How to Avoid the Most Common Grilling Mistakes

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By Lifehacker

With barbecue season upon us, it’s time to get proficient with your grill. But just as important as knowing what to do is knowing what not to do. Don’t let your skewers overcook, your burger become bland, or your steaks dry out. Here are some basic tenets to follow to avoid the most common grilling mistakes.

Let Your Meat Rest for 10 Minutes After Grilling

We know, everybody’s hungry, but resist the temptation to cut into grilled animal protein right away — all of the meat’s juices will flow right out, leaving you with a less-than-succulent steak. Letting your beef, pork, chicken, or lamb rest for as little as 10 minutes allows the meat’s juices to evenly redistribute. And the thicker the cut, the longer you’re going to need to rest it—a whole pork butt, for instance, may need to rest for 30 minutes or longer. See the difference between rested and unrested meat (and learn more about the science of resting times) in this helpful Serious Eats piece.

As we just pointed out above, if you’re not sure if your grilled chicken, steak, or pork is done, the worst thing you can do is to cut it open to find out. There are many ways to test doneness: there’s the palm test, the face test, and the most foolproof, a temperature reading using a meat thermometer. I gauge steak by touch, but when I’m cooking foods like fish all the way through, I use the fork test: I carefully stick the a fork halfway into the thickest part of the flesh, pull it out, and touch the tines to my bottom lip. If it feels hot to the touch, it’s done.

Similarly: Do Not Cut Into Meat to Check For Doneness

Another note: please don’t use one of those long meat or carving forks to pick up your steak. It’s fine for grilled vegetables, but puncturing your meat with two large tines will cause you to lose precious juices.

Only Skewer Foods of a Similar Cooking Time Together

I have never understood the logic behind the supermarket meat counters where there are kebabs on offer with mammoth-sized hunks of meat sandwiched between thin slices of zucchini or onion. The whole point of a skewer is to cook everything on it at once, and that won’t be doable unless all of the items you’ve skewered take approximately the same length of time to cook. In addition to sizing kebabs appropriately, also make sure, if you’re using wooden skewers, that you soak them in warm water for 10-20 minutes before using them to avoid burning.

Quit Pressing On Your Burgers

If you’re pressing those burger patties down onto the grill to get a good sear, you’re making a huge mistake—all of the juices from the burger are going straight through the grates. Yes, smashing burgers to achieve a rich crust can be a good thing, but not on a grill.

Don’t Squirt Water Onto Flare-Ups

Barbecue flare-ups can happen. And given the fact that you’re cooking over an open fire, it’s honestly part of the fun. But if you have a major flare-up, resist the temptation (no matter how great) to splash or squirt water on your flames — they’ll just scatter ashes, creating a mess on your food, and the water can even damage the enamel coating on your grill. To avoid major flare-ups, trim excessive amounts of fat off your cuts before placing them on the grill, and make sure to leave at least 30 percent of your grates empty so as not to crowd the grill. If you do experience one, cover the grill. It will deprive the fire of oxygen and extinguish any flames.

Images by Tina Mailhot-Roberge, Georgi Kirichkov, Ernesto Andrade, Wicker Paradise, Paul Joseph,Meal Makeover Moms, BBQ Turner by Rosle, and Chris Hsia.

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