If you’ve ever ended up with charred sausages for dinner, here’s BBQ lesson #1—BBQing and grilling are two different beasts. The first uses low indirect heat (smoke) to cook slowly, the second uses direct high heat (hot embers) to cook quickly. Once you’ve got that down, the rest is just practice and experimentation. To help you out this season, we gathered up essential tips and tricks for cookout and grill success. Scroll down to see them all.

Clean the Grill with Foil or an Onion

Cleaning the grate will prevent food from sticking to the grill and is a good thing to do if you're using a public BBQ. You don't need any fancy kit, just a pair of tongs and balled up aluminum foil. This takes a little less elbow grease if the grill is warm. Food 52 has the details. Another tip is to clean the grill with half an onion on a BBQ fork which has the added bonus of adding flavor to the food.

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photo: Emily Myers

DIY Food Warmer

Plenty of gas grills come with warming racks, but you can rig up a DIY food warmer on a charcoal grill using a few empty tin cans and a cooling tray or grill on top. The extra distance from the flames makes this a good spot to warm the hot dog and burger buns or keep finished food warm. If the grill is covered, it can also be a spot to cook corn or other food that won't drip juices on the rack below.

Subscription Services

Getting the perfect cuts via a meat subscription service will help you cultivate your pit master skills. If you’re not quite ready for regular protein delivery, there are other services like Grill Masters Club that supply boxes of inspiration in the form of sauces, rubs, marinades, wood chips and recipes.

DIY Fire Starters

There are plenty of options for DIY fire starters which means you can avoid using chemical lighter fuels.  Check out this video from Rebecca Tan who uses melted birthday candles and cardboard as well as suggesting a teaspoon of sugar to get the flames going.  Or pop charcoal in a cardboard egg box for a portable option that comes to us from Sew Many Ways—this is a great idea if you're using a public grill and want to transport the charcoal without a mess. Or check out this egg-box-lint-wax combo for the committed recycler. 

Easy Propane Level Check

Some propane tanks have a gauge to tell you how much you have left but if you're not sure or there's no gauge, you can bring a cup of water to a boil and pour it over the side of the tank (not the top). You can then feel the tank and the hot part is empty and where it is cool will show you the propane level. Check out this clip on YouTube for the specifics.

photo: Emily Myers

Ember Cooked Potatoes

Cooking food right on the embers of a charcoal fire can save room on the grill, and potatoes cook nicely like this, wrapped in tin foil, shiny side on the inside. Try this technique with yams, potatoes, corn, eggplants and even apples. Wrapping potatoes like this will give a softer skin and should take about 45 minutes. Test for doneness by pressing on the wrapped potato with a gloved hand. Get tips from Get Out With The Kids.

DIY Smoker

It's possible to turn your gas grill into a smoker for under a dollar. Happy Money Saver has tips on how to use foil, a disposable bread pan and hickory wood chips if you want to test your BBQ skills before investing in a smoker.  Or check out these tips on how to turn your charcoal kettle grill into a slow-cooking smoker so you can turn out brisket and ribs like a pit master pro.  

BBQ Wraps

For some foolproof cooking, Fire and Flavor have come up with cedar wraps that allow you to use steam, smoke, or fire to cook seafood, meat or veggies. Plus, they add an aromatic flavor to the food. While foil might have less flavor, the same principle applie—cook up zucchini, beans, peppers and corn in foil packets and you have lightly steamed and delicious veggie sides. 

Pineapple Rind Chicken

If you've bought a pineapple for dessert, don't throw away the off-cuts—you can use them to add flavor to grilled chicken. This pineapple rind chicken recipe has all the flavors of summer, and you can use the rest of the pineapple to make a salsa or fruit salad. Find the recipe at The Typical Mom.  

Grilled Egg in Pepper

Grill an egg in half a bell pepper and you have a veggie treat in an edible bowl. The bottom of the pepper will be charred black, but you can just peel off and eat. Check out the recipe at One Smiley Monkey.

Condiments in a Muffin Tray

Putting mustard, ketchup, relish and chopped onion in a muffin tray keeps condiments tidy and avoids using fiddly sachets. It also keeps them all in one place, avoiding having to answer the question, multiple times, "where's the ketchup?" Billy Parisi has this hack down to a fine art at his namesake blog.

Use a Cast Iron Pan

Cast-iron pans can hold up to the heat of the direct flame and work well for cooking veggies that might slip through a grill. Try cooking sliced onions, peppers and zucchini. You can also heat tortillas this way if you want to make fajitas. 

Spiral Cut Hot Dogs

Take your grilled hot dogs to the next level by skewering them and then spiral cutting them! This super easy cooking method gives you more surface area to caramelize, plus the sausages cook quicker to feed those hungry bellies. Amy at to Bellyfull has the step by step instructions.

—Emily Myers

 

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