With the promise of a glorious British summer finally on the horizon, you might be thinking now is the time to bring your barbecue out of retirement and start sharpening up your grilling skills.
There are few things nicer than a juicy burger, grilled veggies or a hot dog fresh off the grill in a sunny garden, but we’ve all been to barbecues where the food options are either anaemic or burnt to a crisp.
We’ve rounded up a handful of things that you might be doing wrong behind the grill, as well as our top tips for making sure your friends and family are blown away by your food every time.
If you’re already a grilling pro but need the barbecue to match, head over to our Best Buy barbecues to see which models we recommend.
1. Using meat straight out of the fridge
It may seem like a no-brainer to leave your meat in the fridge until it’s ready to go on the barbecue, but this is actually a mistake that could really throw off your timings.
If your meat heats the grill when it’s still cold, it will take longer to cook on the outside and could end up still lukewarm on the inside. Bringing your food closer to room temperature will prevent your food from burning and ensure your meal is ready as quickly as possible.
You should try to remember to take your meat out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before you intend to cook it. Certain meats, such as steak, can come out even earlier – up to one hour before.
Need a new barbecue but not entirely sure where to start? Take a look at our guide on how to buy the best barbecue for some handy hints and tips.
2. Having the grill far too hot
Despite what Hell’s Kitchen may lead you to believe, a red-hot grill with flames leaping through it isn’t necessarily the best cooking tool. You’ll realise this when all of your food is charred and black on the outside but hardly cooked in the centre.
The best way to set up your barbecue (if it’s big enough) is to divide it into two different zones – a hot one and a cooler one. Use the hot side to sear your food and then transfer it to the cooler side to gently cook it all the way through.
If you’re working on a smaller barbecue, or your model doesn’t have a warming rack, try leaving some cooler spots around the edges that you can push your food into if it starts to overcook.
A good pair of barbecue tongs will help you get the best out of your barbecue – check out our best barbecue tongs to see which ones we recommend.
3. Not using the lid properly
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the lid of your barbecue doesn’t really play a major role in the cooking process, but it’s actually more important than you might think.
Opening and closing the lid will cause different types of problems depending on whether you have a gas or charcoal barbecue. With gas barbecues, moving the lid around too much will let cold air in and hot air out, so your food will take much longer to cook.
Opening the lid on a charcoal barbecue will allow more oxygen in, which will make the grill much hotter and could cause your food to burn. When you start cooking, make the decision to leave the lid on or off and stick with it.
Unsure on what type of barbecue is best for you? Head over to our guide on gas vs charcoal barbecues to see the pros and cons of each one.
4. Cooking the wrong kinds of food
While it’s definitely possible to cook the majority of foods on a barbecue that doesn’t always mean you should. There are certain items that will taste much better cooked in a frying pan or a conventional oven.
You should try to avoid flaky fish (such as cod, sea bass and trout) as the flavours are too delicate and will be overpowered by the smoke from the grill. It’s also worth steering clear of tough cuts of meat, as these should be cooked low and slow for the best results, and anything with a high fat content such as wagyu steak.
Stick to items such as burgers, sausages, steak and chicken for the meat-eaters, and similar meat-free alternatives for the veggies. If you’re a fish lover then oily, meatier options are your best bet – think salmon or tuna.
5. Pressing down on your burgers
We’re all guilty of copying the chefs we see on TV and using the underside of a spatula to push our burgers down on to the grill as they’re cooking. You might think that this will give them tasty looking char marks, but annoyingly this is rarely the case.
Pushing your burgers down will force all of the delicious juices out of the patties themselves, causing them to burn on to the grill bars or drip down into the coals. Not only will this make the cleaning process difficult, it also means you’ll lose loads of moisture and flavour.
Burgers will cook fairly quickly without you pressing them down, so there’s really no need to interfere with them too much. Simply cook them for four to five minutes on each side and leave them to rest for a couple of minutes before serving.
For more hints and tips on getting delicious barbecue food, check out our guide on how to cook on your barbecue.
6. Leaving the grill unattended
Obviously, from a safety point of view, you should never walk away from your barbecue for long periods of time, especially if there are young children running around the garden who could potentially burn themselves.
However, barbecue food cooks so quickly that taking your eyes off of the grill – even for a minute or two – could result in a dinner disaster. The only real advice we can give here is try not to get too distracted, or ask someone else to watch the food like a hawk if you absolutely need to step away.
7. Not cleaning it after every use
You should always give your barbecue a thorough scrub down after every use, preferably as soon as it has cooled down and is safe to touch. It can feel like a bit of a pain, but you’ll thank yourself later.
Not only will a good clean extend the life expectancy of your barbecue, it will also help you to cook better-tasting food. Leftover meat stuck to the grill will stick on to any new food and give it a horrible, charred flavour that’s not very healthy, either.
You don’t need to buy any fancy tools to keep your barbecue clean (although they are an option) – simply scrape large pieces of food off with a spatula and use a scrubbing brush to remove the rest. Some grills will even fit nicely into your kitchen sink.
Cleaning your barbecue regularly will help it to last much longer, even if you use it all the time. Take a look at our guide on how to care for your barbecue for more information.