Grill Hacks You Should Not Attempt On The 4th Of July

The Fourth of July is the grill master's Olympics, requiring great preparation, stamina, and innate knowledge of meat. Your grilling is not a game but a chance to show your skills and reap tasty rewards. But with so much pressure to make a good barbecue platter, it's natural to seek out shortcuts that make this holiday a little less stressful. And while there are some helpful hints, there are certain hacks to avoid when it comes to grilling. 

We've all seen social media fails of people trying to get too creative during their holiday cookouts, with many disregarding safety for flair — or, in the case of this patriotic celebration, literal flares. This July Fourth, you'll want to stick to the basics: avoid overcrowding your grill, give your charcoal ample time to prepare, and save that emergency bucket of water for your fireworks. Avoid these unhelpful hacks and swap them out for ones that work so you can let your delicious barbecue speak for itself.

Avoid cooking too much meat at once

You're a grill master, not a bodybuilder — beware of too much protein at once! While it may seem like a practical hack to cook all your meat in one go, what you'll end up with is a bunch of burnt hot dogs next to underdone chicken. Even if you have a large grill, different meats cook at different heats that optimize for a tender center while not charring the skin. Not to mention, bacteria from raw protein can cross-contaminate if you use the same utensils for different foods.

To avoid this unhelpful hack, give yourself enough time to grill your meats in batches. Note that it is okay to grill multiple meats at once, but you have to pick the right ones. Thicker proteins like chicken breasts and sirloins will take longer and require higher heat, so they're better cooked first. Then, once those are out of the way, you can drop the heat and throw on your shrimp and sausage so they don't burn. You can always throw the meat back on a still-warm but not flaming grill to keep things warm and ready to serve, but avoid overcrowding for the best overall flavor and food safety.

Lighter fluid is not the answer to everything

There is no way to hack a charcoal grill, so don't dump lighter fluid on the coals every 10 minutes to up the heat. You'll likely watch your barbecue burst into flames, but your meat will still be raw on the inside. When using a charcoal grill, give your coals an appropriate amount of time to heat up — anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. You can use lighter fluid at the start to get things burning, but adding too much throughout cooking will give you short bursts of fire instead of a slow and steady burn.

The real hack here is to arrange your charcoal into a pyramid or bullseye around some firestarters — which is a helpful trick if your charcoal grill won't stay lit —  and pour lighter fluid in the center like lava over a volcano. The heat will trap inside the pyramid and reach each coal faster, heating your grill quickly. Once you've hit your desired temperature, you can spread the coals evenly on the bottom of your grill and watch the magic happen.

Soaking your wood chips will water you down

Everyone wants a classic smoky flavor, but what you want is real smoke, not steam. Although some grill experts suggest soaking your wood chips before grilling or smoking, research shows soaking wood chips for grilling isn't as useful as once thought.

Soaking your wood chips in water, in theory, elongates the lifespan of each chip to give off a smokier flavor. Yet if you use any common sense, you'll realize adding water leads to all sorts of problems: temperature instability, extra cooking time, and less flavor as the wood chips get diluted. This hack is not all it's cracked up to be, not to mention it's exceedingly time-consuming for very little payoff. Soaking your wood chips for a few hours doesn't guarantee water has fully permeated your chips, and when you've got a barbecue to plan, who's got time to soak wood chips days in advance?

If you're looking to add extra smoky flavor without the hassle, try using wood pellets in your smoker instead. Note that they aren't the source of fuel, so you'll still need a base fire, but adding them to your smoker or charcoal grill can enhance the smoky taste without dealing with soggy wood chips.

Don't be the boozy barbecuer

To put it bluntly, this is your reminder to make good choices. While an ice-cold beer or cool cocktail may be the perfect refreshment to balance the sweat of working the grill, it's best to keep booze away from your barbecue. Not only could your drink spill, with the alcohol causing a massive explosion in your appliance, but having too much to drink can lead to injuries. Studies have shown that those who grill while drunk are four times more likely to be in a grilling-related accident.

Drinking while grilling also impairs decision-making and can lead to trying hacks that are not only impractical but dangerous, too. For example, no, you cannot use your leftover vodka from your mixed drinks to light your grill — it's not lighter fluid. And on that note, if your ignitor is broken, sparklers are not the ideal replacement for a grill lighter or match. They are wild and unpredictable and also emit tiny metal particles while burning that are toxic to consume.

So, while you may think a drink will take the edge off during this big holiday, or a sparkler may be a quick solution to a lost lighter, it's better to be safe than sorry. Besides, your guests will thank you when they're spending their holiday eating delicious barbecue instead of taking you to the hospital.

Leave the smokeshow for the fireworks

Save the firefighting for the professionals and avoid this harmful hack: Don't pour water on your grill! This is a common mistake to avoid with your charcoal grill at all costs. Not only does pouring cold water on a hot grill shock and warp the metal, but it can also release a huge cloud of steam that has the potential to burn anyone in a close radius to your grill. So save that bucket of water for your fireworks unless you want the smoke show to be your grill.

Gas grills are easy to turn off, but with a charcoal grill, the only way to let it cool is with time. Covering your grill and depriving it of oxygen is the quickest way to diminish the flames, but you'll want to forgo dumping water into your charcoal to extinguish it. Avoiding this "hack" also spares you from cleaning up a sludgy mess at the bottom of your grill and keeps your grill cleaner and safer. Water may be the quick solution to a rogue bottle rocket, but let your grill cool by itself.