There’s a lot to love about summer, from the warm weather to the sunshine and long days at the beach and pool, but nothing beats firing up the grill to make dinner outside. The smell of burgers and brats sizzling always brings back summer memories, and anyone who’s lived next to a neighbor that likes to grill steaks knows how torturously delicious their aroma can be.
Because we love to grill so much, we want to home our skills, and we’ve got some advice from pro chefs to help us out. From what type of grill to use to the perfect spice rub recipe, these are some of our favorite grilling hacks and tips from the professionals.
1. Grill fish the easy way
If you’ve ever grilled fish, you’ve probably struggled with it sticking to the grill or falling through the grates. Luckily, Brian Malarkey, partner, co-chef, and operator of the Puffer Malarkey Collective in San Diego, California (and former Top Chef finalist), has a unique solution.
“Grill your fish with the skin and scales still on, scale side down,” Malarkey told SheKnows. “When you grill with scales and skin still on, you get this wonderful infusion of flavor from the skin, and it steams and roasts the fish at the same time. The skin serves as a protective coating for the fish, crisping up on the grill, and then falling right off the fish when you go to serve it.”
2. Choose the right grill
Not every grill is the right tool for the job, says Rida El Azri Ennassiri, chef at The Weather Room at the Cyrus Hotel in Topeka, Kansas.
“Gas grills are great for fast heat response and maintaining low temperatures for a wide range of vegetables. For cooking proteins, I’d recommend charcoal or wood, which can burn hotter for better crust on your meat.” Charcoal and wood grills also impart more flavor to your ingredients.
3. Cure your meat with a spice rub
If you’re looking for extra flavor but don’t have time for an overnight brine, give your meat a spice rub early in the day to infuse it with more flavor and to help give it a nice crust on the grill. Doug Psaltis, the chef and pitmaster at Bub City in Chicago, shared his go-to blend with us.
“Combine salt, brown sugar, onion and garlic powders, sweet paprika, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne in a bowl (don’t worry about measurements — you can’t mess this up). For extra smokiness, add a dash of chipotle powder or smoked paprika. Rub the meat early in the day to act as a dry cure, then come back and do your grilling.”
4. Let a professional do it
We recently chatted with none other than the Pioneer Woman herself, Ree Drummond. We asked her for her favorite grilling hack and honestly, her response might be our favorite. “My grilling hack is that I make my husband do all of the grilling. He’s better at it and I can spend time getting the rest of the meal ready.”
Works for us.
5. Salad can get grilled, too
If you’re tired of grilling the same pepper-onion-mushroom combo, try something new. Elissa Goodman, a Holistic Wellness Nutritionist and author, recommends grilling your salads.
“Grilled Salads are DELICIOUS! I love a wedge of grilled romaine, brushed with dressing. The more charred, the better.” The grill adds massive flavor, so you can skip some of the less nutritious add-ins.
6. Grill your fruit
“I like to grill things that are a little untraditional,” Top Chef judge Gail Simmons told SheKnows. “If I’m grilling fish, I always grill lemons to squeeze on top. You get so much more juice out of them that way. It loosens up all the meat inside and I love that smoky char flavor. Limes, oranges, pineapple and grapefruit are great and easy to grill as well.”
7. Get a meat thermometer
There’s no point in taking the time to grill if your meat ends up under or overcooked. Charlie McKenna, chef and creator of Lillie’s Q, told us that one of the most important tools for any pitmaster is a meat thermometer.
“Most think they can tell the temperature by look, or touch, but that really takes a lot of expertise gained from trial and error,” he explained. If you just go by touch, you can underestimate the cooking time of tender cuts and end up overcooking tougher meats.
8. Preheat the grill
You can’t just throw your food on the grill and expect miracles. For best results, you need to prep both the grill and your ingredients, says chef Adrianne Calvo of Miami.
“Preheat the grill for at least 30 minutes and allow ingredients to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes,” she advises. You can use those 30 minutes to whip up a big batch cocktail to go along with your ‘cue.
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9. Make a DIY smoker for big flavor
Bulky smokers are hard to fit in a small yard, but you can still get the flavor you love with an easy DIY from Chef Malarkey.
“Using aluminium foil and a pot, you fill the pot with wood chips, and place it on direct heat on the grill. You don’t need to do anything to the wood aside from allowing it to get hot enough; with enough heat, it will catch on fire. Once it does, put the lid on the pot to make the fire go down, and you have your own homemade smoker.”
The only caveat? “I just recommend you don’t use your favorite pot, as the process will ruin it.”
10. Grill your cocktails
Firing up the grill for dinner is always a good call, but while you’re out there, you can work on your cocktail game too, says chef Laura Licona of Fairway Market (a former Chopped contestant).
“Grill citrus, fruits, and herbs to add a smokey flavor to your alcoholic beverages. Find a good recipe for a shrub or a fruity blended drink and add smoke and char to your glass.” You can even just grill your usual garnish to add a smoky aroma – think charred lime for a mezcal margarita or grilled mint for mojitos.