15 Ways to Make the Most of Summer Grilling Season

15 Ways to Make the Most of Summer Grilling Season

You'll be a grill master in no time. Take our word for it.

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Photo: Photographee.eu (Shutterstock)

Memorial Day marks the beginning of one of the best times of the year: grilling season. The next three months (maybe more, if we’re lucky!) will be filled with fire, charcoal, smoke, and too many tasty backyard bites to count. This is not amateur hour, folks.

But if you are a beginner, don’t fret. We’ve gathered valuable cookout intel that can make a grill master out of anyone, from tips and tricks for grill maintenance to crowd-pleasing recipes for carnivores, vegans, and cocktail-drinkers alike.

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Bring your grill out of hibernation

Bring your grill out of hibernation

There’s a good chance your grill’s going to need some TLC after a long, hard winter. The most important thing to do before firing is to give it a good clean. Just follow these easy steps:

1. Check the lid.

2. Soak and scrub the grate.

3. Clean the kettle.

4. Clean the exterior.

For more details on the best way to do each, click here, otherwise you’re ready to burn, baby, burn!

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A camping grill will do

A camping grill will do

You don’t need big, fancy equipment to partake in grilling season. The small but mighty camping grill is a perfectly good piece of equipment, especially for hot dogs on the go. If you’re a charcoal newbie, this dunce’s guide will walk you through every step of cooking up a weenie, but the most important part is making sure your charcoals are heated all the way—if your charcoal is still deep black, the grill isn’t hot enough to cook with. Just wait until the edges of the coals are mostly white, then you’re in what we like to call Weiner Mode.

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Up your game with a pellet smoker

Up your game with a pellet smoker

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Photo: Dennis Lee

If you feel like grilling outside the charcoal box, consider a pellet smoker. This smoker runs mainly on wood pellets made of compressed sawdust from your typical smoking woods, such as oak, hickory, and fruit woods like applewood and cherry, and staff writer Dennis Lee explains how his Woodwind Wi-Fi 24 is Wi-Fi enabled and comes with a propane sidekick to finish off whatever meat you’re cooking.

You can get Lee’s detailed rundown on the pellet smoker here, but these are the highlights:

  • It’s about as big as a medium-sized grill and the amount of smoke is manageable enough that you won’t annoy your neighbors, but it does need electricity to run.
  • The Wi-Fi connection allows you to check the temperature of the smoker and the meat inside it from whereever you are—you don’t need to open and close the smoker while you’re cooking, or even go outside to check on it.
  • It might take a while to achieve bark, that crusty flavorful exterior on your meat, with your pellet smoker. Practice makes perfect!
  • These things are expensive, but if you want to splurge, it’ll be worth it. No one ever regrets buying a smoker.
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Barbecue some cauliflower

Barbecue some cauliflower

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Graphic: Karl Gustafson

Once you taste this barbecue cauliflower, you might very well change your mind about what a backyard cookout menu can be. This Carolina-style dish can be served as a main course with cole slaw and warm bread on the side, but it also makes for a unique side if you’re not yet ready to embrace a meat-free cookout.

Start with a rub covering the whole cauliflower before grilling it for about 20 minutes, rotating the cauliflower half way through, then finish it off with a mop sauce, and let them cook in for five more minutes. Use your favorite rub and sauce, or check out Allison Robicelli’s full recipe.

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Grill a whole chicken

Grill a whole chicken

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Photo: Aimee Levitt

This is perfect method for grilling a whole chicken. It leaves the chicken tender and juicy throughout without the stringy undercooked meat around the bones that makes people hate chicken. All you need is a good knife and a solid set of tongs, plus, of course, the chicken and a grill.

The hardest part of this recipe might be spatchcocking and deboning the chicken, so don’t be afraid to ask your local butcher to do that for you and save yourself the trouble. From there, it’s all about dousing it in marinade (try Aimee Levitt’s lemongrass marinade), then grilling it on each side for five minutes at a time until it’s done. Get the full marinade recipe and cooking instructions here.

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Embrace the grilled watermelon burger

Embrace the grilled watermelon burger

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Graphic: Allison Corr

Grilling fruit is nothing new, but have you tried turning that fruit into the main event? Enter the grilled watermelon burger. Just coat some strategically cut watermelon patties in olive oil and salt before sticking them on the grill for about five minutes on each side. Allison Robicelli’s recipe finishes the burger off with goat cheese and a charred orange-fennel gremolata, but feel free to get creative when dressing this juicy patty, or just keep things minimalistic.

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Char your dogs

Char your dogs

Char-grilling is a Chicago staple that gives your wieners a crispy exterior and those dark charcoal lines that define backyard barbecues. Chicago restaurant Fatso’s Last Stand shares its secret for getting the perfect crust: a signature cross-cut on the end of its hot dogs, which flare out the meat as the hot dogs sizzle up on the grill. That special cut gives you additional surface area to get some extra crunch on each end. Just be careful when trying this at home. A burnt hot dog is very different from a char dog, so don’t leave those dogs on the grill for too long.

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Go ahead, grill a whole fish

Go ahead, grill a whole fish

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Photo: Kevin Pang

It may sound scary to try grilling a whole fish on your humble backyard grill, but trust us, you can do it, especially with these tips from renowned chef Erling Wu-Bower. The image of cooking a whole animal with its eyes staring back at you can be intimidating to some, but Wu-Bower said it’s leagues more satisfying than cooking a featureless filet.

There’s endless wisdom in the full interview with Wu-Bower, but here are some highlights:

  • For best results, consider grilling over wood, but if you do use charcoal, wait at least 45 minutes from lighting the coals to putting your fish on the grill.
  • Branzino is the best (and likely most affordable) fish for tackling this challenge, and you’ll want to have some fun with your marinade and stuff the fish with olive oil doused herbs and lemon slices.
  • Cooking spray is your friend. Carefully spray the hell out of the grill grates and the side of the fish that’s going on them then repeat when you flip the fish. If this becomes a repeat dish, consider investing in a fish spatula (yes, a real thing).
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Throw some oysters on the barbie

Throw some oysters on the barbie

Oyster purists will sneer at grilled oysters. But the oyster snobs are wrong. Grilled oysters aren’t an abomination. They’re a thrifty and affordable preparation enjoyed by regular folks, and they’re a delicious summer appetizer.

This recipe is for a buttery, garlic-laden, cheesy, brightly acidic grilled oyster with bite. Once you shuck your oysters, you simply top with the buttery concoction, place on a hot grill, and cover for about two minutes (these don’t take long to cook up at all). Then, voila! Serve your oysters with a slice of grilled bread, and you have yourself a lavish appetizer.

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There’s more than one way to grill a sausage

There’s more than one way to grill a sausage

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Photo: Kevin Pang

Hasselback potatoes are spuds sliced partway through, brushed with fat, then roasted to an exceptional crispness. The theory is that the more surface area, the more golden-textured opportunities. Well, it turns out you can also Hasselback kielbasa and create an amped-up spiral sausage.

Simply buy a ringed kielbasa and cut slices into it without slicing all the way through. Throw that on the hot grill for about four minutes on each side, drizzle on some garlic butter, and enjoy.

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Get fancy with grilled romaine lettuce

Get fancy with grilled romaine lettuce

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Photo: Kevin Pang

Yes, even salad can get in on the cookout action if you grill romaine lettuce. It couldn’t be simpler: Take a whole head of romaine and halve it through the stem. You drizzle the flat side with olive oil and salt, then throw it straight on a grill. Don’t touch them for at least five minutes. The result is as appealing as crisp leaves on charred Brussels sprouts, a smokey and slightly bitter remix of ho-hum lettuce.

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Vegans deserve grilled meat, too

Vegans deserve grilled meat, too

With all the advances in plant-based meats, there are plenty of options for your herbivore friends who still want something hearty and meat-like. Behold, five of the best options for vegan grilling:

  • All Vegetarian, Inc’s Vegan Drumsticks
  • Beyond Burger’s Plant-Based Patties
  • Field Roast’s Signature Stadium Dog
  • The Herbivorous Butcher’s Porterhouse Steak
  • Upton’s Naturals Bar-B-Que Jackfruit

You can get a full run-down of each of those meats here, and if you’re feeling especially ambitious you can tackle making your vegan meat for grilling, like @Onegreatvegan in the TikTok above.

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Yes, you can grill cocktails

Yes, you can grill cocktails

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Graphic: Jimmy Hasse

It’s not just solids that benefit from a smoky grill. Add some smoked cocktails to your next backyard barbecue menu. The easiest way to to do this is placing a series of fruits and vegetables—like poblano peppers, lemons, and oranges—on your grill until they’re slightly charred.

To create a syrup from the charred produce, place it in a mason jar with honey or simple syrup to infuse it with the flavor, then use as a cocktail ingredient. Charred citrus can add that smoky flavor by simply squeezing it into a cocktail. Get full recipes for some smoky cocktails here.

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Literally anything can be grilled

Literally anything can be grilled

If you’re left wondering what else might be possible to grill, just give it a try! Pretty much anything can be grilled, from fruit to salsa to pizza to frozen burritos. Just always be safe and try to avoid fires or explosions when possible.

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Store your grill like a master

Store your grill like a master

When summer barbecue season inevitably winds down, you’ll want to set yourself up for success for next year, so how you store your grill and charcoals is important. Be sure to give your grill a deep clean before putting it away for the season—you don’t want to find months old char still sticking to your grates when you’re ready for a freshly grilled dog. And if you still have charcoal, the key is to keep it in a cool, dry place. For added protection, consider storing in an airtight container.

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