You can smell it in the air. If you’re lucky, you can even taste it.
What is it? It is the start of grilling season. Colemans and Kenmores are being brought out of hibernation, as barbecue fans across the country are scrambling to find their favorite tongs, while butchers get busy prepping various available meats.
And yes, backyard cooking can imply a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be as time-consuming as it’s been in the past. For starters, you're probably cooking for a lot fewer guests this year. And thanks to chefs and barbecue pros willing to share their tricks and tips, there are dozens of ways to ensure a successful family feast.
That said, here are just eight of the most common mistakes you're making — and how to fix them.
You trim the fat — and toss it away
Even though you may not eat the fat on your steaks, you’re still paying for it, so you may as well use it.
Chef Troy Guard at TAG Restaurant Group uses the fat he trims off his steaks to clean his grill. “I get my grill really hot and then use the leftover fat to clean, and then add flavor, to the grill,” says Guard. “In turn, you’re using the entire cut purposefully, so there’s no waste!”
You spend too much time cleaning the grates
Battle heavy grease without buying expensive products or spending hours scrubbing — just use coffee.
Lauren Haynes, the cleaning expert at Star Domestic Cleaners, recommends soaking a filthy grill gate in a sink filled with freshly brewed coffee. “Let it sit for an hour and then give it a quick scrub. Rinse with warm water, and it will be as clean as new.”
Another trick, according to Ray Lampe, is to use a half an onion as a grill brush. “Just be sure to always heat up the grill before you clean it,” says Lampe, a.k.a. Dr. BBQ.
You're buying the wrong cuts
Trying to save money and time on your steaks? Forget filet mignon.
“I suggest bigger cuts of steak such as skirt steaks and flank steaks,” says Andre Natera, executive chef at Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas. “Not only are these cuts typically less expensive, but you also don’t have as many pieces to man on the grill. Just slice it up nicely when it’s done.”
You don't prep
If you want to spend less time manning the grill, then do as much as you can in advance.
“I like to pre-bake my wings and/or chicken quarters ahead of time and then just touch them to the grill to finish,” says Leland Avellino, executive chef of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. “Also, make all sauces and sides well ahead of time.”
"Make all sauces and sides well ahead of time.”
You eschew ALL pre-made patties
For the vegetarians and vegans, don’t feel obligated to make time-consuming homemade veggie burger patties. In the age of the flexitarian, it’s easy to find wholesome veggie burgers that come grill-ready, like Beyond Burger and other brands. And these days, there are probably plenty of plant-based burger options available right next to the meat counter at your local supermarket.
You underestimate paprika
Don’t have a smoker? No problem. To achieve a smoky flavor in seconds, add smoked paprika to your meat. Chef Doug Psaltis, chef and partner of Chicago’s Bub City, creates his favorite meat rub using paprika, salt, brown sugar (great for caramelization), onion, chili and garlic powders and a pinch of cayenne. To make a sauce from the rub, add water, a little oil or melted butter, and use it to baste the meat three-quarters of the way through grilling.
You don't have a pie tin in your tool kit
If your grilling tool kit is missing a pie tin, you’re probably missing out. Pitmaster Jayna Todisco uses a pie tin for cooking things that tend to fall through the grates, like asparagus, and for covering meat to create more consistent cooking times. She also uses them to vary smokiness.
“If you’re looking for a smoky flavor on your chicken breast, add several wood chips to a particular spot on the coals and add the pie tin cover,” says the winner of the Cowboy Charcoal Fire & Ice Women’s Championship Barbeque Series. “This helps keep smoke concentrated on the chicken and gives you the freedom to cook other things such as vegetables that you may not want so smoky.”
You're sticking with the same old marinade
Did you know kiwifruit can cut your marinade time in half? It's loaded with a natural enzyme called actinidin, which can quickly break down proteins in meat and tenderize it much faster than traditional methods. “Use kiwifruit as a base in your marinade for 10 to 15 minutes before tossing your beef, chicken, lamb, prawns or fish on the grill,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietitian and author of "Body Kindness."
“You can make your own marinade with two mashed green kiwifruit, two tablespoons olive oil, one teaspoon apple cider vinegar and a dash of salt and pepper.”