Summer grilling is a ton of fun… provided that you have some clue about what you’re doing. Sadly, many Americans I’ve met are just content to pour lighter fluid on charcoal and pile it up in a scorching-hot fireball that will incinerate any meat it comes into contact with. This was why when I read Serious Eats’ list of grilling mistakes to avoid, I was happy to see that I already adhere to most of them. If you don’t, however, here are some grilling mistakes that I’ve found you really should avoid at all costs.
First: For the love of God, please get a chimney starter to light your coals. If you enjoy the taste of lighter fluid then you can just keep doing what you’re doing. However, if you want a burger or steak that tastes like real grilled meat, you’re better off using this incredibly simple contraption that will heat up your coals surprisingly quickly.
And the best part of this is that chimney starters are inexpensive. Here, for example, is a perfectly fine one that’s selling for $14.99 on Amazon right now. It’s a lot cheaper in the long run than buying new bottles of lighter fluid all the time.
To use a chimney starter, you’ll want to place if inside the grill with paper stuffed into its bottom chamber. Pour the coals into the top part of the chimney starter and then light the bottom paper with a match. You should have hot coals within minutes, although you’ll want to make sure the top of the coals are white before you pour them into your grill.
Second: Make sure you create hot and cool parts of the grill. You may think it’s a good idea to spread your coals out evenly… but it’s not. Here’s the reason: One secret to cooking a good steak is to sear it on high heat on each side for a couple of minutes before transferring it to lower heat. This seals the juices inside your steak, which is of course important to having a quality steak.
So make sure you have one large pile of coals on one side of the grill and on the other side have very few coals. This will also give you a place to move your food if you think it’s cooking too quickly on the hot side.
Finally, invest in a meat thermometer. Yes, all the cooks you see on TV can get away with doing a “touch test” for grilled meat… but you’re not that good. So instead of doing the tap test or cutting into the meat you’re grilling to check if it’s cooked all the way through, use a meat thermometer to see if it’s reached its desired heat.
Meat thermometers can be much more expensive than grill chimneys and vary wide by price and quality. Check out Amazon’s page on meat thermometers to get a sense of just how much variety there is.
Serious Eats has even more great tips for grilling. Check them out for yourself by clicking here.