for Outdoor Cooking

  Direct Heat Indirect Heat
Food placement Above flames or coals Adjacent to flames or coals
Temperature 500°F or higher 350°F to 400°F
Cooking Times 25 minutes or less More than 25 minutes
What to grill? Kabobs, tempeh, tofu, veggies, sausages, steaks, burgers and most seafood Whole chicken or turkey, ribs, roasts or leg of lamb
Bonus! Quick and easy Wood chips can be added to a charcoal grill for extra smoky flavor

To cook indirectly: On a gas grill, leave one burner off and place the meat on the grate directly over the cool burner. For a charcoal grill, pile all the coals along the sides of the grill and place the food in the center, away from the hot coals. Place a metal drip pan beneath the grate where the food will sit, to collect juices as it cooks.

Although we often use the terms "grilling" and "barbecuing" interchangeably, there is a difference! Barbecuing involves cooking foods slowly at a low temperature using indirect heat. Often barbecue is cooked in a pit (prefabricated smoker or fire pit, raised brick or stone fire pit, or even a hole in the ground). This method provides a delicious, smoky flavor and exceptional tenderness, but it takes time — from a few hours to all day. Barbecuing works best for large cuts of meat such as whole pigs or turkeys and for tougher cuts like brisket or spareribs that benefit from long slow cooking.

Quick Tip: Don't let bad weather put a damper on grilling adventures! Try a stovetop grill pan or an electric countertop grill and simply follow the same cooking guidelines. Use a meat thermometer to gauge the proper temperature, and make sure your cooking area is well ventilated.

Tips for Prepping and Heating the Grill

  • Clean your grill, especially the rack, before each use.
  • Oil the rack prior to heating to prevent sticking. Keep a spray bottle filled with canola oil handy in case of unexpected sticking, but be sure to use oil sparingly to prevent flare-ups.
  • The area of the fire needs to be wider than the area of the food you're grilling. If you are cooking a variety of items using charcoal, pile coals at different levels to achieve the right level of heat for each item.
  • Preheat your charcoal grill and don't skimp on the charcoal. Light the coals at least 30 minutes before you plan to begin cooking. Do not put foods on the grill until the fire dies down to glowing coals. (Real hardwood charcoal will always have a small flame, even when ready.)
  • Even gas grills need to preheat. Turn on the flame at least 15 minutes before putting food over the fire. This will help to warm up the grate and stabilize the temperature of the grill environment.