A guide to great grilling

beef skewer

There's something comforting about a smoky dinner right off the grill. It signifies sun, long days and great company.

In addition, outdoor grilling is the perfect way to cook up a no-mess meal and free yourself from the confines of the kitchen. Grilling meat, poultry and seafood sears in flavor for a deliciously juicy taste and veggies become tender, their flavors concentrated.

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Find great recipes including marinades and vegetarian options from our recipe database.

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 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 make grilling an activity that should be done with caution. Plus, knowing the basics of how to handle and store meat and seafood will ensure healthy grilling.

  • Marinate meat and seafood before grilling. Studies have shown that the acid content of marinades made with vinegars, citric juices, oils and herbs 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 180º F, breasts 170º F, seafood 135º F, ground beef 160º F, beef, veal and lamb steaks, roasts and chops 145º F, and cuts of pork 160º F.

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 other side for two minutes. Turn meat again, reduce heat to medium or low and close cover to finish cooking until desired internal temperature. This method cooks meat slowly, helping it to retain its juiciness and preventing it from drying out.

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 and should be 1/2 to one-inch thick. Grill for 7 to 14 minutes for medium rare, 11 to 18 minutes for medium, turning once.
  • Chicken breasts: Grill until thoroughly done and juices run clear, about 8 to 12 minutes, turning once.
  • Ground beef, lamb or poultry patties: Patties should be 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick. Grill until thoroughly cooked, about 10 to 16 minutes, turning once.
  • Pork chops: Chops can be bone-in or boneless, 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick. Grill until fully cooked, at least 12 to 16 minutes.
basting brush

Seafood techniques

Grilling is perfect for thick (at least 1/2 inch) meaty fillets or steaks with strong flavor that can stand up to the smoky tang of the grill.

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 sea bass. Because of this, non-oily fish should be cooked in a grilling basket, or lightly coated with olive oil.

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. Eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, bell peppers, sweet onions, small tomatoes and mushrooms all cook well on the grill.

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 and brushed with additional marinade or oil to avoid drying out. 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.

Food for thought: Grilling tools

By Goldie Caughlan, former PCC nutrition education manager

Try to avoid "standard" charcoal, which may contain coal dust, sodium nitrate, borax or other additives. Instead, use hardwood charcoal with no chemical additives, or natural gas or propane-fueled grills.

And, try to avoid liquid or solid fire-starters, which are petroleum-based. Instead, use a chimney charcoal starter and mound briquettes on paper or tinder for lighting. Or, use a heavy-duty electric starter coil for easy igniting.

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Helpful hints for skewers & kebabs

  • When using wooden or rosemary skewers, be sure to soak them in warm water for 30 minutes before grilling to prevent them from burning or charring. When using metal skewers, don’t forget an oven mitt!
  • Double up: Consider using two parallel skewers per kebab to keep ingredients more stable and less likely to slip off into the grill.
  • Separate foods that cook quickly (delicate vegetables, summer squash, shrimp, etc.) from foods that take longer to cook (thick pieces of meat, potatoes) to ensure even cooking.
  • Grill vegetables first, then red meat and poultry. Save delicate fish and seafood for last so you can serve and enjoy immediately.
  • Lightly grease the grill grate (using tongs and a towel or wad of paper towels doused in vegetable oil) before adding each batch of skewers.
  • Turn skewers frequently on the grill to ensure even cooking.