How To: 14 Food Hacks You Need to Know for Grilling Season

14 Food Hacks You Need to Know for Grilling Season

It's that time of year where you need to break out the grill and cook food over red-hot coals, whether it's the beginning, middle, or end of summer. Even if you're not a grill master extraordinaire, you can use these hacks to fool your friends and family into thinking that you're a barbecuing badass.

#1. Make Sure You Have Enough Gas to Grill

Don't get caught with underdone chicken or beef because you ran out of propane. All you need is some hot water to give you an idea of how much gas is left in the tank. It's not a perfect measurement, but it works in a pinch.

Just tilt the propane canister to one side and pour the hot water gently up and down the length of the tank. Set it back upright and touch the side of the tank. Where it's cool is where the propane has leveled off. If the entire side is warm, that sucker's empty.

#2. Marinate Your Meat in Beer to Make It Healthier

Grilled meat is delicious, but alas, grilling causes carcinogenic PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and HCAs (heterocyclic amines) to form in meat. Scientists have discovered you can negate this effect (thank goodness) by marinating your meat in dark beer.

As if we needed more reasons to celebrate beer. Image by Birgit Korber/123RF

#3. Marinate/Spice Rub Your Protein, Period

In fact, marinating your protein of choice before you grill is a good bet, even if you don't use beer. You'll add flavor and tenderize that sucker, too. You can also brine or spice rub it to great effect as well. Brining is an especially great way to ensure that your meat won't dry out on the grill if it's accidentally left on a little too long.

Spice, spice, baby. Image via I Want Crazy

Plus, if you don't like beer, you can add a combination of certain spices (cumin, coriander seed, galangal, fingerroot, rosemary, and turmeric) to your marinade or rub. They will also stave off the formation of HCAs.

#4. Clean Your Grill with an Onion or Tinfoil

Sometimes a BBQ is so much fun that you skip essential steps like cleaning off that charred grill before you put it away. If you open up the hood only to discover that the situation's not so pretty, never fear: all you need is an onion to get it clean quickly.

Or, you can even use a sheet of aluminum foil. Bonus: the onion will disinfect the grill, too.

Both methods involve heating up the grill first, so be sure to watch the videos for detailed instructions.

#5. Prep the Grill with Oil to Make It Easier to Clean Later On

Cleaning off a grubby grill after it's been sitting in its own filth will really teach you a lesson: not to do that again. You can make the cleanup easier by taking the proper steps before you start cooking.

LearnVest spoke with Doug Keiles, an award-winning grill master for Ribs Within. He recommends soaking a sturdy, folded-up paper towel in a neutral-flavored cooking oil, and placing it inside a pair of tongs to wipe down the grill thoroughly.

A few moments of prep work save you a lot of work later. Image via Olive This

That way, food is less likely to stick after you're done cooking.

#6. Don't Have Barbecue Tongs? Use Chopsticks Instead

Yes, you read that right. Chopsticks are an unsung great among kitchen tools. Once you get enough practice, you can use them to flip just about anything, even a big steak. Be sure to use wooden chopsticks, since they won't heat up as quickly as metal tongs.

Image by Dinis Tolipov/123RF

Plus, if you're cooking something small and it slips through the bars, chopsticks are an ideal way to pick it up.

#7. Want Kabobs? Use Chopsticks or Rosemary Sprigs

Chopsticks to the rescue again! Why waste money on skewers when you can spear your foodstuffs on items you already have?

Using old takeout chopsticks as skewers is very green. Image by Lisa Dang/Dang It Delicious

If you want even prettier presentation and extra flavor, then get some fresh rosemary stems and stick your cut-up veggies, tofu, and meat on those. The flavor from the herb will suffuse the food as it cooks.

Rosemary makes a great cooking tool as well as a flavoring. Image via Pantry Garden Herbs

Pantry Garden Herbs has some good how-to tips to follow.

#8. Cook Hot Dogs the Right Way: Spiral Cut 'Em First

Want your hot dogs to be perfectly cooked, with a crisp exterior and well-done, juicy interior? Then you need to spiral cut them before they go on the grill. Trust me, they're delish.

The spiral-cut hot dog: it tastes as good as it looks. Image by Chowhound/YouTube

#9. In a Hurry? Start Meat in the Microwave, Finish It on the Grill

If you miscalculated how much time you'd have to grill all your food, don't worry. You can start the cooking process in the microwave to speed things along.

Jamaican jerk chicken in the microwave. Image via Microwave Master Chef

Just follow your microwave's instructions for cooking beef, pork, chicken, or fish and make sure to remove the food before it's fully cooked. Then move it to the grill where your food can soak up that smoky flavor and gain some fancy grill marks as it finishes cooking.

#10. Divide Your Grill in Two Parts to Keep Meat from Overcooking

Also known as having a "two-zone fire," this technique keeps the burning coals heaped on one side of the grill so you can cook meat on one side and then move it to the cooler side once it's done.

It lets you keep cooking new items while the done pieces can rest up and still stay warm. Watch the video above from Weber Grills to get the skinny.

#11. Fix Store-Bought BBQ Sauce So It Tastes Homemade

Homemade BBQ sauce is the taters, but if you're in a rush, you may need to get some from your local supermarket. If you find that it doesn't quite meet your standards, never fear: there are ways to use ingredients you already have (like apple cider vinegar, hot sauce, salt, sugar, paprika, and fruit juice) to make it taste better.

Image by trenttsd/Flickr

#12. Use Muffin Tins & Empty Six-Pack Carriers for Condiments

Eating outdoors is fun until a strong wind kicks up and knocks over your ketchup and scatters the napkins on the ground. Avoid that issue by using a muffin tin to hold condiments.

Muffin tins make everything better. Image by Grant Thompson/The King of Random

Meanwhile, if you have an empty cardboard beer carrier, use it to store napkins, utensils, and bottled sauces so they're secure from winds and rampaging children.

This one's been fancied up, but that's an empty beer carrier under all that contact paper. Image via Neat Nest Organizing

#13. Use Up the Grill's Heat After You're Done Cooking

Lifehack points out that your grill will stay warm even after you're done cooking. A great way to make sure that heat doesn't go to waste is to pile on items that need to stay warm: extra cooked meat, burger and hot dog buns, grilled vegetables, etc.

Peanut butter s'mores cooking on the grill. Image via I Love Peanut Butter

You can also use those last glowing coals to wrap some desserts in foil and let them cook while you and your guests enjoy the main course.

#14. Don't Have a Grill? Improvise

Sometimes you decide to grill out at the last minute. Now that it's summer, every store within driving distance is probably all out of affordable barbecues. No problem — you can make a DIY version out of almost anything, whether it's a shopping cart:

We hope the sensor didn't go off when they took the cart out of the parking lot. Image via Unknown

Or a rake (for roasting hot dogs, naturally):

Or a few soda cans:

Or even an old Mac Pro, for techie types:

Apple is furiously developing the iGrill as you read this. Image via Amzer

Innovation: it makes everything taste better.

But no matter what tips you use to make your barbecues better, remember to always let meat rest, slice it against the grain, and have some fun.

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