8 Grilling Slip-Ups and How to Fix Them

Avoid common grilling mistakes with these easy tips


One of grilling’s most appealing aspects is that it’s a quick and relatively low-maintenance way of cooking food — making a summer barbecue an easy way to feed a small or large group of friends. But this fantastic dinner can easily go awry if the cook doesn’t follow some basic grilling rules: Picture scorched eyebrows, blackened meat (not in the good way), or raw food all because of an empty propane tank.

Whether you’re a charcoal kind of griller or a gas die-hard, a professional flame-tamer or first-timer, mistakes happen. We've listed some of the more common ones below and then talked to the Food Network's Aaron McCargo and cookbook author Sam the Cooking Guy to come up with some quick fixes (and preventative measures) for every cookout slip-up. Feel free to share any tips or horror grilling stories with us below!

Mistake #1: Overly Charred Food (a.k.a. Burnt)

Burnt and badly blackened food does not make for happy diners. Since this can be the result of several mistakes, we’ve listed the solutions for the different scenarios below.

Fix 1: Flare-ups can happen to anyone, whether you’re a master griller or beginner, but there are a few things you can do to avoid ruining your food when sudden bursts of flame occur (usually when oil or excess fat drips through the grates).  

A: Have a safe, cool spot on your grill that you can move food to when it happens.

B: Have a small fire extinguisher or spray bottle of water handy, whether it’s a fancy one or a homemade one. If grilling cookbook author Sam Zien doesn’t have a store-bought bottle, he pokes a hole in a water bottle and uses that to extinguish the flame. “It’s a fire right? Flare-ups happen, and it helps to bring flavor,” says Zien, but make sure it doesn't burn your food. (Photo courtesy of Corbis/Ocean)

C: If using an oil-based marinade, try to let excess marinade drip off the meat before placing it on the grill to avoid instigating a flare-up.

Fix 2: If the outside of a large piece of meat like brisket, pork butt, or a whole turkey is starting to burn before it’s close to being done, then, as the Food Network host Aaron McCargo recommends, you can take it off the heat and finish it low and slow in the oven. It will still have that smokiness and nice char without being overly burnt on the outside.

Fix 3: Don't apply sweet and sugary-based marinades like BBQ sauce throughout the grilling process. Just brush the sauce on during the last five minutes or so of cooking because it will burn otherwise, and you’ll lose all that delicious flavor you were trying to add.

Mistake #2: Food Sticking to the Grill

Fix: To avoid leaving pieces of fish and meat clinging to your grill, make sure to oil it well once it’s hot and ready to go. 

Mistake #3: Running Out of Coals or Propane

Fix: For gas grills, make certain you turn off the tank after use. For Zien, this often happens when he cleans the grill afterward. He explains that you have two choices when it comes to cleaning: You can either do it after you cook by cranking up the heat and letting all of the sticky stuff burn off the grill grates or do it 15 minutes before the next time you grill as you heat up your barbecue.

The problem is that more than once he’s gone to eat dinner and totally forgotten to turn off the grill causing him to run out of propane. Since you need a grill to be super-hot before you start cooking any way, why not wait until the next time you grill to clean it off? As he says, “I’m doing two things at once, burning off the foods while heating up the grill and saving time. I learned to compensate for my forgetfulness.”

For charcoal grills, it’s a good idea to have back-up coals ready, and using a charcoal chimney can help maximize the heat generated by the lit coals. Also, regularly test the heat of the grill by holding your hand over the grill, so you know when to add more. General rule of thumb: If you can only hold your hand over the grill for two seconds then it’s hot, three seconds then medium-high heat, etc. (Photo courtesy of Corbis/MM Productions)



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10 Comments

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How many time have I left the grill on to bur of the residue and woke up the next morning with an empty tank of gas. hey people lighten up.

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Gas barbecues don't count the only way to get smoke flavor is with charcoal.

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Apparenlly your range of experts never read instructions. Water and gas grills do nt...I repeat, do not get along. The water and resulting steam will keep you at your favorite "parts" place on a monthly basis. All grill instructions talk about not using water to extinguish flare-ups.

The "high" setting post grilling is not meant to clean the grate as much as it is intended to kill organisms and germs left behind by the raw food you just cooked. By leaving the high temp burn for the next start up; you do not kill the germs and actually provide a warm moist place to give them a jump start. They will multiply and grow in every nook and cranny that the warm up will not reach.

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Are you kidding me......a fire extinguisher?! Yeah, that makes since, set your meat aside, spray chemicals all over your coals, place the meat back on and then watch the chemicals burn off onto your food! Way to go.....My suggestion is to stick with the water bottle.

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There is such a thing as a CO2 fire extinguisher. This would not put unwanted chemicals in your food, and would extinguish the flame faster than the water bottle.

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I would suggest you mention that.......a "not so" minor detail.

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What the hell part of New Jersey are "Anonmyous" and "Mr Avacado" from?" These people are complete idiots when it comes to the art of grilling anything.

Nothing goes in a microwave before going on a grill - NOTHING!!!!!

And an avacado only goes in some kind of dip - like the poster above.

Rule #1 - Beef - as in a steak - is cooked HOT and FAST!

Rule #2 - Everything is cooked LOW and SLOW!

Rule #3 - Grillin' Ain't Barbecue!!!!!

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Should have said that "only" a steak should be cooked hot and fast - keeps it nice and rare. A beef roast can be cooked "low and slow."

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I find that pre-heating raw meat of any kind (sans burgers & dogs) in the microwave for an alloted time BEFORE grilling works for me. For example: Chicken quarters or pork steaks. 10 mins. in the microwave on "cook" 1/2 hour on the the grill over low coals. Smoke flavor, bacteria thwarted by radiation... can't go wrong.

Mr. Avocado's picture

One more tip - keep a fresh california avocado handy for morning, afternoon and late night bbq sessions - they pair well with everything!

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