Step 1: Build Two Zones on Your Grill
Without getting too deep into the nitty gritty of it, we suggest setting up your grill so that you have access to both direct and indirect heat. Direct heat is cooking your food directly over the coals. This is how you get a sear — that nice steak crust — from the radiant heat of the coals below your food and grill marks from the conductive heat of an ultra hot grill grate. Direct heat is what most people associate with grilling. On the other hand, indirect heat is just as important; food that is not directly above hot coals is subjected to convection heat, which is more like your oven, a little more gentle, and allows for cooking slow and steady, so you can get the inside of a pork loin cooked through without having the outside burnt and tough.
With a two-zone fire, you’re setting yourself up for both options — keep all of your hot coals piled on one side of the barbecue so you have access to both direct and indirect heat. One side for searing, one side for cooking. There are more advanced techniques you can use in relation to coal placement, but having a “hot” side and a “warm” side will be great for most of your summer grilling and a good way to get a handle on your barbecue’s nuances.
Don’t panic! Don’t worry! You’re gonna be fine.
Step 2: What Needs Salt & When
Steaks & Chops: For cuts that are about 1-inch thick, season steaks and chops on both sides with kosher salt (and any other seasoning you’d like) about 40 minutes prior to grilling. This will give the salt enough time to travel throughout the meat. Make sure you wait at least 40 minutes before grilling though, because if you don’t your meat could end up tough. For double cuts or thicker steaks, wait at least an hour.
Burgers: Salt burger patties right before you put them on the grill. If you salt them ahead of time, they’ll become tough and snappy — like a sausage — because of how the salt causes insoluble proteins to bind together. You want a tender, juicy burger, not a sausage patty on a bun.
Sausages: Don’t salt the dogs or brats, you silly goose! They’re already filled with the right amount of salt, which is why the proteins are already bound together.
Step 3: Know Your Cook Times
The goal for a big barbecue is to cook everything on your grill so you can pull them off and serve ‘em hot. Now, if you prefer to serve up hotdogs and burgers first and whet your party’s appetite before serving up a sliced pork tenderloin, bratwurst, and ribeye platter a bit later — there’s absolutely nothin’ wrong with with that! But, we know that some people like to have everything coming off around the same time, especially if you have 8 hot dogs and 12 guests, you just need to know approximately how long each thing takes to cook and work backwards from there.
The first thing you’ll want to do is separate them by how long they take to cook, how long they need to rest before you cut into them, and how well they’ll hold heat when they’re hot. Looking at the longest combined cook/rest time will give you the full time you’ll need on the grill and it’s just counting numbers backwards from there. Looking for cooking and resting times for your MilkRun faves? Check out this post.
Step 4: Use a thermometer to know when it’s done!
Yes. You, like so many others, may have been using the “poke test” all these years but we’ll happily go on record saying that it’s just not the best option. There are so many variables that affect the feeling of a steak, from the compression difference of a lean vs fatty steak to the physical differences between beef and pork and sausage. It’s just not reliable!
Want to know when your meat is at the right temperature? There’s a handy-dandy tool for easily and accurately testing the temperature of a food item — a thermometer! We suggest treating yourself to an instant-read digital thermometer (any kind will do) and you’ll thank us later. In fact, we bet that you’ll never want to cook a steak without one again.
Still skeptical? Imagine if you were baking a cake and your oven didn’t have a temperature setting you could check, you just cranked the dial to the best of your ability… and then to test your cake’s doneness you just poke the outside of it.
Right, nobody would do that. Buy a thermometer — improve your cooking, from grilling to oven-roasted chicken and everything in-between.
You’re All Set
With your grill hot, meat seasoned, your plan in place and your thermometer at the ready, you have everything you need to grill it all. Enjoy!