Kitchen Confidence

What We Learned about Grilling from 9 Cookbooks

June  5, 2015

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Get your grill on. Here are nine tips and tricks for a better grilling experience.

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A grill is a powerful tool. Its cooking capacity goes well beyond burgers and hot dogs, although we’re not saying those aren't part of our summertime rotation. But it can be hard to get cookin’ with a tool that's been retired for most of the winter—so we sifted through lots of cookbooks on the subject to find the tips we're keeping in our back pocket this summer. Here are some of the highlights:

1. How to tell when your grill is the right temperature.
Grill It! by Bobby Flay

A few weeks ago, we said the easiest way to test for well-cooked steak is to use your face. Well, we’re asking you to volunteer your body parts once more. To test the heat, use your bare hand (it’s not dangerous, we promise). Bobby Flay says to hold your hand five inches above the coals. The amount of time you can safely handle holding your hand to the heat will tell you how hot the coals are.

The grill has low heat if you can hold your hand above the grill for 8 to 9 seconds.

Medium-low: 6 to 7 seconds
Medium: 5 to 6 seconds
Medium-high: 3 to 4 seconds
High: 1 to 2 seconds

2. When to grill directly and indirectly.
Good Housekeeping Grill It!

Direct grilling is when food is placed immediately next to a heat source to cook. Indirect grilling is when (you guessed it) food is not cooked over a heat source, but by reflected heat waves, much like in a convection oven.

Use direct grilling to sear food and for foods that cook in less than 25 minutes. Indirect grilling is for things that need to be cooked longer, like roasts and whole chickens.

3. Clean your grill when it's hot.
How to Grill by Steven Raichlen

To prevent sticking, clean the grill rack before and after grilling. Make sure the grill is hot and preheated when you're cleaning it (this makes it easier to scrape stuff off of the grate).

More: The 10 essential tools Steve Raichlen can't do without.


4. How to make the original grilled cheese.
Feeding the Fire by Joe Carroll and Nick Fauchald

Grilled cheese. No, but like, actually grilled grilled cheese. Butter one side of a piece of bread and top with the cheese of your choice (if you're adding other ingredients, add those first, then top with the cheese). Top with another slice of buttered bread, buttered side out. Grill on low heat, flip, and grill some more. If you're worried about your bread falling through the grate when you flip, use a grill topper (a cookie sheet).

More: Joe Carroll on all things barbecue.

5. How to know when fish is fully cooked.
Canal House Cooks Everyday by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton 

Fish can be tricky to grill, but here’s the women behind Canal House have a way to tell when the fish is cooked: When you think it's ready, slip a knife into the thickest part of the fish, then quickly press it to your lips. If the knife feels very warm, then the fish is ready.

6. How to grill leeks without burning them.
The A.O.C. Cookbook by Suzanne Goin

Here’s how to make sure leeks don’t burn on the outside before they cook on the inside: Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and wash them in cold water. Pat dry. Place leeks cut side down on a hot grill, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, rotating once or twice, until they are nicely colored on the cut side. Then, move them to a cooler part of the grill (hey, indirect grilling!) until they are cooked tender.

More: Need help grilling other vegetables? We've got you covered.


7. Use grilled garlic scapes in pesto.
Homemade with Love by Jennifer Perillo

Garlic scapes are the green shoots on garlic plants. At first bite, the scape may seem more mellow than the garlic clove, but the peppery punch sneaks up on you. Grill the scapes, turning frequently, until they are slightly charred all over, about 3 minutes. Add to a food processor with Parmesan, pistachios, olive oil, salt, and pepper—and you have a new kind of pesto.


8. Add grilled onion to your guacamole.
The Essential New York Times Cookbook
by Amanda Hesser

Put grilled onions in your guacamole. Grilling the onions add sweetness and smoke that creates a delicious balance between the remaining guacamole ingredients. Cut red onion into 1/4-inch-thick slices, then grill for about 3 minutes on each side.


9. Grill shrimp with the shells on.
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
by Marcella Hazan

We’re quite familiar with the brilliance of Marcella Hazan (if you've ever tried her tomato sauce, you would understand), so when she says to grill shrimp with the shell on, we trust her. Grilling shrimp Cannochie-style means to make a slice in the shell of raw shrimp, cover them with the spice or marinade of your choice, then skewer them and grill. By keeping the shell on, you allow the spices to cook and steam with the shrimp.

What are your dependable grill tips and tricks?

Photos by Tom Hirschfeld (charcoal chimney, hot coals and tongs, grilling meat, corn and grilled vegetables, leeks), Mark Weinberg (skewers, grilled cheese), Alexandra Stafford (garlic scapes and pesto), James Ransom (skewered shrimp, guacamole, whole fish, grill topper)

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Any Night Grilling is your guide to becoming a charcoal champion (or getting in your grill-pan groove), any night of the week. With over 60 ways to fire up dinner—no long marinades or low-and-slow cook times in sight—this book is your go-to for freshly grilled meals in a flash.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Albert Matheny
    Albert Matheny
  • Chef Lisa
    Chef Lisa
Jaime Brockway

Written by: Jaime Brockway

Polenta, mac and cheese, farmers' market breakfasts, smoky food & drink. These are a few of my favorite things. I was an editorial intern @Food52 in 2015!


Albert M. June 11, 2015
A friend taught me how to clean my natural gas grill easily. Cover the entire surface with aluminum foil, shiny side down, while gas is on low. Shut lid and turn up full blast until temperature gauge gets to 500 F. Turn off grill and let cool and remove (store and re-use!) foil. Any cooked on grease or food reman ants will be gray ash and easily scraped from the grill with a whole brush when you heat up the grill the next time. Use coconut oil to grease the grate after you brush them, and you are all set.
Chef L. June 5, 2015
That should have read NOT very good at it!
Chef L. June 5, 2015
I love grilled fish, but I have been very good at it. It finally occurred to me that rather than trying to flip it and run the risk of tearing it, I simply put a metal bowl over it and grill on one side only. The bowl acts as a heat trap and works beautifully.