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How to Grill Like a Pro – 25 Grilling Tips for Summer Barbecues

These basics will help you learn how to grill like a pro. Included are my top 25 grilling tips to make sure that your next barbecue is something your friends will rave about.

It’s that time of the year again. One only has to be outside around 6 pm to smell the aroma of someone in the neighborhood having a grill out.

However, just putting something on the grill does not mean that your meal will be a success. Keep reading to learn more about my tips for BBQ time.

Tongs holding chicken on a grill and words Guide to Grilling.

There are several types of grills that can be used to barbecue – from simple and inexpensive charcoal grills to built in gas grills worth thousands of dollars.

However, grilling techniques don’t change. Once you learn how to grill the proper way, it won’t matter what type of grill you use.

Follow these top grilling tips to learn how to grill like a pro

People think of grilling simply as cooking meat over a high flame. But there is so much more to a great barbecue than this.

Follow these BBQ grill tips to become the grill master that will have your friends asking for your help grilling at any summer gathering.

1. Be sure to use room temperature meat

At the top of the list of my best grilling tips is making sure that the meat is the right temperature.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when grilling is taking the meat out of the fridge and immediately start cooking it. A very cold steak won’t cook evenly so it’s a good idea to remove your meat from the fridge about 20 minutes before grilling to allow it to come to room temperature.

Doing this will ensure that the grill won’t have to work so hard to get the center of the meat cooked the way you like it.Room temperature meat with spices and a fork.

2. Preheating the barbecue is a must to grill like a pro

Allow yourself plenty of time to prepare and heat up the grill before you start to barbecue. Don’t expect the grill to work efficiently and to properly cook the meat if part of the cooking time is spent with the grill warming up while the meat is cooking.

When you use a gas grill be sure to preheat the grill first, just like you do an oven. Also, note that cooking times in BBQ recipes are always from a standing start on a preheated grill.

With charcoal grilling, the grill heats up naturally so this step is not necessary.Gas barbecue knobs set to preheating before cooking.

3. Flavor the meat before grilling

Sure, you can take some ribs or chicken and just pop them on the grill and they will taste okay. But okay is not what we are after here.

A great dry rub, or a special marinade will go a long way towards making sure that your meat is the talk of the party, instead of just blah.

Be sure to add the rub or marinade the meat at least a half hour before you plan to grill to allow the flavors to sink in. Be careful when using sugary spices and marinades on a grill, since they can cause the meat to burn on an open flame.Cat spice jar with paprika and jerk seasoning overturned near a tea towel.

Some of the links below are affiliate links. I earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you if you purchase through an affiliate link.

4. Add some smoke flavor

One of the appeals of a great barbecue is the flavor of smoke on the cooked meat. It really doesn’t matter whether you use gas or charcoal, adding some hardwood logs, chunks, briquettes, or chips will give the meat a smoky flavor.

Note: When adding wood to a gas grill, don’t just toss the wood chips in, since they will burn and produce ashes. Instead, use a smoker box to keep the wood contained.

There are also variations in the smoke of different wood varieties too. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Apple wood is great for adding sweetness, mesquite is great for a tangy flavor, and hickory can add a bacon like taste to the meat.

If you don’t have wood to add, there are many barbecue sauces with a smoke flavor.

Smoker boxes with wood chips for a gas grill.

5. Leave it and forget it  

This is not exactly true, but it does take time for the meat to develop a caramelized crust that is so appealing in a good grill.

Grilling over direct heat sears the food and gives the exterior a tasty brown crust that’s loaded with flavor. Moving the meat all the time keeps this from happening.

If you are constantly turning and flipping the meat, it won’t have a chance to develop any caramelization.

Flip your meat once or twice at the most.

Avoid the temptation to swash those burgers, or you’ll lose the juices. Pressing down on the meat makes the fat drip down onto the grill, causes flare-ups, and dries out the meat.

If these chicken kebabs had been repeatedly flipped over, they would not have formed this delicious looking crust!

Grilled chicken on skewers.

6. Invest in some good quality BBQ tools

It’s not necessary to have a 15 item barbecue grill kit to grill well, but a few good quality tools are essential.

There are some grilling tools that we use often when barbecuing at our house.

Silicone pastry brushes are great for basting the meat with marinade, and will withstand a very high heat. Be sure to check out my post for the pros and cons of silicone products for more ideas.

BBQ gloves will protect your hands when handling skewers and some will withstand heats up to 662ºF. You can handle grill plates, tools and pots with ease with these heat resistant gloves, too!

If you do invest in a BBQ grill kit, be sure it has a good quality spatula, and pair of tongs. Forks, knives and other tools are useful but not necessary.

7. Creating heat zones

This is one of my favorite barbecue tricks for those that cook with a charcoal grill. Bank the coals in the middle. This creates “heat zones.”

Doing this will allow you to perfectly grill the middle of the meat which is normally the thickest part of it.

Having banked coals also allows you to move items to the outside where there is less heat to finish cooking. The outside is also a good place to cook buns.

If you use a gas grill, lower heat zones are on the top shelf layer and on the unlit side, which has more indirect heat.

Banked charcoal to create heat zones.

8. Rest the meat after cooking

One you are done grilling and the meat has been removed from the grill, let it rest. Resting is a term for letting the meat sit for at least five minutes before you slice it. (longer for thicker cuts)

Resting allows the meat to relax and redistribute the juices to produce a more tender and juicy cut. If you slice the meat too soon after cooking, it will result in all the juices running out which dries out the meat.

Keep the juices in the meat (and keep the flavor in) by letting the meat rest for a few minutes before you serve it.

9. Grilling tip – start with a clean grill 

You would not want to keep cooking in the same frying pan indoors without cleaning it between uses would you?

Why should the grill be any different? Previous grilling will leave your grill plates coated with grease, and meat particles.

To ensure the cleanest taste to the food, use a grill brush to clean the grill plates each time you barbecue.

Having a clean grill grate also means that there will be less sticking of the food while you grill.

The grill should be cleaned right after cooking, while it is piping hot. Make it a rule to not turn off the grill until you have given the grates a good scrub with your grill brush.

That way it will be ready to use every time!

Man cleaning a grill with a grill brush.

10. BBQ tips and tricks – grease the grill grates

This tip is especially important if you plan to grill fish or other meats with a low fat content which easily stick to grill.

Greasing the grill grates will help to keep this from happening.

To grease grates on a grill, be sure the grate is clean, and then add a high heat cooking oil such as sunflower oil or peanut oil. An easy way to grease the grates is to tip a wadded paper towel in some oil, and wipe the oil evenly over the grates using tongs.

The best time to do this is right before cooking. You can also use a non-stick spray to oil the grates.

Silicone pastry brushes that withstand high heat are also great for this purpose. They work well for basting during cooking with marinades and sauces, too.

Bottle of peanut oil and roll of paper towels.

11. Grilling techniques – Time your meat to unsure doneness

It is easy to say that it takes five minutes for rare steak, or whatever meat you are cooking, but this means that each piece must be exactly the same size.

Don’t leave it to chance. Use a digital meat thermometer to make sure that your meat is perfectly grilled every time. (affiliate link.)

These thermometers are accurate, easy to use and very quick to read results.

If you prefer using a touch test to check for doneness, a rare steak feels spongy and soft, medium steaks spring back a bit when pressed, and well done steaks feel firm.

Testing meat with a thermometer.

12. Charcoal grilling tips

A gas grill is easier to maintain than a charcoal grill, but if you are looking for the best taste, go with charcoal – or even better charcoal with hickory wood chips thrown on top.

Your meat will be more tasty, more smoky, juicer and better.

Even though a charcoal grill is not as instant, these tips are for the perfect grill, remember?

For even more flavor, soak some hickory woodchips in your favorite whiskey before you throw it in your charcoal.

We think you’ll find that charcoal is clearly the way to go. Plus, isn’t there something intrinsically manly about building your own fire and providing food?

Burning embers of a charcoal fire.

13. Make your own burgers

My local BJs club has a great deal on burgers. But unless I am doing a BBQ at the last minute, I resist buying them and make my own burgers.

There really is no comparison in taste when the burger is done.

Grilling tip:  Make an indentation in the burgers when you form them. Why do chefs do this?

When hamburger patties cook, they shrink. When they shrink the edges tend to break apart which will cause cracks to form in the patty.

To make sure this doesn’t happen, you need the burger patty to be thinner in the middle than it is around the edges. This will give you an even patty once it has finished cooking.Burgers with indentation on a plate.

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More barbecue tips for how to grill

Grilling is such a fun way to entertain with friends, but you have to do more than just put some meat on the grill. Read on for more grilling tips and tricks!

Meat arranged on a grill with words 25 tips for a perfect barbecue.14. Be careful of timing with vegetables

Grills can make a mess of vegetables if you leave them on too long.

For the best results just lightly char them and then add seasonings, or olive oil later for some extra taste.Grilled vegetables on a barbecue.

15. Use a grill basket for delicate foods

Delicate foods like fruit, veggies, and fish are better cooked over the grill using a grill basket.

You can also place shish kebabs in one of these and turn them all in one piece instead of turning each kebab individually.

A grill basket can be oiled before use to keep the food from sticking.

It is a great way to contain foods that easily fall through the grill grates, like mushrooms, baby tomatoes, sliced onions and scallops.

Vegetables in a grill basket over charcoal.

16. How to get grill marks

Nothing says perfect BBQ like perfectly placed grill marks on the meat. While you should not be moving the meat all the time, you can still get those attractive marks if you are thoughtful about how to place the meat.

To get great grill marks, place the meat on the grill at a 12 o’clock angle, and then rotate it to a 3 o’clock angle to get diamond marks before you flip the first time.

Meat and vegetables on a plate with grill marks and sauce.

17. How to avoid flare-ups

The flames will flare up if you are slopping your meat with oil based marinades, if you squish your burgers (don’t do it!) or have extra fatty meat.

Trim your meat of excess fat first. When you flip your meat, move it to a different part of the grill.

It’s a good idea to keep the lid open when searing fatty foods, and position your barbecue out of a windy area.

These things will help to avoid flare-ups.

Flare up on a piece of steak.

18. Good grilling ideas – practice safety first

Keep these simple rules from the USDA in mind:

  • Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards for cooked and raw meats. The same goes for utensils and platters.
  • When your meat it cooked, don’t put it back in the raw juices. Put it on a clean platter.
  • Don’t baste with the marinating liquid. Make extra just for this purpose.
  • Never re-use left over marinating liquid, since this can transfer bacteria to another meat.
  • Plastic is considered a safer cutting board for meat since it can go in the dishwasher, while wooden cutting boards can’t.

Limes on a cutting board with words - Safety first cooked meat, raw meat and veggies need separate cutting boards.

19. Tips for grilling – add the rub early

As we found in rule #1, the meat needs to come to room temperature before cooking. This is also a good time to add any rub or seasonings.

The meat will come to room temp as it takes on the flavor of the rub – a Win-win!

20. Add the BBQ sauce later to prevent burning

Most BBQ sauces are very high in sugar which will burn easily. Try to choose sauces with a lower sugar content for best results and less of a chance of burning.

Adding sauce to the meat later in the cooking time will give great flavor, but not char the meat or give you flare-ups.

Another alternative is to serve the sauce as a side instead of basting the meat on the grill with it.
Yellow silicone brush adding BBQ sauce to meat.

21. Don’t be afraid of mistakes

Some of my best grilling experiences (and some of the worst…) came from experiments in sauces and marinades.

Also, who wants the same grill every time? Experiment!yellow sign with words practice makes perfect.

22. Choose the correct charcoal

I know that using charcoal takes time, but pass right by the type that is labeled “match to light.” This is sprayed in lighter fluid and this flavor will end up in your meat.

Buy good quality charcoal and be patient.

Instead of lighter fluid (which does NOT burn off, no matter what they say), use a charcoal chimney starter.(affiliate link)

To use one of these, you place paper in the bottom of metal cylinder with charcoal on the top.

After a few minutes you will have lit charcoal that you can just pour onto your grate for long lasting coals that cook food beautifully.

If you are new to chimney starters, see the project card at the bottom of the post for instructions for how to use one.

Charcoal chimney starter on a grill.

23. Don’t over crowd the grill

A great grill needs space around the foods to cook well. If the grill plate it too crowded it will impede the flow of air and the food is more likely to burn.

Overloading a grill makes it difficult to get your meat to cook evenly or well. It also increases your cooking time.

Even though it seems counter-productive, it is often quicker to cook in 2 or 3 batches than it is to try and cook it all in one.

This photo shows a grill that is much too crowded!

A barbecue grill with too much meat on it.

24. Save the alcohol for after grill time!

One of the fun parts of a friendly BBQ is having a drink with some friends. But hold off on the alcohol until you are done cooking.

This rule will ensure better cooking results! Trust me on this one….

25. Check your propane level

If you used a gas grill,  you’ll agree that nothing is worse than getting ready to grill only to discover that the tank has run out of propane!

You’ll be ending your cooking by cleaning your grill, so that is also a good time to check the tank.

You can check your propane level with water, by weighing it and by keeping track of the number of barbecues you have done. But if approximates are no good, it may be time to invest in a propane tank gauge.

There are several types of gauges that range in price, but if you do a lot of grilling, they might be worth the investment.

Follow the tips in my guide to grilling and you’ll be manning the BBQ like a pro every time. Most of all – have fun!

Do you have some BBQ best grilling tips you would like to share? Please leave them in the comments section below. I’d love to add them to my post.

Pin this post for learning how to grill

Would you like a reminder of this post of my 25 grilling tips? Just pin this image to one of your household tips boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.

Meat on grill over a flame with words How to Grill Like a Pro - 25 tips for gas and charcoal BBQs.

Admin note: this post with my BBQ grill guide first appeared on the blog in March of 2015. I have updated the post to add all new photos, a project card for using a chimney starter, and a video for you to enjoy.

Yield: 1 perfect charcoal fire

How to Use a Chimney Starter

Charcoal chimney starter on a grill.

There is no need for lighter fluid if you use a chimney starter. This handy tool  easily starts your barbecue fire without adding a nasty taste to your food.

Active Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Difficulty easy

Materials

  • Chimney starter
  • Lighter cubes or wadded up newspaper

Tools

  • Matches

Instructions

  1. Remove the grate from your grill.  
  2. Fill the chimney starter to the top with charcoal (use less for smaller amounts of food). 
  3. Place lighter cubes on the charcoal grate and light them. (You can also place wadded up newspaper inside the chimney starter at the bottom and light it.)
  4. Put the chimney starter directly on top of the lighter cubes, on the charcoal grate.
  5. In about 10 - 15 minutes the coals should be sufficiently lit to pour into the grill. (Coals will turn gray with some ash.)
  6. Slowly pour the coals on the charcoal grate, and arrange them for direct or indirect heat.
  7. Set the cooking grate back into place, replace the lid, and when the grill has heated up sufficiently you’ll be ready to cook. (This takes about 10-15 minutes to reach 550°F. )

Notes

The chimney starter will be very hot so put it away from pets and children.

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Tim Pitts

Tuesday 5th of January 2021

Nicely put together. Always room for improvement when it comes to BBQing. Many thanks, Tim

Zoe Campos

Tuesday 16th of June 2020

Thank you for reminding me to use a dry rub or marinate the meat before cooking it in order to achieve a perfectly seasoned and cooked BBQ. We're thinking of celebrating my husband's birthday by having a barbecue party in our front yard and invite our neighbors. It might be a good idea to look for some propane delivery services as early as now to ensure that we'll have ample supplies for cooking,

Thomas Peterson

Tuesday 9th of July 2019

Greasing the grill grates to help prevent food from sticking is a great idea. I've been wanting to throw a summer barbecue and wanted to make sure it's a great cooking experience. I'll have to remember to grease the grill grates after cleaning it and get a silicone pastry brush to help cook with this bbq meat pit sauce I got for sale!

Jo Bass

Wednesday 5th of December 2018

Really helpfull tips

Hannah Neilson

Tuesday 26th of June 2018

Thanks for the tip about having room temperature meat when grilling. It would probably make the meat cook easier if they are at room temperature. You may also want to invest in good grilling papers to make it turn out well.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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