Our favorite way to cook anything is on the barbecue. It could be steaks, wild game, or even vegetables. Give us an opportunity to fire up the grill and we are on it. If you are new to barbecuing or are looking for handy tips and tricks to improve your grill-game, this guide is going to be a big help. We're going to explain some of the lingo and give you the knowledge you need to become the BBQ master. Once you've read this article, go check out our barbecuing videos on YouTube for some of the best BBQ recipes you'll find.
A Beginner's Guide to the Barbecue
We want to start this guide off right by explaining what the different types of grills are and how they stack up against each other. We'll discuss some of the common names for barbecue parts and show you some of our favorite products. After you read this article, you'll have a new-found confidence when you cook on your barbecue grill.
Types of Barbecue Grills
There are a number of different sizes and styles of barbecue out there, and each one has unique features. One thing they all share is they control heat to cook food. From there, the different types of grills diverge quite a bit. Let's take a look at the three most common types of grills.
- Charcoal Grill: The classic charcoal grill has been around for eons. There are dozens of different designs at all different prices. Many are highly portable and make ideal camp stoves. Charcoal grills are inexpensive to buy and fuel is relatively cheap. A charcoal grill can impart smoky flavors from the charcoal and gives you a wonderful crispy exterior. There are different types of charcoal you can choose to give your meal different flavors. But you should know, cooking on charcoal grills is also a bit difficult to master. They tend to be more difficult to regulate temperatures accurately, especially over a long cook time. It's also very easy to let a charcoal grill get too hot causing flare ups and burning your meat. Our favorite charcoal grill is the Big Green Egg.
- Gas Grill: A gas grill gets fuel from a pressurized tank (usually propane) or it can plumb into the natural gas line running to your home. Gas grills are easy to operate and make temperature adjustment straight-forward. Gas does not add any flavor to your meat, so you'll want to season well. If you use a flavorful seasoning like the ones from the Bearded Butchers, you'll get great flavor. A gas grill can be used to crisp the outside of meat. The downsides to cooking on gas grills is the need for a fuel source. Propane tanks can run out suddenly, and in many places, getting a tank filed on a Sunday afternoon might be a challenge. One of our favorite gas grills is the Weber Genesis II.
- Pellet Grill: A pellet grill uses fuel that is made of compressed hardwood. Pellet grills are among the easiest grills to regulate temperature and get the perfect level of cooking you are after. Pellet grills are also super versatile: you can smoke, grill, or char. The cook can select the type of hardwood fuel for the meal, imparting distinct flavors complimentary to certain types of meat. The downside of a pellet grill is the high initial cost. Pellet fuel can also be expensive, particularly when you are set on a specific type of wood. Unlike gas and charcoal grills, you will also need to be near an electrical power source because pellet grills use an electric motor to feed fuel into the fire. Our favorite pellet grill is the Traeger 885 Ironwood.
What's the Best Type of Barbecue?
Some people prefer one type over another, other people don't much care how their meat gets cooked, they just want to eat. Over time, you should try and find opportunities to try out different types of grills from different companies. Many people start barbecuing on an inexpensive charcoal grill, then step up to a larger grill later. If you get an opportunity to try out cooking on a kamado grill, like the Big Green Egg, you'll see what a truly great charcoal grill is all about. For many, the easy portability of charcoal is a big selling point.
Gas grills are nice, but most often are not very portable. Small camp grills will work, but for a real barbecue, your gas grill is going to need to be in a safe and level place. It's common for people to step up from an entry-level charcoal grill to a gas grill. Gas offers tons of convenience, it's easy to keep clean, and there is less smoke. Some people don't want to taste the fire in their food, so gas grills make a lot of sense.
When put to the task of deciding between using our Big Green Egg or our Traeger 885 Ironwood pellet smoker, it's difficult to say which one is better. A pellet grill simply provides so much ease of use, and when you are smoking ribs or a brisket, the easier the better. It's also a lot of fun trying different types of wood pellets like fruit woods and exotic woods from South America to taste the different flavors each wood gives. If you have to pick just one way to barbecue, going with a pellet grill is not going to let you down.
How Do You Properly BBQ?
There are a few things you can do to make sure your grilling experience goes well, and a few pitfalls you should be aware of before starting. No matter what type of grill you are cooking on, the most important thing is to get some experience on it. Simply spending a little time to bring the grill to a specific temperature and keep it there will help you immensely when it comes time to cook a meal. You will want to understand how the vents work, what the best way to clean the grate is, and how long the fuel will last. That way, you know what to expect when cooking.
The Do's of Barbecuing
1. Always make sure you are well organized before starting the grill.
You'll need to know what type of meat you are cooking, what temperature it needs, and whether it's a fast cook or a slow one. Nothing is worse than not budgeting enough time to cook the meat properly and having to try and rush it off the grill for hungry guests.
2. Planning ahead for grilling can be as simple as making a list.
It's always a good idea to have you meat ready to go on the grill before you even light it. Make sure you have your grilling tools handy so you aren't scrambling to find that pair of tongs while the chicken is burning.
3. Make sure you have enough fuel.
Nothing ruins a good steak quicker than having a grill run out of fuel half way through cooking. When you cook with charcoal, you should have an idea of how much fuel you'll need for the entire cooking process because it's dangerous and inconvenient to add charcoal once the grill is hot.
Usually, you'll feel propane move around in a tank when you shake it. If you can't feel anything, the tank might be empty. A great tip for gas grillers is to have at least two propane tanks so one is always full and ready in case the other runs out in the middle of cooking.
Check you hopper on your pellet grill before you start to make sure it has plenty of fuel. A key with pellet grills, the fuel cannot get wet. It will fall apart and won't burn.
4. Start grilling meats that require the lowest temperatures and longest times first.
It's easier to raise the temperature of a grill than it is to lower it.
The Don'ts of Grilling
A few pitfalls many people make frequently lead to barbecue seeming more difficult than it actually is. By adjusting the way you use your grill, you can improve outcomes and have a better time cooking. These are a few things many people do wrong.
1. Don't open the lid unless you need to.
Every time you open the lid of your grill, heat escapes and must be replaced. In order to keep the heat even, the grill will need to suddenly increase temperature. Too many rapid changes in temperature will dry out your meat and give you inconsistent results. That's one of the ways you end up with chicken that's burnt on one side and raw on the other.
2. Don't cook with hotter than necessary temperatures.
I always think about Tim Allen's character on the TV show Home Improvement with this one. Just because hot is good, doesn't mean hotter better. If you try and cook a chicken breast at 500 degrees, you're going to end up with shoe leather. You can't rush things by cooking hotter than necessary, and you'll end up ruining a lot of meat that way. Sure, the 20 foot column of flame shooting up from your backyard looks cool, but you're not going to want to eat that pork.
3. Don't put frozen food on a hot grill.
This one seems to come up from time to time, mainly when people are using frozen burger patties. The ice frozen in the meat will rapidly expand taking the moisture from you meat with it.
How do you BBQ with Charcoal?
Grilling on charcoal is a wonderful experience. There are some tips that can improve your recipes when grilling on a charcoal grill. Once you master the basics of cooking on coals, almost everything else is simple.
Start with good quality charcoal. Our favorite is from Rockwood. It's a lump charcoal, which means that it is chunks of whole pieces of hardwood. It burns clean, flavorful, and evenly. You can BBQ on briquettes, and lots of people do.
There is nothing wrong with using a high-quality briquette, but you should avoid using lighter fluid. Instead, start your coals in a charcoal chimney starter. This simple device makes it easy to start a charcoal grill quickly. All you have to do is add the right amount of briquettes and ignite. The confined space of the chimney encourages the coals to get to the proper temperature. When they are evenly ashy, just dump them in.
Learning to maintain temperature on a charcoal grill is a challenge. It takes experience to look at your coals and get an idea of how hot they are. A thermometer is your best friend for knowing just how hot your grill is at any time. You'll need to learn to use the vents on your BBQ to raise and lower temperatures.
How to Use the Vents
Vents on a barbecue seem like a complicated thing, but they are actually simple once you think about how they work. The bottom vent adds oxygen to the fire- the more open it is, the hotter the fire and the faster the fuel is consumed. Gradually closing the bottom vent reduces the temperature. If you close the bottom vent all the way, the fire will die out.
The top vent allows heat to escape. With the vent all the way open, heat will be drawn rapidly from the fire. This is how you keep the temperature down, and is particularly effective for making small temperature changes. As you close the top vent, more heat is retained but the intensity of the fire is reduced.
Learning to set the vents to the proper position for the type of grilling you are doing will give you a good guideline for practical experience on your own grill.
How Do You BBQ for the First Time?
Barbecuing for the first time is a brave experience, but it doesn't have to be difficult. First, you should know how to safely start and shut off your barbecue. It should be ready to use with plenty of fuel and a clean grate. Some types of food are easier to grill than others, so we are going to give you some helpful quick tips for barbecuing for the first time.
- Choose your meat: Pork, steak, and fish are relatively easy to grill well. Ribs, wild game, and chicken require a little extra effort. You will have a lot of success cooking pork and steak by searing quickly on hot temperatures. Fish can be wrapped in aluminum foil and grilled on high temperature. When you are cooking ribs or chicken, you'll want to closely control temperatures. These proteins can dry out quickly. You can prevent flare-ups when grilling chicken by placing foil on the grill when you start the chicken. When the chicken is almost cooked through, carefully remove the foil making sure to to spill the fat in the fire. Burgers are a good option, but make sure your patties are room temp before you put them on the grill.
- Choose your grill: If you have the option of grilling for the first time on a pellet grill, take it. You'll be rewarded with a simple cooking process that comes out tasty and flavorful. Mastering a charcoal grill is a skill you should try to gain. Once you know that you can cook a meal on a fire, you're pretty much unstoppable.
- Use a Meat Thermometer: This one's a game changer, even for the most experienced grill master. Pick up the Bearded Butchers instant read thermometer and never have to worry about whether your meat is properly cooked. A remote thermometer is also a great tool for live monitoring and can also read your grill temperature.
Barbecue Tips and Tricks
There are a few cooking methods you can learn that will improve your grilling. You should learn to use indirect heat by reducing the temperature on one side of the grill. This makes cooking many recipes easier because you aren't dealing with flame in direct contact with the meat. You won't burn meat as often using this method.
Start grilling as soon as the temperature is correct. Sometimes, it's tempting to wait a little too long, particularly on small grills, and the coals will burn out before finishing cooking. That's why it's important to be organized when barbecuing.
The most important tip: Have fun. Take your time and relax, barbecuing can be a very zen-like experience. Use your senses when grilling – look for excess smoke, listen for too much crackling, and smell for burning odors. And don't forget to check the thermometer.
The Bearded Butchers are dedicated to providing as much information as we possibly can to help you understand how to best process and prepare meats of all kinds. To help you, we maintain a blog and Youtube channel with lots of free, high-quality information. The Bearded Butchers and Beardedbutchers.com are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This means that The Bearded Butchers may receive a commission if you click on a link above and make a purchase on Amazon.com.