The first time I ever tried to grill on my own, I messed up royally. I doused the coals in my parent’s grill with as much starter fluid as I could find and tried to cook with the flames, not the heat. I had no clue about how to grill and just thought I needed flames. I’m lucky that I only ruined some chicken and didn’t burn the house down.
I have learned an encyclopedia’s worth about grilling and BBQ since that time by going through what I call the “University of Fire, Trial and Error.” Actually, I’m still learning. I never want to stop. But at least I’m not almost burning down the house anymore. Seriously, if I had to give ONLY five tips to someone just starting out, I think this is what I would share.
- Start with equipment in good condition – A few years ago a neighbor was telling me about the problems he was having grilling. I took a look at his gas grill and saw that the burner tubes and most of the grill itself was rusted out. Even an experienced grill master was not going to make that thing work correctly. Don’t sabotage yourself. Make sure your grill is in good operating condition and has all of its parts. In fact, I would highly recommend starting on a new grill. That will give you confidence that the grill is up to the job and you’ll get the instruction manual that goes with it. Yeah, you’re supposed to read those things.
- Know your temperatures – Imagine if the first time you started to drive, you were blindfolded. You would not have any clue as to how fast you were going, where you were going or if you passed your exit. That is what grilling without knowing your temperatures is like…you’re gonna have a bad time. Get a grill that has a good temperature gauge with actual temperatures listed, not just ranges of temps, such as “BBQ” “Grill” and “Call 911.” Also get a quality instant read thermometer, so you’ll know for sure when your food is done. People will give you methods that don’t use thermometers. For example, you can guestimate the temp of your grill by how many seconds you can hold your hand over the heat and figure out if your steak is done by how it feels compared to your palm. But those are affected by variables and take experience. With time and experience, your intuition will take over but thermometers are your best bet.
- Direct and Indirect – There is a ton of terms, acronyms, and sayings unique to grilling. You will learn those in time but don’t worry about them for now. But you do need to know about direct and indirect cooking. Whether you are cooking over gas or coals, direct is when you are cooking right above your heat source. This is good for lean, quick-cooking meats like boneless chicken breasts, burgers, chops and steaks. Indirect is when you grill with the grill lid closed and the food NOT above the heat source but to the side. This is good for larger and slower meats like roasts, whole chickens and ribs.
- BBQ sauce is NOT a marinade – Probably the most frequent grilling horror stories I hear from grilling newbies is a story that goes something like this. “I put some chicken in XXX BBQ sauce for a few hours and then put it on the grill. The outside was black but the inside was still raw.” BBQ sauce is liquid sugar and it will burn in just minutes. It is a finishing sauce, not a marinade. It should only be applied during the last few minutes of cooking. If possible, switch to indirect heat at that point.
- Don’t Panic – This is supposed to be fun, remember? Using long handled grill tools and long sleeved grilling gloves/mitts will boost your confidence and following the grill manufacturer’s instructions will keep you safe. If the grill flares up, just slide your meat to an indirect area not above the heat and shut the lid for a minute. This will calm things down, give you a chance to regroup and then get back in the game.
When I think of recipes that are perfect for the beginning griller, this marinated flank steak recipe comes to mind because it was one of the first things I ever learned to grill. It has minimal preparation, minimal ingredients and is quick cooking without any tricks required. It also uses only one steak to feed several people so it lets you focus on it instead of grilling four individual steaks at once. Despite all of that, the finished result is tender, tasty and makes you look like a grill wizard.
If you're new to grilling, or even if your a pro, this simple flavorful grilled steak will satisfy every time.
- 1 beef flank steak
- 1/3 cup oil
- 1/3 cup red wine
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Montreal Steak Seasoning
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2-3 pinches chopped parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon Montreal Seasoning
- Score your flank steak on both sides. Do this by dragging a sharp knife in criss crossed diagonal lines about an inch apart.
- Place the steak in a 1 gallon zip top bag. Whisk the oil, red wine and soy sauce together. Pour the marinade over the steak, press out excess air from the bag, seal the bag and refrigerate for 8 hours.
- Preheat your grill to high (600 degrees or above).
- Remove the steak from the marinade and discard the marinade. Season the steak on both sides with the steak seasoning.
- Place the steak on the grill and cook for 5-7 minutes.
- Flip the steak and cook until the steak reaches an internal temperature of 130 degrees, about another 5-7 minutes.
- Remove the steak from the grill and let it rest for 5 minutes.
- Optional Board Dressing: Drizzle your cutting board with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, parsley and Montreal Seasoning
- Then slice thinly against the grain into strips and serve immediately.