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A guide to great grilling

beef skewer

A smoky dinner right off the grill signifies sun, long (and hopefully lazy) afternoons and great company.

Outdoor grilling is the perfect way to cook up a no-mess meal and free yourself from the confines of the kitchen. Grilling, with the proper techniques and times, concentrates the flavors of all meats and vegetables.

Get grilling

A warm evening, a sunny deck, and a great meal: we love those long, hopefully lazy evenings where the only effort goes toward finding room for dessert. Our recipes for the grill maximize flavor for summertime foods from burgers and salmon to corn, plums and green beans.

Grilling basics

  • Preparing the grill: Always start with a clean grill. Use wire brushes to sweep the grates, then wipe away any residue with a cooking-oiled cloth or paper towel.
  • Heating the grill: When building a fire for charcoal grills, stack the coals two or three deep in one area for high heat. Spread coals in a single layer for medium heat. This will allow you to shift foods during cooking to prevent burning.

    Allow the grill to heat fully for 10 minutes before adding food if using a gas grill. When using charcoal, let it burn until it is covered with a thin coat of gray ash.
  • Basting and turning: Brushing meat or poultry with sauces during cooking will keep them moist and tender. To ensure even cooking, flip food as needed — generally once at the halfway point of the cooking period. Long-handled tongs are perfect for most foods, but use a spatula for burgers or delicate fish.

Grilling safety

An open flame and hot surface require caution. Plus, knowing the basics of how to handle and store meat and seafood will ensure proper food safety. A good instant-read thermometer is a highly useful, inexpensive tool.

  • Marinate meat and seafood before grilling. Studies have shown that the acid content of marinades made with vinegar, citrus juices and oils naturally reduce the risk of carcinogens which are created when meats are grilled.
  • Avoid dangerous flare-ups by removing as much fat as possible from meats. When grilling marinated foods, let the excess marinade drip off before placing food on the grill.
  • To avoid bacteria contaminations, marinate foods in the refrigerator and always serve grilled meat on a clean platter. Never place cooked meat on a plate that was used to carry raw meat. Keep meat refrigerated until ready to grill.
  • Make sure meat is fully cooked before serving. Use a meat thermometer and the following temperatures as a guide: Whole poultry and breasts 165 F; fin fish 145 F; ground meat 160 F; steaks, chops and roasts 145 F (FDA safe cooking temperature is the same for pork, beef, veal and lamb).

Meat and poultry techniques

If you're using a gas grill with a controllable temperature, you can sear meat for approximately two minutes on high heat, turn and sear the other side for two minutes. Turn meat again, reduce heat to medium or low and close the cover to finish cooking until it's reached the desired internal temperature. This method cooks meat slowly, helping it to retain its juiciness and preventing it from drying out. Invest in a good instant-read thermometer as a basic tool.

Grass-fed beef cooks quickly because it is so lean; it's best grilled medium rare, and usually requires 30 percent less time on the grill. Visit this page for even more grilling tips and ideas for meat and poultry.

Grilling times

  • Steak: Steak can be bone-in or boneless. Minimum safe temperature is 145 , 3 to 5 minutes per side for a 3/4-inch steak and 7 to 8 minutes per side for a 1 1/2-inch steak.
  • Chicken breasts: Grill until thoroughly done and juices run clear, 8 to 12 minutes per side.
  • Ground beef, lamb or poultry patties: Patties should be about 1/2-inch thick. Grill to 160 F, 3 to 5 minutes per side.
  • Pork chops: Chops can be bone-in or boneless, about 3/4-inch thick. Grill to 145  F, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
basting brush

Seafood techniques

Grilling is perfect for thick (at least 1/2 inch) fillets or steaks.

Fish with an abundance of natural oils — like tuna, salmon and mackerel — are less likely to stick to the grill than non-oily fish, like red snapper and halibut. However, to avoid frustration, we recommend lightly coating the fish and the grill grates with high-heat oil, and only flipping the fish once during the cooking process.

Perfectly grilled fish should look opaque, not translucent.

Grilling times

  • Fish fillets: Cook until fillets flake easily when nudged with a fork. Grill for 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2 inch of thickness, turning once.
  • Fish steaks: Tuna, salmon, halibut steaks should be 1/2 to one inch thick. Grill for 4 to 6 minutes for each 1/2 inch thickness, turning once.

Vegetable techniques

Grilling vegetables is a simple and delicious way to prepare them. Almost all summer vegetables grill well, particularly eggplant, summer squash, peppers of all kinds, sweet onions, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, small potatoes, corn and green beans.

Vegetable kabob

Hard vegetables should be cut about 1/2-inch thick and should be marinated or brushed lightly with oil. Larger pieces can be placed right on an oiled grill grate to avoid sticking. Smaller, softer vegetables can be placed on skewers or in a grilling basket.

Vegetables should be turned frequently, so they char evenly. Remember, different vegetables take different amounts of time to cook — from 5 to 20 minutes. But in general, remove vegetables when their skin begins to blister and the middle is soft when pierced with a knife.

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