How to grill everything simple recipes for great flame-cooked food

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Copyright © 2018 by Double B Publishing, Inc.

Photography © 2018 by Christina Holmes

All rights reserved

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to [email protected] or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.

ISBN 978-0-544-79030-8 (hardcover)

ISBN 978-0-544-79082-7 (ebook)

Book design by Toni Tajima


Table of Contents



Why Grill?

Grilling Basics

Everything you need to start grilling like a pro—with gas or charcoal.

Appetizers and Snacks

Savory and smoky bites for part of a meal, or a meal that’s a party.

Fish and Shellfish

Seafood is easy to handle on the grill when you know how.


Here are a hundred reasons why America’s favorite meat is also popular for grilling.


Beef, pork, lamb, steak, chops, burgers, and a few oddballs—it’s all here.

Vegetarian Mains

The underrated heroes of outdoor cooking.

Vegetables and Side Dishes

All your favorite barbecue companions, spun for the grill.

Sauces and Condiments

Grilled food is even better with these for dipping, spooning, and drizzling.

Breads and Desserts

Even more reasons to cook the whole meal outside.

20 Hidden Gems


Converting Measurements

Recipe List

Appetizers and Snacks


Baba Ghanoush

Smoky Guacamole

Fire-Roasted Tomatillo Salsa with Grilled Tortilla Wedges

Ancho-Dusted Jícama Sticks with Lime

Radishes with Butter and Sea Salt

Rosemary and Garlic Olives

Quick-Pickled Charred Vegetables

Roasted Peppers

Jalapeño Poppers with Smoked Gouda

Crisp Baby Artichokes with Lemon Aïoli

Brussels Sprout Skewers with Green Olive Dipping Sauce

Mushrooms with Smoked Swiss and Soppressata

Prosciutto-Wrapped Melon

Smoked Cheese


Real Grilled Cheese Bites

Cheesy Jalapeño Quesadillas

Pizza Bianca

Smoked Nuts

Polenta Squares with Chive Sour Cream and Salmon Roe

Hot-Smoked Fish

Cajun-Style Grilled Shrimp

Capicola-Wrapped Scallops

Scallop and Mango Salad

Chesapeake-Style Crab Sliders with Classic Tartar Sauce

Spicy Squid with Lemon

Clams Casino

BBQ Oysters à la Tomales Bay

Chicken Negimaki Bites

Chicken Skewers with Peanut Sauce

Chipotle Chicken Wings with Lime Crema Dipping Sauce

Rosemary-Garlic Chicken Liver and Onion Skewers

Sweetbread Skewers with Lemon

Marrow with Garlic Crostini

Fish and Shellfish

Salt-and-Pepper Fish Fillets or Steaks

Fish Fillets with Avocado-Cilantro Salsa

Baja-Style Fish Tacos with Grilled Slaw and Chipotle Mayo

Whole Fish with Basil-Orange Oil

Sardines with Lemon and Thyme

Bacon-Wrapped Butterflied Trout with Lemon-Scallion Relish

Crab-Stuffed Trout

Crisp-Skin Salmon with Maple-Ginger Glaze

Cedar-Planked Salmon

Salmon Burgers

Sesame-Crusted Tuna Steaks with Lime Dipping Sauce

Swordfish in Salmoriglio

Seafood Skewers with Croutons and Orange

Shrimp with Yogurt-Herb Sauce

Garlic Shrimp

Butterflied Shrimp with Spicy Miso Glaze

Coconut-Rum Shrimp and Pineapple Skewers

Basil-Ginger Shrimp Burgers

Seared Scallops with Beurre Blanc

Seared Scallops with Parsley-Lemon Stuffing

Stuffed Squid with Tomatoes, Ginger, and Basil

Octopus with Lemon and Oregano

Mussels with Pancetta Aïoli

Soft-Shell Crabs

Lobster with Drawn Butter

Seafood Salad with Caper-Shallot Vinaigrette



Salt-and-Pepper Boneless Chicken

Crunchy Breaded Chicken Cutlets

Boneless Chicken Breasts and Red Onion en Escabeche

Lemony Chicken Paillards with Asparagus and Feta

Chicken Salad with Mango and Fresh Herbs

Caesar Salad Poultry Burgers

Chicken and Vegetable Kebabs

Chicken Skewers with Italian Sausage and Lemon Wedges

Double-Stuffed Bone-In Chicken Breasts

Smoked Chicken Breasts

Bone-In Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Fish Sauce

Piri-Piri Chicken

Jerk Chicken

Chicken Adobo

Tandoori Chicken

North Alabama Chicken with White BBQ Sauce

Huli Huli Chicken

Spatchcocked Chicken with Garlic, Parsley, and Orange

Grill-Roasted Chicken with Classic BBQ Sauce

Porchetta-Style Turkey Roulade

Caveman Turkey Legs

Roast Turkey with Smoky Cumin Grill Salt

Cornish Hens, Yucatan Style

Salt-and-Pepper Duck Breasts

Grill-Roasted Duck with Hoisin Dipping Sauce

Quail with Finadene Dipping Sauce

Five-Spice Squab

Rosemary-Garlic Rabbit with Lemon Zest


The Perfect Steak

Into-the-Fire Steaks

Steak with Green Chimichurri

Stuffed Flank Steak

Breaded Steaks with Parmesan and Garlic

Romanian Garlic Steak

Beef Salad with Fresh Mint

Steak and Scallions Yakiniku Style with Tare Sauce

Balsamic-Marinated Whole Beef Tenderloin with Herbs

Carne Asada Tacos

Santa Maria-Style Tri-Tip Roast

Madeira-Style Beef Skewers

Korean-Style Short Ribs

Smoked Brisket

The Real Deal Burger with Fiery Ketchup

Green Chile Cheeseburgers

Bacon-Wrapped Chipotle Meat Loaf

Balkan-Style Beef Sausages with Kajmak

Grilled Beef or Calf’s Liver

Smoked Tongue

Smoked Bologna

Simply Seared Veal Chops

Pomegranate-Honey Pork Tenderloin

Bacon-Wrapped Pork Medallions

Grill-Roasted Pork Loin

Thin-Cut Coconut Pork Chops with Pickled Vegetables

Thick-Cut Pork Chops with Quick Orange-Sage Drizzle

Filipino-Style Pork Skewers


Pulled Pork with Lexington-Style BBQ Sauce

Char Siu Baby Back Ribs

Spare Ribs with Sweet Ancho-Cumin Rub

Pork Belly Bites

Smoked Hocks or Shanks

Ham Steak with Spicy Pineapple Glaze

Sheboygan-Style Bratwursts

Garlicky Pork Burgers

Italian-Style Sweet Pork Sausage with Fennel Seeds

Rack of Lamb with Sesame Dipping Sauce

Burnt-Fingers Lamb Chops

Lamb Ribs with Maple-Dijon Dipping Sauce

Dilled Leg of Lamb

Butterflied Leg of Lamb, Shawarma Style

Shashlik with Onions and Grapes

Adana Kebabs

Tzatziki Lamb Burgers


Vegetarian Mains

Tofu Steaks

Grilled Tempeh

Smoked Tofu

Tofu-Asian Pear Wraps with Green Goddess Dressing

Scallion-Sesame Tofu Sliders

Chana Chaat Burgers

Beet Burgers with Dates and Ginger

Design-Your-Own Nut Burgers

Sweet Potato-Eggplant Stacks with Lime Ricotta

Portobello Caprese Stacks

Lemon-Rosemary Cauliflower Steaks with Manchego

Eggplant Parmesan with Grill-Roasted Tomato Sauce

Eggplant Salad with Yogurt and Tomatoes

Tomatoes Stuffed with Chickpeas and Rice

Tomato Melts with Spinach Salad

Stuffed Cabbage with Summer Vegetables

Stuffed Winter Squash with Quinoa, Green Beans, and Tomatoes

Spaghetti Squash with Fresh Tomato Sauce

Chiles Rellenos with Charred Green Enchilada Sauce

Vegetarian Paella with Artichokes, Red Peppers, and White Beans

Paneer Masala

Calzones with Three Cheeses and Spinach

Quinoa Salad with Apples, Brussels Sprouts, and Walnuts

Bread Pudding with Mushrooms and Rosemary

Vegetables and Side Dishes

Savory Applesauce on the Grill

Avocado with Lemon

Simplest Grilled Asparagus

Beets and Greens with Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette

Green Beans with Sliced Garlic

From-Scratch Baked Beans

Baby Bok Choy with Lime-Miso Vinaigrette

Crisp Broccoli

Brussels Sprouts with Thyme

Cabbage Wedges with Warm Pancetta Vinaigrette

Thai-Style Coleslaw

Orange-Glazed Carrots or Parsnips

Cauliflower with Garlic and Anchovies

Smoked Cauliflower

Corn on the Cob

Grilled Corn Pudding

Grilled Polenta

Sort-of-Stuffed Eggplant with Ginger, Sesame, and Soy

Eggplant with Garlic

Grill-Steamed Leeks

Fennel-Orange Slaw with Rosemary and Pickled Red Onion

Grilled Kale with Lemon

Rosemary Mushrooms

Okra with Sea Salt

Spicy Glazed Plantains

Grill-Baked Potatoes

Fingerling or Baby Potatoes with Sea Salt

Grill Fries

Grill-Braised Potatoes with Marjoram and Garlic

Creamy Mustard-Garlic Potato Salad

Grilled Onions

Radicchio with Balsamic Glaze

Hearts of Romaine with Vinaigrette Marinade

Scallions with Cilantro and Lime

Buttery Butternut Squash

Acorn Squash with Smoky Maple Butter

Summer Squash with Sea Salt

Tomatoes with Basil

Grill-Roasted Plum Tomatoes

Watermelon Steaks with Rosemary

Smoked Mac and Cheese


Sauces and Condiments

Chris’s Best Ever Rub

Kansas City-Style Barbecue Sauce



Grill-Roasted Garlic

Compound Butter

Balsamic Syrup

Ponzu Sauce

Peanut Sauce

Romesco Sauce

Black Bean-Tomato Salsa with Corn and Mint

Fresh Mango Salsa with Basil

Cilantro-Mint Chutney

Basil Pesto


Instant Fig Jam

Apple Butter

Breads and Desserts

Buttermilk Angel Biscuits

Southern-Style Mini Corn Muffins



Lebanese Flatbread


Rosemary Olive Oil Bread

Skillet Focaccia with Grapes

Chocolate Panini

Piña Colada Tacos

Fig and Sweetened Orange Ricotta Pizza

Pain Perdu with Balsamic Strawberries

Pound Cake with Oranges and Toasted Coconut

S’Mores with Homemade Marshmallows

Molten Chocolate Cake

Plum Upside-Down Cake

Lemony Blueberry Cornmeal Cake

Orange-Nut Zucchini Quick Bread

Double Orange Olive Oil Cake

Chocolate Bread Pudding

Cherry Clafoutis

Apple Crisp

Banana with Chocolate and Crushed Peanut Brittle

Pineapple-Star Fruit Skewers with Orange-Clove Syrup

Figs with Walnuts and Honey

Sugared Peaches with Candied Ginger Ice Cream

Caramelized Five-Spice Oranges

Butter-Rum Pineapple Rings

Watermelon with Honey and Lime

Grill-Baked Apple

Strawberries Romanoff


Everyone knows grilling is fun, but codifying the world’s most primitive cooking method, especially one that’s grown to cult status, was not easy. Pam Hoenig, with whom I’ve been working since the original edition of How to Cook Everything was conceived (1994!), did the brunt of the work on this tome. Kerri Conan, as usual, contributed mightily, and nothing in the world of me and books happens without Angela Miller.

Others on the team included recipe testers Karin Huggens and Cara Wood-Ginder, who got their grilling groove on. The spectacular photography is down to Christina Holmes, who did the shooting with assistants Spencer Wells and True O’Neill, and food stylist Chris Lanier—who, with Dana McClure, hosted at Ravenwood, their beautiful Catskills barn—plus assistants Frída Kristinsdóttir and Erika Joyce. The prop styling was done by Kaitlyn DuRoss. Netherton Foundry and Hawkins New York supplied some of the cast-ironware for the shoot.

You can’t write a grilling book without meat, and a few Putnam County people really helped us get our hands on not only the best meat, but some of the hardest-to-come-by cuts. Chris Pascarella of Marbled Meat Shop in Cold Spring always did us right, and the meat team of Donald Arrant and Stephanie Pittman at Glynwood (an awesome institution led by my awesome partner, Kathleen Frith) kept me well-supplied with perfectly raised meat for my testing chores.

A shout-out, too, to Erin Harrison of Broil King, who supplied us with what are really the best gas grills I have ever used (and I was an early adopter of gas). I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true.

I have editors, publishers, marketers, publicists, and so on, and they’ve all been great: My esteemed higher-ups Bruce Nichols, Deb Brody, and Ellen Archer; editor Stephanie Fletcher, copy editor Suzanne Fass, and managing editor Marina Padakis Lowry. Plus art director Melissa Lotfy, designer Toni Tajima, and production coordinator Kevin Watt, and the marketing and publicity team of Lori Glazer and Adriana Rizzo.

To my friends and family, thank you, as always. To Kate and Emma, you’re more impressive and faboo than ever. To my mom: Keep it UP! And to Kathleen, and a future of grilling and eating together.

Mark Bittman

Cold Spring, New York, 2017

Why Grill?

Cooking is the same whether you do it on a range or a grill. That is, the same skills apply: You control heat, tune into your senses, and learn to recognize doneness. Only with grilling the flame is always visible. And often neither pot nor pan comes between the food and the fire.

That directness makes grilling outdoors exhilarating, intimate, elemental, fun. The lure of food sizzling on a grate over burning embers is powerful. And with the wide selection of modern equipment and fuels now available, it’s no more difficult than turning on the stove.

Anything you can do in an oven or on a stove you can do on the grill. As with all the How to Cook Everything books, here you’ll find variations for changing components, techniques, and flavors, and inspiration for trying your own ideas. But while these recipes open the door to many new possibilities—especially with vegetables and desserts—they also show you when and how not to fuss. There are lots of options for hot and fast cooking that will have dinner on the table on harried weeknights, as well as slow-and-low project recipes like pulled pork and brisket, perfect for leisurely weekend cooking for friends and family.

Then there’s the whole being outdoors with friends and family thing. Standing at the grill you’ve usually got some help or at least a friend to keep you company. And a cool drink is probably in arm’s reach. Cooking doesn’t get any better.

Grilling Basics

Grilling gurus searching mainly for new recipes might want to skim this chapter. Everyone else—especially if you don’t already have a grill or are in the market for a new one—listen up. This is the part where I tell you that what you cook on (or over) hardly matters. With a little technique and honest ingredients, you can enjoy excellent grilled meals with virtually any rig.

Gas Versus Charcoal

In the great debate played out in backyards across America, I’m either preaching to or insulting the choir, since I believe both types of grills have value. The decision is deeply personal and depends on everything from your climate and how often you entertain to how committed you are to learning new skills. My job is to provide successful recipes for both types of grills, covering several different variables. Maybe after reading this section you’ll want to own gas and charcoal grills. (They’re affordable enough that might be a real possibility.)

Gas makes grilling convenient. You open a propane tank or natural gas line, press an ignition button, and in 15 minutes—less time than it takes to prep most dinners—you’ve got adjustable flames and a blazing hot cooking surface. Now you can decide to cook something lean and mean (and fast) over direct heat or move it to the cool side of the grill for a slow roast. And the precision and predictability of gas are appealing, especially if you regularly cook for a crowd.

Getting a charcoal grill ready doesn’t take a whole lot longer, but it sure can seem like it when you’re messing with lighting, spreading, and building the coals.

When cooking direct (meaning the food is positioned over the flames), I’ve gotten awesome results with both gas and charcoal grills, including absolutely delicious char-broiled steaks and burgers, boneless chicken, shrimp, vegetables, you name it. Hardcore charcoal grillers argue that the gas grill can’t get hot enough (read 800° to 900°F) for the perfect sear, but I have been plenty happy with the outcomes I have gotten with my gas grill.

About heat: Many new gas grills push their thermometers all the way into the red, achieving temperatures above 700°F. That’s plenty hot—hotter than you usually want. Getting and maintaining a charcoal fire at this sort of hard-core searing heat is tough without special equipment or the inclination to cook food directly on the coals (fun and totally doable; see page 226). Everyday grilling doesn’t require you go to such extremes.

Gas is also criticized for its performance with slow-and-low cooking (where the food is positioned away from the flames and cooked at a relatively low temperature, between 225° and 275°F) and with smoking. On both points, I disagree. While it’s true that some gas grills have difficulty maintaining super-low temperatures like, say, 225°F, many can and do meet the challenge. So if slow grill-roasting is important to you and you still think you’ll use gas more frequently than charcoal, look for a gas grill with burners that work well at low heat, and that maintains heat well.

Trying to generate smoke when cooking at a low temperature is even more specialized barbecue cooking that I encourage you to try at least once. (See the Smoking section on pages 10-12.) It’s not impossible on gas—but it can be more difficult to get smoke going and collected, since gas grills are purposely built not to have a good seal, for safety reasons (see Lid Up or Down? on page 10). On the other hand, you can smoke quite effectively in an inexpensive kettle or drum charcoal grill.

Bottom line: Buy the grill or grills you’ll use the most. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Buying a Grill

A lot of these considerations are universal for charcoal and gas, although some won’t apply to the most bare-bones grills.


First, establish the intersection between how much you want to spend and which features you think are mandatory. A higher price doesn’t always mean a better grill. Some of the best—and cheapest—grills are simple kettles or drums. Decide on a maximum and then compare apples to apples across different brands. Take advantage of the internet—especially legit sources for reviews and questions—to do your initial research; company websites are helpful to access detailed specifications on most every feature. Then go shopping in person, even if you plan to buy online, and take a look at the grills you’re considering up close.

Overall Size and Cooking Surface Area

Both gas and charcoal grills vary greatly in size and shape, from tabletop hibachis to mega platforms with grates on pulleys. Ask yourself some questions: How much room do you have to safely operate a grill away from the house and low-hanging tree branches, for example? What do you like to cook, and how much of it will you be cooking at a time? If it’s you and one other person, plus occasionally having folks over, then perhaps go smaller. Frequent entertainers or big families obviously require larger equipment. Ditto for accommodating multiple or big cuts (racks of ribs, a whole turkey or brisket, a bone-in pork shoulder, and so on) that you will likely cook using both direct and indirect heat.

In fact, if you plan to do a lot of slow, indirect cooking, you’ll want a grill with enough surface area to move food to different zones. This is particularly an issue for gas grills, where you need at least two burners under the lid—and preferably three or four—situated in such a way that you have plenty of room to set food over unlit burners. Burners that run from front to back are better for this kind of cooking, though side-to-side orientation can work if the grilling surface is deep enough.

Finally, the lid: For grilling those large cuts, make sure there’s enough headroom in the grill when you shut the lid so that the air can circulate well. If the grill includes a warming rack, make sure it is removable, for the same reason.

Heat Output

Regardless of the number and placement of burners on gas grills, most specs reference Btus. (British thermal unit, a universal way of measuring the heat, is the amount of heat needed to heat a pound of water 1°F.) The range of available Btus is shocking; the higher the number, the hotter the grill can go. A high number also usually means that the grill will maintain heat better at lower temperatures.

For charcoal grills, the capacity to build and maintain a hot fire depends on how big it is; remember big can mean vertical space, not just horizontal. And it’s important to have a way to add coals during cooking. Sometimes there’s a hinged grate; in other styles, a trap door on the side. Beware of any grill that makes stoking the fire at all dangerous or difficult while there’s food on the grate.


You want to buy a grill with solid construction, whether it is manufactured from steel (stainless, or powder- or enamel-coated), cast aluminum, or ceramics. Check out all its moving parts and look at how the pieces and seams are put together. Are the materials strong or flimsy? Is the workmanship solid? Does the lid close tightly? How well are the accessories attached? If it has wheels, how easy is it to roll? Do the wheels feel like they’re coming off?


For the main cooking surface, cast iron or stainless steel are the best choices. In terms of maintenance and performance, the difference is the same as between iron and stainless pans: Cast iron conducts and retains heat better, but requires oiling to prevent rusting; stainless steel is reliable for even cooking and easy cleaning. Stainless steel rails are also usually narrower, so you get more but less-thick grill marks. Some manufacturers offer multiple features and styles of grate, so it’s important to research the options as part of your decision.


Even though the thermometer (temperature gauge) set into the lids of grills can be inaccurate (see Taking Your Grill’s Temperature, page 9), it’s better to have one than not. It gives you a general base-point temperature to work from in terms of knowing how hot a fire you have.

Warming Rack

This is a shallow grate at the back, running the length of the grill’s interior above the cooking grate. I’ve got one in both my charcoal and gas rigs and I love it. But be careful when using it to keep cooked food warm or you risk overcooking. Instead, try it as another cooking option. A wide one is especially great for spatchcocked chicken (see page 195). With the rack high enough above the fire, flare-ups can’t get to it, so you can cook the chicken more quickly over direct heat and develop a crisper skin. Just make sure the rack is removable, otherwise it will limit the height of what you can put on the grill. For more on using your warming rack to cook, see Top-Shelf Grilling, page 194.

Fat Trap

Gas grills are almost always constructed so any fat that drips off the food and isn’t incinerated is collected in a trap you can remove and empty. If you grill regularly and you like to cook things that are fatty, like pork and poultry (particularly duck and goose, which can shed a pint or more), you want a sizeable fat trap or the ability to put a heatproof bowl or pan under it to catch the overflow. Another option during indirect cooking is to put a pan on the unlit burners of the grill, under the food. But you’re still going to need some way to capture fat during direct cooking, so the fat trap is worth checking out. (For charcoal grilling, simply put a disposable foil pan under the food).

Smoker Box

If you’ve decided on buying a gas grill and have intentions of smoking, I highly recommend you buy a grill equipped with a smoker box. This is an inset metal box with a perforated lid that sits over its own dedicated burner. Fill the box with chips, turn the burner on, and, after a few minutes, you’ll have smoke; you can control how much by turning the burner up or down and it’s easy to replenish the chips when they burn down. (See Smoking in a Gas Grill, page 11.)

Side Burner

More and more gas grills offer an additional burner that is not under the lid of the grill. It’s handy for preparing a sauce for your grilled food, boiling corn or pasta outside, and cooking sides and/or keeping them warm.


A luxury, to be sure, but if you’re into the idea of roasting more than just chickens this way you might consider it. Pork or lamb roasts, ducks or turkeys, dramatic presentations of slowly grill-roasted whole vegetables like eggplants, potatoes, and winter squashes are an unexpected benefit. Just make sure the rotisserie spins close enough to the heat to brown and cook the food, but with enough room to put a drip pan under it. You’ll need access to an outdoor socket for the electric rotor mechanism.

Propane Tank Connection

Depending on configuration, connecting the fuel line to the propane tank can be awkward. Check to make sure the setup makes the process as easy as possible.


When buying a charcoal grill, be sure it has a bottom vent as well as one in the lid to allow for heat regulation and flow. The top vent also helps to draw smoke up and over the food when cooking.

Ash Removal and Disposal

Convenience is king here. Different brands and models have their own methods to get cooled ashes out of the bottom of the grill. In some, you’ve got to remove the charcoal grate to dump or shovel them out; others have catchers underneath that are easily removed for emptying.


Having a landing spot right next to the grill is a real plus. You need someplace from which to load stuff onto the grill, to hold it when you take it off, to brush it with a glaze, and to hold utensils and accessories. You choose: Have a table or small cabinet nearby, or buy a grill with a built-on shelf or two. Otherwise you’ll go nuts.


Invaluable for moving the grill. All the better if they lock.

Getting Started

After the equipment, but before there can be cooking, there must be fire. Here’s what you need to know for both gas and charcoal grills.

Grill Placement

Take commonsense precautions when finding a spot for your grill: Don’t put it against an exterior wall of your house or garage. Avoid covered porches or balconies. Don’t grill in the garage, regardless of how tempting that might be. Cement patios provide a safer spot than a wood or composite deck; check the manufacturer’s instructions for recommended surfaces and other safety guidelines. With charcoal grills, you do sometimes get sparks blown around when it’s windy, so don’t put it in a place where there is the possibility that dry leaves or grass could catch fire.

Using a Chimney Starter

Firing Up a Charcoal Grill

The only method I recommend for starting a fire with briquettes or lump charcoal is a chimney starter (see above). It’s easy: Tightly crumple a few sheets of newspaper or a brown paper bag and stuff them in the bottom of the chimney from underneath, then fill the chimney with your fuel of choice.

Find a safe surface to set the chimney. For the first batch, that will be in the bottom of the grill, probably on the charcoal grate above or near the vent. Later, to replenish the fire with properly ashed coals, you can start it in a metal tub or on your driveway or another concrete surface; be sure it’s not in a place where kids or pets might knock it over.

Light the paper in several places and wait to see smoke to make sure it’s caught. In about 15 minutes, you should have flaming hot, white-crusted coals ready to pour out the top into the grill. If the coals on top are still more black than white, give the chimney a gentle shake and check back in 5 minutes. Be careful about grabbing the handle: Depending on the construction of the chimney, it can get superheated, so it is best to wear a barbecue mitt or use a heavy-duty pot holder or dry, doubled-up kitchen towel. (Never grab anything hot with a damp towel, even if it is doubled up; within seconds, the towel in your hand will be screaming hot with steam.)

Once the coals are dumped into the bottom of the grill (which usually means on the charcoal grate), you can spread or move them with tools as you like. For an even hotter fire, top them off with a handful or two of unlit coals.

Lump Charcoal Versus Briquettes

I use only lump charcoal, which is hardwood—sawmill lumber scraps, as well as tree limbs—that has been burnt down into irregularly shaped chunks. I like it because there are no additives, it comes up to temperature faster than briquettes, and it burns cleaner than briquettes, producing little ash. Downsides are that a bag of charcoal also includes a lot of dust and teeny pieces that can interfere with good airflow in your fire; it also burns a lot faster than the same volume of briquettes. This isn’t surprising, since lump charcoal has essentially been preburned to the coal stage. For both slow-and-low cooking and a hot fire, you’ll need more lump charcoal than briquettes to do the same job.

Briquettes are made from the smaller detritus of paper and wood processing, namely sawdust, bark, and small branches. The bits are chipped down, then reduced to char in huge oxygen-controlled ovens (the same kind used to make lump charcoal). That char is cooled, then compressed into the uniform pillow shapes we are all familiar with, along with different additives that help bind the char and improve its flammability. (I’m not talking about ready-light briquettes here, which are doused with a chemical starter.) According to Kingsford, the largest manufacturer of briquettes, these additives are all natural and include things like starch (to bind) and mineral carbon (essentially pulverized coal, to improve burning). Some brands now offering lump briquettes go so far as to label them as natural.

Firing Up a Gas Grill

Assuming your grill isn’t fueled by a natural gas hookup, you’ll have to buy liquid propane, which is sold in standard 20-pound refillable tanks. Exchanging stations are usually cages set up outside house-and-garden and hardware stores and even some supermarkets. You usually shell out fifty bucks or so for the first full tank, and then much less when you bring the empties to be refilled or swapped for full tanks. You can also just buy an empty tank and find a place to fill it; but then you have the responsibility of maintaining the connection hardware.

The problem with propane tanks is that they don’t have gauges. So I strongly recommend that you invest in two tanks. There is nothing more aggravating than running out of propane when you are in middle of cooking and having to run to the store for a refill.

Follow the manufacturer’s directions for connecting the tank. Here’s the usual drill: First, make sure the knob at the top is closed and turned all the way clockwise. (Remember: right tight, left loose.) Remove any plastic cap from the valve on the tank or where the grill’s regulator attaches to the tank. Insert the nipple of the grill regulator into the valve, making sure the threads match, and turn it all the way clockwise, until it won’t go any further. Getting the threads right can be a pain the first time and you may have to redo it until you have a snug fit, but you’ll get the hang of it. Do all tightening and untightening by hand; never use a tool.

When you’re ready to light the fire—and only then—open the knob at the top of the propane tank all the way. (Again: left loose.)

Different gas grills can have different methods of ignition, so follow the instructions in the owner’s manual. As you turn on the flow of propane to each burner, immediately ignite it. If you are having trouble getting a burner to ignite, turn the dial off while you try to figure out what the problem is. It’s important to remember that once you turn the knob to an ignite position, propane is being fed into the burner. And if it’s not ignited, it doesn’t just dissipate into the air; since propane is heavier than air, it will pool in the bottom of your grill. If enough of it accumulates, when you finally get the burner to ignite, you can have an explosion. So when you are igniting your gas grill, pay attention and take precautions.

To heat any gas grill, fire up all the burners to high, close the lid, and let it heat for 15 minutes before adjusting the heat levels as indicated in the particular recipe.

Dealing with Fat and Flames

Regardless of how you capture the fat during cooking, a lot sticks to the grate. Many gas grill manufacturers tell you to burn the fat off the grate—and remember, fat accumulates underneath, too—before cooking. I like to do it afterwards, and then sometimes again before. Unless you scrupulously keep the grate and interior clean, residual fat will drip down into the fire and ignite, sometimes spectacularly so. When that happens, your grill can become a fireball, even with the lid down.

If this happens, don’t panic and dump water on the flames; water and fat don’t mix, and flaming droplets of fat can splatter, resulting in a much bigger fire. If you have a charcoal grill, put the lid down and wait it out. Once the fat’s all burnt up, the fire will settle down. If you have a gas grill, turn all the burners off, turn off the propane tank, put the lid down, and wait until the flames die down. Usually that first big flameout has taken care of the vast majority of the leftover fat; if it flares up again, it will be at a much more manageable level that will settle down quickly.

When grilling fatty items with indirect heat, gas grillers also need to know where the pilot lights are on their burners and position food away from them. After heating the grill, when the indirect burners are turned off, the pilot lights sometimes stay on and if rendering fat hits that flame, you’ll have flare-ups.

For the same reason you don’t throw water on a grease fire, don’t spray down flare-ups caused by dripping fat with a water bottle when cooking. Do this with a duck or goose breast and you’ll light the inside of your grill on fire. To minimize flare-ups on cuts like steaks and chops, trim as much exterior fat off as you can; this is largely the culprit. If you’re still getting too much flare-up, move the food to the edges of the fire or next to but not directly over the fire.

Direct Versus Indirect Heat

Direct cooking on a grill means that the food is put on the grate directly above the heat source—directly over the coals, or for a gas grill, directly over a turned-on burner or burners. Indirect cooking involves positioning the food away from the heat. You may see this described as a two-zone or three-zone fire, referring to the fact that there is a hotter area and one or two cooler areas in the grill. With indirect cooking you will almost always be taking advantage of hot and cool parts of the grill. In fact, even for direct cooking, it’s handy to create some cool spots, in case you need a place to move something that’s starting to scorch.

For an indirect charcoal fire, once your coals are ready, pour them into the grill and push them all to one side, creating a cooler space large enough to accommodate whatever you’re cooking that has no coals underneath it; that is a two-zone fire. For a three-zone fire, divide up the coals, arranging them so they flank the cool zone on either side. This is my preferred way to cook whole poultry (see page 155 for more). Either way, be sure to place a disposable foil pan underneath the grate and the food (unless it’s vegetables or fish) to catch any rendering fat.

For an indirect fire on the gas grill, if there are three or more burners, I much prefer to go with a three-zone setup, the outer burners turned on, the inner burner(s) turned off to create the cool indirect zone. No need for a drip pan, as the fat trap will capture it.

Some recipes call for both indirect and direct heat, with direct heat applied either at the very beginning of cooking or at the end to sear or brown the food. In those cases, you build an indirect fire and simply put the food right over the flames for the amount of time directed.

Setting Up Direct and Indirect Heat fires

Taking Your Grill’s Temperature

Having an accurate read on the interior temperature of your grill—especially when beginning—makes for more successful outcomes. If your grill has a temperature gauge set in the lid, it may not be accurate, and could be off by a lot; the thermometer in the lid measures the air temperature at the top of the grill. If you use a surface thermometer, you can accurately measure the temperature exactly where the food is being cooked, which is particularly important when you are going slow-and-low. I highly recommend you purchase a grill thermometer you can hang from the warming rack inside the grill or a surface thermometer that can sit right on the grate. See page 3 for more about thermometers and their use.

Take the temperature as guidance, not dogma. So many variables are at play. For example, if I’m looking to cook a large piece of meat at 325° or 300°F, I have no worries about putting it on when the grill temperature is at a max of 400°F, since I know the temperature will start to fall within 30 minutes and soon be in the range I want it.

How Hot a Fire?

Every recipe in this book will indicate the preferred level of heat for grilling; these correspond to a temperature range. The levels and temperatures are:

Regulating Temperature and Replenishing Charcoal

For gas grills, use the burners’ control knobs to fine-tune your temperature. The high, medium, and low positions on your control knobs do not necessarily line up with the heat ranges indicated in How Hot a Fire? at left. In fact, I can almost guarantee they don’t. If you have all your burners on with the knobs in what you would consider the medium position, you very likely are at around 500°F. If you have a thermometer in the lid, use that as a guide; if your gas grill doesn’t have a lid thermometer, you absolutely need to buy one for the inside of the grill.

Hitting particular temperatures on a charcoal grill is a little trickier. If the temperature is too high, you can bring it down by closing the bottom vent or opening the grill to release stored heat. If you’re losing temperature, light a chimney-full of charcoal or briquettes and pour it into the grill when the coals are flaming hot.

If what you are cooking is going to take several or many hours, you need to get into a groove for replenishing the coals. My method is to wait until the grill temperature drops down to my preferred temperature, at which point I light a chimney of coals. By the time they are ready, the temperature usually has dropped down below my optimum, and the added coals will bring the grill back up to heat. I continue to add more fuel in this way.

To keep a charcoal fire going for long cooking, you need to be able to easily access the coals (see the Heat Output discussion on page 3). Adding a few unlit briquettes or charcoal lumps to the burning fire isn’t as ideal as adding prepared coals, but it works just fine. The fire will spike a bit is all, and have a bit of extra smokiness. Just don’t do too many at a time. If you don’t want to bother with the fuss of repeatedly lighting chimneys of charcoal, try this easier method and see what you think.

If what I am cooking is going to be done in an hour or a little over an hour, I rarely replenish the fire, unless for some reason the temperature drops rapidly early on. Just put a chicken or a pork roast on indirect when the temperature is 400° to 450°F, and then keep the lid down and let it cook as the grill temp gradually drops. So long as you start with a big enough fire, equivalent to around 80 briquettes, the fire will hold its heat for quite a while.

Lid Up or Down?

The lid must always be down on a gas grill for safety reasons, with the obvious exception of opening it to maneuver or check on the food. Open, you run the risk of a pilot light blowing out, and if you don’t immediately notice, propane will continue to flow into the grill, pooling in the bottom (propane is heavier than air), until it is ignited by one of the lit burners and explodes.

When grilling on a windy day, be super careful opening and closing the lid, keeping an eye on all your burners to make sure they’re still flaming. If any of them gets blown out and you’re not certain when it happened, turn all the burners off and open the lid for 10 to 15 minutes before reigniting them.

Even when cooking on a charcoal grill, I often cook with the lid down—an unpopular position among grillers striving to get a perfect sear on a steak before moving it off to the cool side of the grill to finish, but it works for me, especially if the meat is thick and the fire is hot.

Also, always close the lid when you are done grilling. For a charcoal grill, this will keep any embers contained. For both types of grills, it will protect the inside of the grill from the elements, helping to ward off rust.


Smoke is created as a byproduct of burning wood—chunks, chips, pellets, or branches. The smoke surrounds and flavors the food on the grill. When grillers talk about smoking, they’re usually talking about true barbecue: food cooked indirect (away from the fire) at a relatively low temperature, usually 225° to 275°F, surrounded by wood smoke for part of the cooking time. You can also smoke at higher temperatures.

Smoke contains lots of different compounds, and two in particular are responsible for the smoke flavor we love so much in food: guaiacol and syringol. To release these specific compounds, you want a well-oxygenated fire—one with good airflow—that yields white smoke; if your fire is producing black or otherwise dark smoke, it’s not getting enough air and the results are not going to be particularly tasty. Prepare the fire and position the food on the grate so the smoke will be drawn up and over it as it exits the top vent. Basically, build the fire as far away from the top vent as possible and position the food directly under the vent.

In terms of fuel, when smoking on a charcoal grill, I prefer to burn chunks of wood, even thicker branches or small pieces of firewood. They burn slower, longer, and more evenly than chips, which disappear almost immediately and have to be replenished constantly. Just add one or two fist-sized pieces of wood or branches to the fire, close the lid, and wait for smoke to come out the top vent. After the food is on, monitor the smoke through the vents on the lid; when it starts to peter out, add more wood. If you only have access to chips or are doing a quick smoke, add about 1 cup of chips at a time to the fire.

Woods for Smoking

During grilling season, you’ll find bags of different kinds of wood chips and chunks at home-and-garden and hardware stores. Go online and the choice widens even further—hickory, oak, ash, apple, cherry, pecan, mesquite, even chips from retired bourbon and wine barrels. Serious grillers will tell you they can distinguish the smoke flavors generated by these different woods. I’m happy just to have wood to burn (and frequently pick up dried sticks from the yard or during a hike), but I’ll tell you in the recipe what smoking woods are traditionally used. Experiment and see if you can tell the difference, and keep track of the woods you like best with specific foods. One wood—mesquite—definitely generates a distinctive smoke, so much so that you need to be judicious with your use of it, which leads to the question of timing.

How Long to Smoke?

In recipes that suggest smoking, I’ll tell you how much smoking time I think is enough. The sweet spot in smoking is just enough time to infuse the food without the smoke overpowering the natural flavor of what’s cooking. When I bite into something, I don’t want it to taste overpoweringly like smoke. Start with less smoke rather than more, then tweak the timing to suit your palate as you gain experience. I max out at about two hours for pulled pork and brisket. For poultry, an hour is enough. For fish, vegetables, and cheese, 20 to 30 minutes is plenty.

Smoking in a Gas Grill

If you have a built-in smoker box in your gas grill, follow the instructions in the owner’s manual for using it. If not, there’s a work-around. The challenge with smoking in a gas grill is that the lid and body are purposely constructed to not fully seal. So smoke tends to dissipate rather than accumulate and circulate around the food. Here are two methods to try, both using chips (in the case of the gas grill, faster ignition is a good thing) and a disposable foil pan.

Temperature-Test Your Gas Grill

If it’s new, or if you haven’t spent much time cooking on it, put your gas grill through the paces without any food. You’ll learn how to regulate your burners to hit target temperatures. With all the burners on, see what temperatures you hit with all the knobs at low, medium-low, medium, medium-high, and high positions. Then do the same thing switching off one of the burners, then switching off two of the burners, if you have three or more. Jot down notes or diagrams for future reference.

It’s helpful to identify the hot and cool spots in your gas grill. There can be places where, even with the burners going, they’re under temperature. Knowing this will ensure a good sear on a steak or hamburger. One way to do this is to turn all the burners to medium-low then cover the grate with slices of bread; the patterns of browning on the slices will identify the hotter and cooler parts of the grill.

In a charcoal grill, the heat distribution across the grill is more obvious: The center of the fire is the hottest and then the temperature lessens as you move to the edges and away from the fire.

Method 1

Before turning the grill on, remove the grate over the burner(s) you intend to use for smoking, then remove the heat diffuser(s) over the burner(s). The heat diffuser (also referred to as a flavor bar or flavorizer) is a V-shaped length of metal that sits directly under the grate and is positioned over the port holes of each burner. It’s easy to pop it off. The reason to remove it is to expose the bottom of a foil pan directly to the flames.

Put the grate back on.

Put about a cup of chips in the foil pan, set it on the grate positioned directly over the burner, ignite the burner(s), set the burner(s) to high, and close the lid.

Method 2

This method works best for a gas grill with four burners. Remove the grate over the two burners you will leave on. Leave the heat diffusers in.

You’ll need a long, narrow foil pan for the chips, just the right size to place between the burners. The lip of the pan, on either long side, will sit on top of the two diffusers, allowing the bottom of the pan to hang down, close to the flames (for my grill, a 6½ × 13-inch pan is the perfect size).

Add the chips, turn on the burners, and close the lid. Leave the grate off while you cook so that you can replenish the chips as they burn down.

I have also tried putting wood chunks next to the flames—don’t ever put anything directly on the port holes; you don’t ever want to interfere with the flow of propane. They catch fire nicely; the problem is the smoke can dissipate as it floats up.

If you are able to get smoke going, it might require a higher temperature in the grill than you are aiming for. To that I say fine. To get smoke, I have had my grill at 350°F for two hours when smoking a brisket and still ended up with a tasty, tender result. If you are intent on smoking in a gas grill, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to make it happen.

To Soak or Not to Soak?

Don’t. Hardwood has a very tight grain and is quite water resistant. When you soak wood chunks or chips for half an hour or even several hours, you’re simply wetting the surface. When that wet wood hits a hot fire, all that’s going to happen for the first 15 minutes or so is that the heat is going to evaporate the moisture, releasing steam, not smoke. It’s also going to damp down the fire.

Grill Cleanup

For the best cooking results and to maximize the lifespan of your grill and avoid mishaps, take care of your grill.

Ash Removal

For a charcoal grill, remove the ashes before preparing a new fire. Frequent grillers should buy a covered galvanized steel or aluminum trash can to hold spent ashes. Even though you might not see any live embers, ashes from grilling the night before very likely still contain them and can start a fire in your household trash bin. After three or more days, dispose of the ashes.

Fat Trap

For a gas grill, check on the fat trap before every session; if it’s full, or close to full, empty it. After grilling, if you keep a can for fat, empty the fat into that, otherwise, put some paper towels in a plastic bag and pour it into that, then wash the trap well with soap and water before returning it to the grill.


It’s easiest to clean grates when they are hot, as the high heat will incinerate and/or loosen any food particles left behind. You can do this before you shut the grill down, or while you are readying the grill to cook. (Or both, if the job was messy.) For a gas grill, when you are done preheating, run a grill brush vigorously over the grates to clean them, working between the rows.

For a charcoal grill, once you’ve got the coals flaming in the bottom, put the grates back on and close the lid for 5 minutes; then take a brush to them. Check the grates for stray bits of wire, plastic, or metal. (Hey, it happens.) Remember that residue also builds up underneath the grates, so periodically turn them over and clean the bottom as well.

Grill Accessories

You can go totally crazy when it comes to grill accessories, but they are largely unnecessary. The ones listed here are tools, utensils, and pieces of equipment I use over and over again. They make my grilling experience easier and contribute greatly to getting good results.

Grill Cover

They rarely come with the grill, but most manufacturers offer them specifically fitted for their models. Consider getting one to protect your grill from the elements. Only put it on after the grill is fully cooled.

Chimney Starter

This is a metal (most commonly steel or aluminum) cylinder open on top, with an inset perforated grate at the bottom; it allows you to light lump charcoal or briquettes without using lighter fluid or some other accelerant. To use a chimney starter, see Firing Up a Charcoal Grill, page 5. They are generally about 12 inches high and 6½ to 8 inches across, holding 4 to 6 pounds of charcoal; there are also compact versions available that hold considerably less fuel.

Hinged Grate

If you want to cook indirect or slow-and-low, or smoke on a kettle or other similar grill, this is a necessity. The hinge allows you to pull up the grates on both sides (or the center, depending) to feed the fire.

Grill Thermometer

Absolutely necessary to have if your grill doesn’t have

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