From the essential gear you’ll need, to the best way to cook burgers, this handy guide will have you barbecuing like a pro.
There are so many reasons to love summer grilling: it’s the perfect excuse to spend more time outdoors, it’s a great way to avoid overheating your house, and—most importantly—it’s wonderful for infusing your food with extra flavour. There is a wealth of information about grilling out there, but it can get a little intimidating, so we created this handy guide for all the essential tips and tricks you’ll need to know on your journey to becoming Canada’s top pitmaster (or, you know, just grilling up something delicious). If you’re unsure of what type of grill is right for you, check out this handy guide here. Once that’s settled, fire away!
Gearing up: tools and accessories for successful ‘cue-ing
- Digital thermometer: Once and for all, take the guesswork out of whether or not your food is safe to eat. Instant-read thermometers are your friend when it comes to checking burgers, steaks, and other fast-grilling foods; remote thermometers are great for monitoring slow-cooking meats, so you don’t lose heat by opening the lid to check on them.
- Metal tongs and spatulas: Ensure they have long (ideally over 30cm) handles to keep your hands away from the heat, and if they have any coating, aim for silicone over plastic, as the former is heat-resistant and therefore less likely to melt in case of an accident.
- Wood grill scraper: Metal brush grill cleaners pose the risk of dangerous bristles ending up in your food. Instead, go for a classic wood paddle that will conform after the first use to the exact shape of your grill’s grate. They’re easy to use, and you’ll have peace of mind.
- Grill basket: The small holes in this metal basket will allow you to get a decent char on smaller items (such as chopped veggies) without them falling through the cracks; it’s great tool for cooking your sides alongside your main.
- Large, shallow cast iron pan: Using cast iron on the grill allows the pan to get extremely hot for the best way to sear your steak, or to make a mean pizza crust. They have the added bonus of being useful in the kitchen year-round too.
- Silicone brush: These heat-resistant brushes will help you with all your glazing and saucing needs, plus they’re easy and quick to clean.
Store-bought barbecue sauces are fine in a pinch, but for the best flavour, make your own at home. Not only are they great on meats (particularly ribs and chicken), but they are also excellent on grilled fish, drizzled over pizza, or even with grilled stone fruits (if you’re serving them with a savoury main). Try making our Texas-Style Barbecue Sauce, Cranberry Barbecue Sauce, Smoked Paprika Barbecue Sauce, or Honey Hoisin Glaze and you’ll never go back to the store-bought stuff again.
The rundown on rubs: dry vs. wet
You can grill just about any food, but without a spice rub, is it actually barbecue? Rubs are a key component for flavouring barbecued dishes. Each have their own signature blend of ingredients and proportions, and they come in dry or wet options.
- Dry rubs (as the name suggests) contain only dry ingredients and are usually a mixture of dried spices, salt, and sometimes sugar. The purpose of a dry rub is to create a crust of flavour on the outer sides of what’s being cooked. They’re great for seasoning protein without masking its inherent flavour and are better used on quicker-cooking meats grilled at high temperatures.
- Wet rubs often contain many of the same ingredients as their dry counterparts, but with the addition of a liquid such as oil or vinegar (or both). Wet rubs should have a paste-like consistency; any wetter, and they would slide right off the meat they’re meant to be seasoning. Wet rubs are best used on meats cooked low and slow, and can be applied in advance for further flavour infusion. Their sugar content is often quite high, so it’s important to keep an eye on your temperature to ensure your rub doesn’t char.
Bust out the bibs, you’re cooking ribs:
The two most common types of ribs for grilling are back/baby back ribs(which are meatier, more tender—and, as a result, costlier—than side ribs) or side/spare ribs (which have less meat on the bones, but great flavour). Regardless of which ribs you’re cooking with, remove the tough membrane before you marinate or grill them. Pre-cook your ribs either in the oven on a low temperature (325-350°F) or using indirect heat from grill for 1-2 hours, or until the meat is tender. Grill for a final 10-15 minutes on medium-high heat, basting with sauce of your choice.
The very best burgers:
Your burgers can only be as good as the beef you use to create them, so seek out the highest quality ground beef you can find. Handle your patties gently, and as little as possible; over-handling them will make the meat tough. Try to form patties that are the same weight and size (ideally a little larger than the bun you’re using), and use two fingers to create a dimple in the top of the patty for a burger that will retain its shape better while cooking. Grill your patties on high, don’t smoosh or flatten them with a spatula (you’ll lose valuable juices that way!), and allow your burgers to rest for a couple of minutes before eating them, so the juices can redistribute throughout the patty.