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Beginner’s Guide to Grilling

Last Update: March 22, 2024

Grilling is supposed to be the epitome of carefree summertime cooking — but if you’ve ever burned a hot dog or fumbled to light charcoal, you know it’s not always as easy as it seems. 

If you’ve decided that this is the summer you’re finally going to master the art of grilling, we’ve got everything you need to get started. Read on for safety tips, grill cleaning instructions, barbecue recipes, and everything else you’ll need to know before firing up the grill. 

Safety Tips for Grilling 

Grilling poses a few different safety hazards than traditional cooking simply because many people are unfamiliar with operating a grill. Before you get started, make sure you understand these grill safety tips:

  • Only use your grill outside, and avoid placing it in covered areas like garages or enclosed porches. 
  • Check your gas or propane lines for leaks, and be sure to open the lid of the grill before lighting just in case there’s a buildup of gas or propane inside. 
  • Clean your grill before and after use and make sure to empty the grease trap, as buildup of grease and food can create a fire hazard. 
  • Never leave a lit grill unattended. 
  • Keep a fire extinguisher nearby — just in case! 

Types of Barbecue Grills

First, make sure you understand the type of grill you’re working with (gas, electric, or charcoal). It’s important to know which type you have so you can use it properly. 

How to Start an Electric Grill

  1. Make sure the grill is plugged in (preferably far away from your house, garage, or other structures).
  2. Simply press the power button to turn on the grill.
  3. If your electric grill has a temperature setting, adjust it to the right temperature for the food(s) you’re cooking.
  4. Allow the grill to heat up for about 5 minutes before using. 

How to Start a Gas Grill 

  1. Always open the lid of the grill before lighting it to avoid gas buildup inside the grill.
  2. Make sure the gas line is properly attached to the propane tank underneath the grill (or, for some grills, a stationary natural gas line from your home). If you’re uncertain, check the manual for your specific grill. 
  3. Turn on the gas by opening the valve on the propane tank.
  4. Light the burner by turning the regulator knob on the front of the grill, similar to how you would turn on a gas stove. Some gas grills will also have a separate igniter button that you’ll need to press, while others have a combined regulator and ignitor. Check your manual if you’re unsure.
  5. Once the grill is lit, you can turn on other burners depending on how much food you’re cooking. 

How to Start a Charcoal Grill 

  1. Arrange a pile of charcoal in a pyramid shape in the center of the grill. 
  2. If you’re using lighter fluid, squirt a small amount at the center of the charcoal pile, then extend a bit more to the outer edges. (As a general rule, use ¼ cup of lighter fluid per pound of charcoal.)
  3. Use a long grill lighter or long match to quickly light the coals in several locations. 
  4. Do not start cooking until the fluid has had time to burn off, about 15 minutes. This will also give the coals time to properly heat up and turn ashy. 
  5. Once the coals are gray and ashy, spread them evenly throughout the inside of the grill. 
  6. Place the grate and lid on the grill and allow it to heat up for 5 to 10 minutes before cooking. 

Grilling 101 

How to Grill Steak 

Season your steak generously on both sides (good-quality sea salt will do!), then allow the steak to sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes before grilling. 

Brush the grates of the grill with olive oil and turn the grill to high. Preheat for about 10-15 minutes. 

Cook the steak for 3-4 minutes on each side. 

Check the internal temperature; a medium-rare steak should be about 130 degrees Fahrenheit. If your steak isn’t quite cooked (or if you’d like it a little more well-done), move it to a lower-heat part of the grill and allow it to cook for another minute or two. 

Allow the steak to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. 

Recommended: Thrive Market Grass-Fed Organic Beef Top Sirloin Steaks

How to Grill Chicken Breast 

Marinate your chicken breasts overnight in your favorite marinade

Oil the grates of your grill and turn the grill to high. Allow it to preheat for 10-15 minutes. 

Cook the chicken for 6-8 minutes on each side, making sure to keep the lid closed to prevent heat from escaping. (Note: Flip the chicken only once to keep it juicy and create nice, even grill marks on each side.)

Check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer. Chicken is done when it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit at its thickest part. 

Allow the chicken to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. 

Recommended: Mary’s Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast

How to Grill Salmon 

Marinate salmon (as little as 10 minutes is fine), and make sure to allow the salmon to come to room temperature for at least 20 minutes before grilling. 

Turn the grill to high, and if possible, turn another section of the grill to low. Preheat for 15 minutes. Blot the salmon with paper towels to remove moisture from the marinade, which can cause sticking. 

Place salmon skin-side down on the hottest portion of the grill. Cook for 6-8 minutes, depending on the thickness. 

Flip the salmon using a spatula (never flip salmon with tongs, as it’s too delicate) and transfer it to the lower-heat section of the grill. Cook for an additional 1-2 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit for medium-rare. 

Allow the salmon to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. 

Recommended: Thrive Market Wild-Caught Alaskan Sockeye Salmon

How to Grill Burgers 

Quickly and lightly form ground beef or turkey into a ball, being careful not to handle it too much (you want to keep the meat cold, and avoid packing it too densely). 

Press each ball into a patty shape that’s about 1-inch thick and 3-inches wide. (You can also use a patty shaper or jar lid, if you have one.) 

Turn your grill to medium-high and close the lid while it’s preheating. 

Place the burgers on the grates and cook with the lid open for 3-5 minutes on each side. Avoid pressing down on the burgers with your spatula, as this will release all the juices and make your burgers dry. (You may season with salt and pepper on both sides during this step, or add cheese during the last minute of cooking to make cheeseburgers.)

The burgers are medium-rare when the internal temperature reaches about 135 degrees Fahrenheit (about 6 minutes of cooking) and well-done when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 10 minutes of cooking). 

Top with anything you like: ketchup, mustard, grilled onions, a fried egg — maybe even peanut butter if you’re feeling really adventurous!

Recommended: Thrive Market Grass-Fed Ground Beef 85/15

How to Grill Vegetables 

Keep in mind that different vegetables have slightly different grill times, but overall, you’ll want to choose veggies with some heft. Bell peppers, onions, zucchini, squash, asparagus are all great options.

Slice or quarter the veggies into large pieces so they won’t fall through the slats in the grill grate. 

Heat the grill to medium-high heat. Make sure the grill is very clean when cooking veggies, as they’re more prone to sticking.

Brush the veggies with olive oil all over. 

Spread the veggies evenly on the grill grates, or use a pan designed for the grill if you’re worried about them slipping through the grates. 

Cook more delicate vegetables (like asparagus or green onions) for 4-6 minutes, or heartier vegetables (like zucchini or bell peppers) for up to 10 minutes. To cook evenly and retain those nice grill marks, try to turn the vegetables only once. 

Serve immediately with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, or other seasonings. You may also make a chimichurri or pesto to drizzle on top. 

How to Clean a Grill

  1. If you’re working with an electric or gas grill, disconnect the gas or unplug the grill. If you have a charcoal grill, empty the charcoal. 
  2. Use a stiff-bristled brush to clean the grate and scrape off any burnt-on grease. Add water and vinegar for any stubborn spots.
  3. Empty the grease trap by dumping out the grease and washing it with warm, soapy water. 
  4. Clean the lid, side tables, and any other surfaces with a rag and warm soapy water, then reassemble the grill. If you’re not using it immediately, put the cover on to protect the grill from the elements.

5 Easy Grill Recipes for Beginners 

Rib Eye With Cherry Steak Sauce Recipe
Head to the farmers market for an unexpected addition to this steak recipe: sweet, red cherries. 

Best Burger Recipe
Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce add balanced flavor from the get-go in this simple, reliable burger recipe. 

Lemon-Yogurt Chicken Kebabs Recipe
These kebabs marinate overnight in a bright lemon-yogurt marinade infused with turmeric and garlic — after that, all it takes is a few minutes on the grill.

Mushroom, Spinach, and Chickpea Veggie Burgers
Got vegan guests? This homemade burger recipe is loaded with veggies and topped with a spicy sriracha sauce. 

This article is related to:

BBQ Tips

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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