The ultimate form of summer cooking is grilling — there's no denying that. But grilling can be intimidating, especially for people who've never done it before.
To help you out, we rounded up 12 of the most common grilling mistakes to avoid. You got this!
1. THE MISTAKE: You don't preheat your grill for long enough.
HOW TO AVOID IT: Preheat your grill for at least 20 minutes before you start cooking. This will help you achieve dark grill marks and a deep smoky flavor.
Learn more: How to Preheat Your Grill
2. THE MISTAKE: You slather the grates with oil.
HOW TO AVOID IT: Instead of oiling the grates, brush whatever item you're grilling with a thin coating of oil. This will keep it from sticking to the grill and prevent dangerous flare-ups. Heavily oiled grates also have a tendency to burn, making clean-up a pain — so stick to oiling the food, not the grill.
3. THE MISTAKE: You're not properly adjusting the air vent on your charcoal grill.
HOW TO AVOID IT: Most charcoal grills have two vents: one on the bottom, and one on top. The bottom vent controls how much oxygen is fed to the fire, so consider it your heat control. The more you open it, the hotter the grill will be.
The top vent is typically left open to keep the air flowing, and closing it can cause the fire to die. If you want to quickly kill the flame, close both vents.
Learn more: How to Use A Grill Vent
4. THE MISTAKE: You're not working with your grill's hot spots.
HOW TO AVOID IT: Almost every grill has hot and cold spots — meaning that some areas of the grill are very hot, while others are cold. To find out where those hot spots are, place a single row of sliced bread on your preheated grill. The areas of the grill that quickly burn the bread are your hot spots. (And don't worry, you can make a panzanella salad with that bread!)
For most foods, starting them on a hot spot and finishing them on a cooler part of the grill ensures that the outside gets perfectly charred while the inside cooks slowly and evenly.
Learn more: How to Find Your Grill's Hot Spots
5. THE MISTAKE: You over-marinate your meat.
HOW TO AVOID IT: Marinating infuses proteins with flavor and helps tenderize them — but over-marinating them can toughen the meat and cause them to denature. (Meaning that the proteins have lost their structure.)
To make sure this doesn't happen, stick to these marinating times:
• For red meat and pork: Two to 24 hours
• For poultry: Two hours to overnight
• For Fish: 15 to 30 minutes
Learn more: How to Make Your Own Marinade
6. THE MISTAKE: You burn your wooden skewers.
HOW TO AVOID IT: Most skewers are made out of bamboo and burn very easily. To prevent this, soak your skewers in water for at least 30 minutes before grilling. Or, to make things easier, invest in metal skewers ($6.99 on Amazon) and ditch the soaking altogether.
Learn more: How to Soak Bamboo Skewers
7. THE MISTAKE: You keep opening the lid, causing all of the heat to escape.
HOW TO AVOID IT: Just like opening an oven, opening a grill causes the temperature to drop significantly. Grills cook from both the bottom and the top, and opening the lid too often can result in food that is burnt on the bottom and undercooked or pale on top. If you can avoid it, try not to open the lid too often during cooking.
Learn more: When Should You Close Your Grill Lid?
8. THE MISTAKE: You brush your meats with sweet sauces too early, causing them to burn.
HOW TO AVOID IT: Sweet sauces, such as barbecue and teriyaki, are prone to burning due to their high sugar content. For these types of sauces, wait until the last few minutes of cooking to brush them on. They caramelize within a minute or two, so you don't want to brush them on too early.
Learn more: When to Apply Barbecue Sauce
9. THE MISTAKE: You drench your charcoal in lighter fluid.
10. THE MISTAKE: You grill thin or very tiny veggies directly on the grill grates.
HOW TO AVOID IT: If you've ever tried to grill tiny items like asparagus or carrots, you know how difficult it can be to prevent them from falling through the grates. To avoid the hassle, invest in a grill basket ($7.06 on Amazon) that sits directly on the grill grates and prevents small items from falling through.
Learn more: How to Use a Grill Basket
11. THE MISTAKE: You don't let your meats rest after grilling them.
HOW TO AVOID IT: Allow your proteins to rest for at least 10 minutes after grilling them. This helps redistribute their juices and prevents them from purging all of their moisture when sliced. To keep them warm as they rest, just tent them with foil.
Learn more: Why You Should Rest Meat After Grilling
12. THE MISTAKE: You're not cleaning your grill after using it.
HOW TO AVOID IT: Clean your grill as soon as you're done using it. (A warm grill is easier to clean.) A good scrubbing with a wire grill brush ($8.99 on Amazon) is typically enough to keep your grill in working shape, but a deep cleaning every once in a while can help prevent excess build-up.
Learn more: How to Clean a Grill