Nothing beats a late-summer barbecue, especially when you’re set up for success. These Labor Day grilling tips will ensure your cookout goes off without a hitch, from an effortlessly lit grill to juicy chicken to simple hacks that make life easier.
1. Pack it in foil
Foil is an indispensable tool when it comes to grilling effortless meals. You can wrap veggies in foil packets to steam them (and avoid any sticky situations on the grill). You can also cook an entire, mess-free meal on the grill by bundling it up in a foil packet, like these Tex-Mex chicken grill packs.
2. Keep it even
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Make sure each ingredient is cut uniformly to ensure even cooking. A 2-inch chunk of zucchini will cook more slowly than a 1-inch piece, and it’s much easier to keep tabs on each ingredient if you know they’ll be done at the same time, rather than being forced to poke and prod individual pieces of food to try to guess if they’re done cooking.
3. Keep it separate
Colorful kebabs are fun, but they’re actually a terrible way to cook your food. Tomatoes, steak, mushrooms and chicken all have different cooking times. Instead of cooking them together, give each ingredient its own skewer. You’ll be able to take each of them off the grill when they’re perfectly done without risking any over- or undercooking.
4. Double up
Skewers are a clever way to make sure smaller chunks of meat and veggies don’t fall through the grill grates, but the ingredients can spin frustratingly on the skewer, leading to uneven cooking. Instead, thread the ingredients over two skewers at a time. This will give you more control when flipping your food, resulting in a perfectly cooked meal.
Image: John Liu/Flickr
You can easily get overwhelmed if you’re trying to cook burgers, steak, sausages and chicken along with veggie side dishes on the same grill. Instead, choose one or two main items, and really focus on them. You could grill the perfect burger, serve the most succulent barbecue chicken or focus on the veggies.
6. Precook your poultry
Image: Cook the Story
Mastering grilled chicken, especially bone-in, is pretty tricky. Most of the time you end up with burnt skin, a pink and raw interior and guests who no longer want to eat your food. Luckily there are a few solutions to the problem. The first is pretty simple. You can precook your chicken in the oven, then finish it on the grill to get that nice, smoky flavor. Your chicken will be safely cooked through without drying out or suffering from that blackened crust that’s all too common at barbecues. The second option is to cook your chicken low and slow on a covered grill without any sauce. You can use spices to season the chicken and then baste with sauce several times in the last minutes of cooking. Otherwise, the sugars in the sauce will burn way before the chicken is done, leaving it with singed skin. Another way to make sure your chicken doesn’t dry out while it’s grilling? Brine it.
7. Get nonstick fish
The last thing you want is to put a ton of effort into cooking only to have half your food stick to the grill. This is especially common with fish. The best way to combat it? First, start with a clean, hot grill grate that has been coated in oil (you can do this by clutching paper towels coated in oil in a pair of tongs and wiping them over the grill). Second, consider the type of fish. Sturdier, oilier fish, like tuna, halibut and salmon, can be set right onto the grill. Lighter, flakier fish, like tilapia or flounder, should be cooked in a foil grill packet. You can learn how to do it here.
More: How to grill fresh fruit
8. Grill the ultimate burger
Grilled burgers are one of the tastiest foods you can serve at your next barbecue, but getting them just right is a challenge. The journey to the perfect burger starts with choosing the right meat (ground chuck, 15-20 percent fat), then continues with the type of seasoning you choose, how tightly you pack your burgers and how long you should cook them. Get the top 10 tips for grilling perfect burgers.
9. Light charcoal in no time
Image: Sew Many Ways
Lighter fluid and wind can be a dangerous combo. Light your charcoal grill more safely (and with less frustration) with this clever hack. Place briquettes of “match light” charcoal (meaning no lighter fluid is needed) into a cardboard egg carton. The cardboard will light easily, igniting the charcoal within.
10. Get condiments in order
Having dozens of condiment bottles and plates of toppings on the table just creates more work for the host — never mind worrying about spills. Instead, use a muffin tray to hold your condiments in one place. It’s sturdier than bottles, and the cups neatly hold your condiments and toppings like pickles, onions and tomatoes.
11. Write on the bun
Can’t keep track of who likes their burger still mooing and who prefers a grayed puck of meat? Write their preference directly onto their hamburger bun with ketchup (or mustard) so you can remember how many burgers of each done-ness you need to cook.