I'm ashamed to admit I don't know how to grill

Seriously. I suck with walnuts at it.

It was one of those things that I just assumed would happen with puberty; I’d wake up one day with little hairs growing out of my armpits, the next morning would grant me the ability to grill huge hunks of meat and to rebuild a transmission.

[sup]But, to my eternal shame, that never happened. I even only have a little bit of armpit hair.[/sup]

So, Dopers…I beseech you:

Teach me of the wonders of charcoal grilling. Burgers. Steaks. Chicken. You know, food.

I’m a carnivore who can eat things anywhere from bloody to burnt. But the majority of people that I hang out with seem to like medium-well to well-done. And I lack the ability to do it competently. So I need help.

And explain it to me like I’m a four-year old, if possible.

This is really not complicated.

  1. Make a fire.
  2. Put meat on it.
  3. Make yourself look busy by occasionally poking at or turning the meat until it is done.
    The whole point of grilling is that we’re not exactly making a delicate souffle, here.

Sounds like your issue is getting things done to the right degree of doneness.

Simple solution is to pick up an instant read meat thermometer and use it.

Put bbq sauce on the last 5 minutes. Chicken is a bit tricky as the skin’ll burn and the inside will remain bloody. Push all the coals to one side of the grill and the chicken on the side of the grill without the coals. Cover it and let it cook for longer than you think it needs.

Now for ribs, you can get a real argument going on how to properly grill ribs. For a beginner, I’d recommend parboiling the ribs in water, vinegar, salt and peppercorns. Slow cooking them takes time and a bit of familiarity with your grill.

Salt and pepper your room temperature steak. Put it on the grill. Let it cook for at least 3 minutes. Turn it a quarter way if you want criss-crossy grill marks. Flip it over and grill some more. You can cut it open to check for doneness but a thermometer would be better.

Don’t forget vegetables: potatoes, onions, ears of corn, etc. wrapped in something like foil (or the husk when grilling corn). I don’t know anything about it, but I think it’s easy and delicious.

For your first attempts at grilling, you might want to have an alternative meal planned, just in case things don’t come out as well as you’d like.

Are you grilling over charcoal or propane?

Aaaack - never cut it open to check for doneness - use a meat thermometer and learn how the meat feels when you poke it with your finger. You have to let the meat rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting into it or your juices will run out everywhere.

Screw meat thermometers–Hockey Monkey has it right with the finger method. Cutting it open releases the juices and you’ll end up with a dry piece of meat.

One you put the meat down don’t touch it until you need to flip it. The only thing people who constantly flip the meat serve is undercooked food.

Stick with charcoal. Lump charcoal is preferred but it burns hot and fast. Once you’re proficient with charcoal start experimenting with wood. NEVER USE PROPANE. Propane is for heathens and wanna-bes.

Propane is for professionals. Charcoal is for wanna-bes. Why fart around with lumps of wood scrap when you can instantly control a propane flame? If I wanted ash all over my food I’d set fire to it myself.

Never cut into food. Learn how to judge by touch and you’ll be fine. You’ll waste some meat along the way, but that’s the price you pay.

Always keep a beer next to the grill to control flare-ups.

Start with burgers and steaks, then work your way up to ribs, chicken and other stuff.

Get a grill basket to corral veggies and pieces that can slip through the grate. They also make square, perforated grill woks that work quite well cooking peppers, onions and squash.

The Serious Eats guide to grilling is awesome:

You don’t want to use straight up BBQ sauce though. You want to dilute the BBQ with beer, beef stock, vinegar, or my personal favorite, melted butter. (This assumes you’re using bottled BBQ sauce.) Diluting the sauce will prevent the sauce from burning while at the same time infuse the meat with the flavor of the BBQ sauce. (Not to mention how savory it makes the meat look.)

Just Google “Mop Sauce” for a plethora of recipes.

Don’t worry, it’s over-rated.

Of course it is, Eeyore. Though I don’t know why you bother to tell him this. He already knows since I’m sure he’s eaten grilled foods cooked on a backyard grill and was underwhelmed by the experience. Hence this thread he started.

Generally barbeque is a method of slow cooking over coals and smoke, whereas gas grills are for grilling. You wouldn’t slow cook steaks or burgers because they would turn out dry and overcooked.

However, you absolutely can grill steaks and burgers and chops (i.e. cuts of meat that cook fast) over coals and the key is to make your fire screaming hot. Practice is all you need to get the hang of it.

This makes no sense at all. Meat actually cooks slightly faster if it’s turned more often. You might get a better sear if you leave it alone, but it really doesn’t matter.

And poking a steak one time with a small thermometer won’t dry it out at all.

Yep, that’s just all grilling voodoo. You can poke it, you can flip it constantly, nothing will go wrong.

For me, the basics start with learning a two-zone fire: coals on one side, and nothing on the other. Use the coal side for searing, and the cool side for cooking up to temperature. I generally start most of my meats slow and on the cool side, and then finish them off with high heat on the hot side (so, for a steak, say about 20 minutes on the cool side, until it reaches about 95-105 interneal, then finish about 2 minutes each on the hot side.)

And cutting into food to check doneness is okay. Find one sacrificial piece of meat and feel free to use it if you don’t fee like using an instant read thermometer.

As for propane vs charcoal, up to you. Propane for convenience. Charcoal for flavor. Charcoal certainly takes more finesse and skill, but propane is pretty easy and convenient and gets you out of the house. (Personally, I have a propane grill, and I haven’t used it in almost ten years now. If I want to grill, the whole point is making fire and having it taste like it was cooked over coals or wood.)

I have to say, I’ve never found the so-called “finger method” to be anywhere near accurate. It basically can tell you three levels of doneness: raw, well-done, and somewhere in between. I have never found that to work well for distinguishing between rare, medium rare, medium, and medium well. If you cook enough steaks, you can get pretty good at judging doneness by poking them with a finger, but I don’t find it corresponds at all with ring-finger-to-thumb equals medium, middle-finger-to-thumb equals medium rare, and fore-finger-to-thumb equals rare. Plus, I’m not convinced that tension (in the fleshy area near the thumb) is the same among different individuals, and even in the same individual, that tension can vary quite a bit, depending on how relaxed you are and how firmly you are pressing your fingers together.

This. The amount of woo re grilling can approach the amount of woo in dieting. It’s all heat and meat, no big mystery, no need for “you need to test the meat with your elbow and a weather vane” nonsense. When it’s the right temperature, your meat is done. Use a thermometer until you get the knack. Or:

Re: cutting into meat to test doneness: if I’m grilling, it’s for a gathering, so there’s a bunch of steaks. I select one and make it the test animal and cut into it to test the color as I go. That one becomes mine. At the end it seems the same as the other steaks. Go figure.

Obviously I’m addressing steaks above. Chicken and ribs are advanced topics. Start small, get that right, then keep going.

Like this?
(Audio NSFW)

I use bone in thighs. Rub before hand with salt, pepper and a little cayenne. Put on sauce then 20 minutes over the non-fire side, baste in sauce, flip, 20 more minutes, then put on more sauce and finish over the hot side making sure they don’t catch fire, until you get the desired amount of char.
Each grill is a little different so you have to get practice to see how long things take. Until you know that, cutting into one piece is the only sure way to tell.

You’re welcome.