The sun is out, your friends are over and the kids are splashing around in the pool. Ah yes, it’s summertime, and you’re just dying to break out your grill or smoker and throw an amazing barbeque party in your backyard, at the beach, or wherever you happen to be.

Once you’ve invited all your friends, selected the meat, vegetables and other menu items, bought the booze and soft drinks, it's time to get down to the very important business of grilling. Opinions vary as to what you should and shouldn’t do when cooking meat outdoors. Every barbeque chef seems to have his or her own secret methods and recipes. Keeping that in mind, here are some basic tips to make your grilling experience, and the culinary experience of your guests, top notch.

Prepare Your Meat Ahead of Time

rigues, Flickr

Marinades can often make the barbecue. You want your friends to tell you how zesty and tangy that burger or cut of steak was. Don’t be afraid to be a little bit daring with your marinade and rub recipes. Use strong flavors for some of your meat selections.

Some of the most potent tastes come from chili sauces, soy sauce, garlic infused olive oil and Worcestershire sauce. No matter what type of marinade you choose, try to get the meat in the mixture at least 24 hours ahead of time. When you’re getting ready to actually cook, let the meat (especially the heftier cuts) sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before placing them on the grill, which will allow for more even cooking.

Be a Thoughtful Grill Master

Notting Hill Carnival 2006
Miles Willis, Getty Images

Everyone has a different preference as to what good food is. Kids love hotdogs and hamburgers. Those time-honored staples can be an important part of a great barbecue party. But you should also splurge a little, and get some choice meat cuts for the grilling connoisseurs out there.

If you’re on a restricted budget, marinated flank steak is often a good choice. And just in case there are some people in attendance who aren’t big meat fans, have some vegetables ready to grill as well. If you marinade the vegetables in advance, they should caramelize nicely when you toss them onto the BBQ. If you’re stuck for time, at least give your greens a nice coating of olive oil, which will add extra flavor, and create a nice texture.

Know Your Burger

Rick, Flickr

Burgers are often the king of the summer barbeque fiestas. They are the perfect shape for even grilling, and are very affordable. A few tricks will help make your burgers the best around.

First off, avoid frozen and packaged patties. The amount (and quality) of the meat is often questionable with premade burgers. If possible, go for fresh burgers made from ground sirloin, which you can find from a local butcher, or at the supermarket.

Don’t press your patties down with the spatula and make them sizzle (even though that’s a fun sound), and stop flipping them over and over. Really, once the burgers are on the grill, try not to touch them too much. This will help the juices remain intact. Also, burgers tend to shrink, so try and make them (or buy them) a little bit bigger than the buns you're going to use. And, of course, the buns should be toasted.

Cooking Slow


When dealing with ribs, larger cuts of steak, and other meats, the general rule is to marinade them overnight, and then cook them slowly, on a low heat. The result is a tender and very tasty piece of meat. One of the best ways to slow cook is to keep the meat off of the direct flames. You can do this by placing the ribs or steaks on the grill away from the flames, or you can use some kind of heat shield. Additionally, you can only turn on one or two burners (when working with gas) under the grill. It might take longer to cook the meat, but the mouth-watering flavors you’ll get will be well worth the wait.

Give the Juices a Rest

BBQ meat
Naotakem, Flickr

You and your friends are hungry. You’ve been loitering around the barbeque for what seems like hours, just waiting for the meat to finish. But if you really want the best flavor, you should wait a little bit longer, once the food is taken off the grill. An extra 10 minutes or so will let the juices inside whatever grill item you’ve selected reabsorb inside the meat, making it that much juicier. Otherwise, if you dig in right away, the juices will just flow down your chin, and then onto you shirt, or onto the plate. What a waste that would be.

Don’t Be a Zealous Flipper

10th Anniversary Big Apple Barbecue Sponsored By Southern Living
Brian Killian, Getty Images

Like we’ve already told you with hamburgers, let the poor meat be. Lots of people like to poke and prod the food, and then give their opinions about what stage of "cooked" it happens to be. That is a mistake.

The meat, and the fish, will come off the grill smoothly enough when it’s cooked through. You really only need to flip it once, or perhaps a few times (depending on what's being cooked). If the meat is sticking, it probably needs a bit more time. Don’t force it in order to flip it. The more you mess with your food, the greater chance you’ll have of spoiling the taste. Check the meat with your eyes and your nose to make sure it isn’t burning, but stop throwing it all over the place.

Light with a Chimney

If you use any kind of lighter fluid or fuel to get your charcoal burning, you run the risk of getting some of that "fuel" taste mixed in with your BBQ flavor. You want to be a cool grill master, of course, who doesn’t have to douse his or her charcoal to start the embers burning. A chimney starter, and a bit of newspaper, is a pretty smooth and handy way to light your charcoal. Chimney starters can usually be purchased in hardware stores, or any place that retails grills and barbecue tools. All you have to do is place the paper at the bottom of the "chimney" beneath the charcoal, and set it on fire. You’ll have smoldering coals in no time at all.

‘Smoke Bombs’ for Gas Grills Improve the Flavor

Gas grills aren’t known for producing that delicious "smoky" meat flavor naturally, but this can be easily remedied when using the smoker. As long as you’re grilling something that needs a bit of time to cook, a "smoke bomb" should do the trick. You’ll have to get some wood chips -- preferably something like cherry, hickory or oak -- and then wrap them up in sturdy aluminum foil (the "bomb" shell). Once you’ve got foil and wood prepared, poke some holes in the foil so the smoke can escape, set it on the burner and then get ready to cook.

Be a Safe Grill Master

When working with fire, charcoal or gas, accidents can and do happen. You want your guests to have a blast, but not get blasted away by the flames. Keep a fire extinguisher handy, know how to cut off the fuel supply to a gas cooker, never drench the charcoal with fuel for fun and always have the numbers of emergency services nearby. By keeping fuel lines clean, cleaning up the grease buildup in grills and having someone minding the flames at all times, you’ll have a safe and successful barbecue this summer.

Also, if the meat is sitting around for a long time, keep it cold beforehand and during the preparation stages. And make sure it's nice and covered after it has been cooked. Bacteria loves raw meat and meat that is cooling off. It’s a poor host who burns his guests (or his house down) or gets people sick with improperly maintained food.

Know the Difference Between Grilling and Smoking

ATOMIC Hot Links, Flickr

When you grill either with gas or charcoal, you are letting direct heat cook the food, which then makes it edible, and hopefully very delicious. This method is best for smaller cuts of steak, short ribs, chicken breasts, hamburgers, sausages and other similar items.

When you smoke meat, you’re cooking it with indirect heat in order to achieve that "smoky" flavor. This way of cooking takes longer but is very effective for larger items, like whole chickens and turkeys, big racks of rib, fat hams and so on. There are different types of smokers available, and different types of wood for producing a variety of flavors.

If you’re just flipping burgers, hotdogs and simple steaks, a direct heat grill should serve you well. But as you venture deeper into the art of the barbecue, you might want to take a look at some of the more sophisticated smoking contraptions and methods out there. Regardless of the type of food you’re going to cook, or the method you're planning to use, always be safe, and have loads of barbecue fun.

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