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Become a Grill Master This Labor Day Weekend: 5 Tips for Better BBQ

Labor Day is coming up soon, which means it's prime time to level up your grilling technique.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops | Desktops | All-in-one PCs | Streaming devices | Streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
4 min read
smoke pours from a Weber grill

Step up your grill game this summer with the following grilling tips. 

Matt Elliott/CNET

Labor Day is just a few days away, and that means you're likely hosting or attending a cookout with friends and family. And even if you aren't taking part in a backyard soiree this weekend or on Labor Day Monday, grilling is still a major pursuit in the late summertime and you're probably going to break out your grill and BBQ tools at some point. That means you need to brush up on your technique and skills. 

To up your grill game, explore the following five tricks. These tips are applicable wherever and whenever you may be cooking up something tasty outdoors. For more, explore our favorite charcoal grills, gas grillspellet smokers and kamado grills of the year. 

1. Clean your grill

Before you grill, it's a good idea to clean your grill. Your grilled meats will taste better, and your grill will last longer. Plus, you'll be less likely to lose your eyebrows the next time you fire up your grill. Those nasty bits stuck to your grill grate can cause flare-ups that are not only dangerous but can also give an off flavor to your food.

Every few months, take the time to deep clean your grill.

2. Check propane levels

I'm a charcoal grill man, myself, but if a gas grill is your tool of choice, then you need to make sure that you've got enough gas in the tank to get you through your next cookout. Start by trying these three ways to check how much propane you have left.

For charcoal grills, I cannot recommend a charcoal chimney highly enough as your fire starter. Put away the lighter fluid and pick yourself up a chimney starter. It gets your coals ready on the quick, and your food won't hit your plate with a faint taste of gasoline.

charcoal chimeny grill

A good grill = tasty dinner!


3. Nonstick trick

There are few things more frustrating when grilling than attempting to get some nice grill marks seared into your food and then having your food stick. You lose that crisp crust, and your food comes off the grill looking like it lost a fight. Thankfully, there's a quick and easy way to make your grill a nonstick surface.

4. Direct vs. indirect heat

Whether you are cooking with gas or charcoal, you can create separate zones where you have direct and indirect heat. For larger pieces of meat, using indirect heat lets you fully cook it without burning it to a crisp.

two zone fire

Finish cooking chicken wings over indirect heat after getting the skin good and crispy over the coals.

Matt Elliott/CNET

On a charcoal grill, when your coals are ready, pour them out of the charcoal chimney onto one side of the grill. Now you've got yourself a two-zone fire. You can sear your food over the coals and move it to the other side to cook more slowly. Or if you want to throw some asparagus or veggie kabobs on after grilling your protein, you can move it to the indirect side to keep it warm while your veggies cook. Make sure you move your meat off the coals a little before it's done because it'll continue to cook on the indirect-heat side of the grill.

On a gas grill, you can create a two-zone fire by turning on only half of your grill. As a charcoal-grill evangelist, however, I must tell you that you'll get better results if you ditch the propane-powered grill for a charcoal grill, a chimney starter and a bag of briquettes.

5. Turn your grill into a smoker

Indirect heat is also great for smoking meat. When cooking ribs, a pork shoulder, brisket or chicken, I like to add some wood chunks -- hickory or apple wood -- to the coals to turn my Weber grill into a smoker. For a big pork shoulder or a beef brisket, I bank the coals on either side of the grill and put an aluminum pan in the middle to catch the drippings in order to keep my grill clean. The middle of your grill is then the spot for indirect heat. 

pork butt on grill

Smoking a pork shoulder for pulled-pork sandwiches.

Matt Elliott/CNET

For a big piece of meat that will be smoking for hours, you don't need direct heat at all to get a good sear -- especially if you use a dry rub that includes a little brown sugar. Just bank your coals, add some wood chunks, place your meat in the middle over the pan, cover your grill with the vents on the hood opened slightly and wait; delicious smoked meat is only a few hours away.

For more, here's how to grill like a pro. And here's how CNET tests grills to find the best of the best. 

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