6 Winning Grilling Tips from Steve Raichlen of ‘Project Smoke’ on PBS

If you’re not sure your grill game isn’t up to par for this Memorial Day Weekend, fret not. You’re not alone, and Steve Raichlen, the grill master of Bush’s BBQ Bootcamp has your back. Long gone are the days of stressing over whether the chicken is fully cooked, or that your one guest who demands a medium-cooked steak is satisfied because let’s be honest, we all know that person.

If this is your first time busting out the grill since warmer weather arrived, we have faith in you, and so does Raichlen. Some of the most common errors stem from simply getting the fire rollin’ on your grill. According to Raichlen, there is an easy solution for such a problem: you control the fire, the fire doesn’t control you.

1. Building the Fire

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Barbecue Bible

It’s easy to get frazzled when you’re trying to light up the grill for the first time of the season, and can be even more stressful if you’re using a charcoal grill. The key here is to create a 3-zone, meaning three separate areas on the grill specified for different purposes and temperatures.

You’ll have a high heat area, a medium heat area, and a low heat area meant to keep food warm. Setting up your grill properly will ensure the smooth sailing of your weekend festivities, as it serves as the centerpiece to all the fun you’re about to have in the sun.

To master this 3-zone technique on a charcoal grill, Raichlen says you’ll want to arrange the coals for the high heat area in a thick layer over one-third of the grill. Next to that, you’ll arrange a single layer of the remaining coals in one-third of the grill for the medium heat, and then have an empty area for your warming section.

In terms of grilling, there are some key pointers Raichlen spelled out to make your experience a fool-proof one. Never again will you question your use of tongs, your cuts of meat or meet your match with the all-dreaded soggy bun.

2. Keep The Grill Hot, Clean, and Lubricated

To get the perfect grill marks every time, it’s vital to keep the grill hot.

Make sure you clean the grill with a wired brush prior to applying anything on its surface, then use a paper towel or napkin covered in vegetable oil to go over the grills grates.

3. Pick Quality Meat

Knowing what type of meat you should buy and how to spot it is a necessity when it comes to being a grill master, says Raichlen.

Look for grass-fed or non-GMO on the label, and check out the marbling, as a well-marbled cut of meat is generally a good one. Do you like your meat tender? Ask the butcher for a cut of filet mignon or a rib steak.

4. Different Veggies Require Different Grilling

For high-water content vegetables such as peppers, onion and corn, use high, direct heat to cook the water out and ensure they cook through.

For other more dense vegetables like potatoes and carrots, use an indirect grilling method, or to the side of the heat source.

5. Lettuce Saves Buns

Sick of having soggy buns? Use a leaf of lettuce placed underneath your burger patty to soak of the juicy goodness of your perfectly grilled burger without soaking your bottom bun.

6. You Don’t Need to Wash Your Tongs

Contrary to what you might’ve heard, you don’t need to wash or sterilize your tongs in between use or after placing raw meat onto the grill. The heat from the grill will sterilize the tongs in between use, making grilling that much easier and carefree.

Whatever your plans may be for the weekend, don’t forget these tips along with much more by Raichlen to ensure smooth sailing all the way into Memorial Day night. 

Steven Raichlen, grill master of Bush’s BBQ Bootcamp, is the author of the Barbecue Bible and Project Smoke, and the host of Project Smoke on PBS. Check out his website here.