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Updated: 22 Jun 2022

7 things you're doing wrong when you barbecue

Want to host the perfect barbecue, but not sure where you're going wrong? Find out what you can do to fix it

With the May bank holiday just around the corner, 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 better 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 you just need the barbecue to match, see our round-up of the best barbecues

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1. Using meat straight out of the fridge

A plate of steaks sat next to a kamado grill

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 hits 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.

See our latest pork sausage reviews. Or, go meat-free and choose one of our best vegan sausages instead.  

2. Having the grill far too hot

Cooking burgers, kebabs and sausages on a BBQ

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.

Make sure your BBQ meat is safe to eat by checking the temperature with one of our best meat thermometers

3. Not using the lid properly

A smoking barbecue next to a bag of coal

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 of what type of barbecue is best for you? Head over to our barbecue buying guide to see the pros and cons of each one.

4. Cooking the wrong kinds of food

Cooking kebabs on a barbecue

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.

A hot dog isn't the same without a drizzle of ketchup. See how cheaper supermarket own labels stand up against classic Heinz in our tomato ketchup taste test

5. Pressing down on your burgers

Burgers on a barbecue grill

We're all guilty of copying the chefs we see on TV and using the underside of a spatula to push our burgers down onto 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 onto the grill bars or drip down into the coals or onto the burners. 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

Barbecuing meat skewers

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.

See all of our best BBQ tongs

7. Not cleaning it after every use

Cleaning the grill on a barbecue with a wire brush

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.