As the spring breeze replaces the chill of the long winter, everyone looks at their backyard and thinks: BBQ!
Few things are as enjoyable, agreeable, and delicious as getting the family, neighbors, and friends gathered round the grill. This stays somewhat of a fantasy, though, if you haven’t done much grilling before.
The whole idea of preparing meat, igniting the grill, and making sure good food comes out at the end can be intimidating!
But it doesn’t have to be.
And it definitely won’t by the time you’re done reading this ultimate guide on BBQ cooking for beginners. We’ll give you all the juicy details of how to grill with gas for the first time—so bring your appetite and read on.
How to Grill Like a Pro
Make a mental note or write down a checklist of everything you’re going to need. (Hint: We will get to each and every step and item in a moment.)
This minimizes the probability of something unsavory happening in the heat of cooking. We love surprises and all, but only the good kind, like an old friend dropping by.
And yet, there are other kinds of surprises for the novice gas griller—like running out of gas or not knowing when exactly the chicken thighs are done. The great British chef Gordon Ramsay was famed for warning that “This lamb is so undercooked, it’s following Mary to school!”.
As grillers, if recreational, we try to avoid these things.
To help you demystify the process of grilling, here’s a quick summary of the steps:
- Step 1: Putting a menu together
- Step 2: Preparing the food
- Step 3: Making the necessary safety checks
- Step 4: Cleaning and prepping the grill
- Step 5: Cooking the meat, chicken, fish, or any other goodies
- Step 6: Serving the food
- Step 7: Cleaning up the grill
A Few Things Before You Start
Before the actual grilling starts, there are a few things you need to do.
We always recommend doing full maintenance of the gas grill twice a year. The start of the spring and summer season is a great time to do this and make sure that all is well with the grill.
Safety comes first, so the hoses, valves, connections, and gas cylinders should all be in mint condition.
You can perform a simple leakage test by putting some dish soap on each individual part. If a spot starts bubbling, then that part is frayed and needs repair or replacement.
Another must-have in the griller’s arsenal is a dry powder fire extinguisher. This is also a fundamental requirement by most local authorities. Make sure that it’s working and within its expiration date.
Not all grills are created equal, so you need to consult the user’s manual for the particulars of the maintenance routine.
Additionally, there’s an essential check that many people skip or forget, which is making sure that the standby propane cylinder is full.
Barbecuing on gas can take a while—especially if you have a big crowd in your backyard and you need to put enough food on the plates. This can easily empty a half-full LP cylinder, and if the standby one is almost out… well, that is unfortunate.
So get that spare filled.
Cleaning the grill is just as important as running routine maintenance.
Piled-up ashes, grime, and charred food sticking to the racks isn’t a good look.
More importantly, it’s not a hygienic state. Start with vacuuming the grill, then scrub off the grime, and wash off the organic stuff.
Related: How Often to Clean a Gas Grill
Next, you need to get yourself some grilling skills.
Luckily, this isn’t rocket science, and they say it’s easier than learning how to ride a bike. In fact, the success of your BBQ leans on two points:
- The first is understanding the differences between grilling with an open or closed lid.
- The second is knowing when to use direct and indirect grilling.
Don’t worry; you don’t even need to google these culinary matters. We’ll explain it all here in the next sections.
It’s Time to Round Up Some Grilling Gadgets
Having a grill might seem to be the only thing you need to get a BBQ going. However, there are a few gadgets that would make your life much easier while cooking an epic steak.
Here are some of the much-needed tools:
- Stainless steel tongs of various sizes
- Stainless steel spatulas
- Small roasting pans or sheets
- A meat thermometer
- Extra skewers
- A stainless steel scraper
- A wire brush for cleaning the racks
- Foil containers to collect the grease
This is a basic list, but of course, you can add plenty more items to it.
This is all part of the fun!
Why Preheat Your Grill
Preheating the grill is an important step that some beginners try to skip.
Our opinion here is clear; cutting-corners always looks smart, until it doesn’t! That’s why you need to spend around 15-20 minutes getting the grill up to heat.
Let it warm up and get completely ready for the hot action that’s coming up.
Grilling starts with opening up the regulator of the propane cylinder. Then, you turn on the gas knob and press the ignite button. If your grill needs to be started manually, then you can use a long match, or spark stick, to light up the burners.
If they take their time with the gas on, but no fire starts, then turn off the gas. You’d need to wait a few minutes before trying again one more time. And always remember to work with the grill lid fully opened, to avoid any build-up of gas.
Troubleshooting your grill: Why Won’t My Gas Grill Light?
Once the burner shows the flames, turn up all the knobs, then close the lid. You want the grill to reach an optimal temperature of 400°F, which is suitable for most meats. Wait for around 15-20 minutes, then open the lid.
The preheating phase also burns off any residual organic matter or debris still stuck on the racks. So you should brush off the grill to make sure it’s cleaned. Then, you can grease it with oil.
That should remove any traces of charred substances or the occasional wire from the grill brush.
Grilling With the Lid Open vs. With the Lid Closed
Grilling is all about textures, flavors, and an incomparable grill-mark appearance. There’s an even more important factor though that affects the deliciousness of the food. That is the doneness of the grilled meal.
Overdone food is just as unsavory as undercooked food.
This applies to everything from a big turkey, to a side dish of shrimp skewers. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to control how thoroughly, or lightly, the food is grilled. That is by cooking with the lid open or closed.
Grilling With the Lid Open
An open lid grill is the most natural form of a BBQ.
It’s the closest thing to how the cavemen roasted their catch of the day or the way a campfire is used. All the heat is coming from underneath the grate, and the food is quickly seared and cooked through.
This method works best with thin meats and grilled vegetables. As a rule of thumb, any food that’s less than ¾ of an inch to 1 inch thick should be grilled with an open lid. The same applies if it takes less than 15-20 minutes to be fully done.
Some of the foods that work nicely with an open lid grill are burgers, chicken tenders, fish, shrimp skewers, and sliced vegetables.
Learn more: Should You Grill Hamburgers With the Lid Open?
It’s recommended to turn the food over as soon as the bottom side is seared. Flipping it a couple more times after that is also needed. This guarantees that the food would be nicely browned from both sides, but still cooked nicely all over.
Grilling With the Lid Closed
Closing the lid of the grill has the wonderful effect of saving all the heat that’s emerging from the burners, then reflecting it back. The food then gets plenty more heat from all sides, in addition to the direct flame burning underneath it.
This method is perfect for roasting large game, thick juicy cuts, or big chunks of meat. The concentrated heat also helps in getting the food ready in less time. Your guests wouldn’t need to wait forever to taste the grilled T-bone steak or golden turkey.
There are some instances when it’s recommended to start grilling with an open lid. Then, after searing the meat, you can close the lid and let the food cook all the way to its core.
Some people estimate the suitable time to cook under a closed lid, while others use a meat thermometer to get more accurate results.
The Direct vs. Indirect Grilling Technique
|Lid off, applying high, direct heat to the food from below
|Lid on, applying moderate, indirect heat from all sides
|Cook your meat and veg directly over lit burners
|Cook your meat and veg in a preheated grill, but over unlit burners
|Best for searing and cooking thin cuts of meat through
|Best for cooking thick cuts of meat, whole birds, and small piglets to doneness
Grilling food directly over the fire gives it an incredible flavor in addition to a golden-brown glazed layer that’s simply irresistible.
There’s a little dilemma here, though: you need the food to finish cooking, but if you subject it too long to the flames, the golden brown color soon turns into a charred black. The burned outer layer often tastes bitter and generally looks unappetizing.
The solution to that is indirect grilling.
There are several burners covering the whole surface of the grill, and each one is controlled by a separate knob. You can turn off the burners on one corner, and use that for indirect grilling.
Indirect grilling can also be achieved by using a sheet pan and placing the food inside it. This way, it would still get the heat, but not the direct flames.
You can also continue grilling that food under a closed lid to give it a full opportunity to become well done, while preserving its beautiful golden crusty outside layer.
Choosing What Foods to Grill
There’s a wide selection of foods that you can grill on any given occasion.
You can choose between meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables. Then, there are long lists of side dishes you can pick and choose from, like corn and sweet potatoes. Finally, there are tons of dessert options that you can prepare on a grill.
Once you decide on a specific main food, then comes the cut. For example, you can get meat in the form of a steak, a leg of lamb, or some quarter-pounder burgers.
Along the same lines, you can cut the meat into cubes, add a strong marinade, and make a Mediterranean kebab skewer.
Poultry can be lean white-meat filets, thick thighs, or a big turkey. As for fish, the options are quite varied. But mainly you have to choose between filets or whole fish.
Having decided on the basics, you can then move on to the different marinades, herbal additions, seasonings, and rubs that you can use for extra flavoring.
You can even take that a step further and go for a specific cuisine. Mexican, Indian, Thai, and Mediterranean tastes are phenomenal.
Thus, you need to narrow down your choices starting with the types of meat, then the side dishes, and lastly the dessert. You can also pick the refreshments that go best with that menu. The flavoring of the grilled foods is another big decision.
Seasonal varieties can work in your favor as well. There are several foods that come out in full bloom in the middle of winter, like apples, pumpkin, and squash. While others are only available in summer, like strawberries and mangoes. Make good use of that.
The freshness of these veggies would have a phenomenal effect on your side dishes and desserts. You can take this a step further by exploring the unique products of your local scene. What grows in the south is quite different from what’s available in the north.
You can go with a popular recipe or wow your guests with an original and unique culinary experience.
How to Prep the Food for Grilling
Having settled on the menu that you’re going to have on your BBQ, now it’s time to buy the ingredients and prep the food for grilling.
There are two main things that you need to do at this point: cut the food and add some flavors.
Cutting the Meat and Veggies
Cutting the meat into thin slices, or forming the burgers into patties less than ¾ of an inch to 1 inch thick, means less grilling time.
The same applies to chicken breasts, regular sausage, hotdogs, or seafood. These tender filets are generally cooked with an open lid on direct heat.
Conversely, briskets, ribs, T-bone steaks, whole chicken, or a large trout, all take longer to cook. They need lower indirect heat and often give the best results with closed-lid grilling.
As you plan your BBQ, bear in mind that food prep is integral to how quickly or slowly the food would come out of the grill. It all depends on how chunky and thick it is.
Use separate cutting boards for meat and veg. And wash your hands, along with all utensils and countertops, after handling raw meat. Raw meat has harmful bacteria on the surface that, when transferred to other foods, can make you and the rest of the people on the table fall ill with food-borne illness.
Adding Some Flavor
The next thing is to add your favorite flavoring.
You can even go for a minimalist approach; just toss in kosher salt and freshly-cracked black pepper right before placing the meat on the grill, and you’d still get a great-tasting flank steak.
The Importance of Resting the Meat
Resting the meat is a difficult matter and a big ask, we are well aware of that! After all, who can resist the golden-brown juicy rib-eye that’s been grilling with the most amazing sizzle?
The main objective is to let it finish cooking and allow the juices to settle. You’d find that leaving the meat for about half an hour greatly enhances its taste and texture.
Whether you’d be serving it as a steak, on a skewer, or shredded inside a Philly steak sandwich, you’d still get the best results if you let the meat rest.
The minimal resting time for most meats is 3 minutes. The thicker the cut of meat, the longer the resting time necessary. A thick brisket, for example, can rest for as long as an hour, sometimes even more.
The reason behind this is that the juices of the meat are at their most ‘liquid’ form when the meat is very hot. Slicing it at this time, would make you lose all of its inherent goodness and juiciness.
Waiting for at least 3 minutes until the meat temperature goes down, means that the juices are redistributed within all the internal tissue.
This keeps the meat moist and flavorful. Additionally, the extra time that the meat chunk is left intact allows it to finish cooking to perfection.
Wrapping up the BBQ Party
Once you finish grilling, turn off the burner, and close the propane regulator fully. It’s best to remove the grease and charred material as soon as possible. After these substances cool off, they tend to stick really hard to the rack, burners, and even the lid.
If you’ve been grilling a large meal, then chances are you’d still have some food after the party. This is one of the nicest perks of grilling: one BBQ can give you fantastic lunches and dinners throughout the week. Even breakfasts and snacks can get some of these foods.
You can repurpose and reinvent the leftover dishes in many creative ways. Meat typically freezes well, and even in the fridge, it doesn’t change its taste drastically. Sandwiches, pasta, salads, and omelets, are among many ways to enjoy grilled food.