Grilling with propane or natural gas is the easiest option for cooking outdoors, but don’t let that simplicity fool you. There are plenty of tricks to make gas grilling easier and better, and Steven Raichlen, the Barbecue Hall of Famer, has no shortage of them.
Founder of the Barbecue University and author of How to Grill, Project Fire and The New York Times bestselling Barbecue! Bible cookbook series, Raichlen shares some of his best gas grilling tips and techniques with Family Handyman
This sounds super simple, and it is — as long as you get your order right. Start by opening the gas valve, then always (always!) raise the grill lid before pushing the igniter, Raichlen says, to avoid gas buildup with the potential to explode when lighting. Hold your hand about three inches above the burner, to ensure it’s lit. Then check again after 30 seconds to be completely sure it hasn’t gone out.
If the burners don’t light or go out, turn all burner knobs off. Let the grill air out for a few minutes with the lid open, then try again. If you’re having a hard time because it’s really windy out, try immediately turning your burners up beyond low.
Supplement With Smoke Pucks
When it comes to grilling fuel, wood reigns. But smoke pucks impart superior smoke flavor even on a gas grill. “Smoke pucks pack even more punch than traditional smokers because [they] force smoke out exactly where you want it, directly onto your food,” Raichlen says.
He offers a DIY version: Wrap hardwood chips or pellets in foil — Raichlen says oak is most versatile — to create a pillow-shaped pouch. Poke holes in the foil to release the smoke and place the pouch under the grate, directly over a burner.
Use your imagination to move beyond steaks and expand your grill-based menu options. Think of it this way: If you’re not trying something new every few times you fire up the grill, you’re probably leaving new successes on the table.
Lots of people start their exploration with grilled pizza, but why stop there? Raichlen has cooked items including watermelon, clams, figs and even kale on his gas grill. (He relates plenty of successful non-traditional grilling options in Project Fire.)
Don’t forget the beauty of indirect grilling, where food is cooked next to the gas flames instead of directly over, reducing the cooking temperature. Raichlen especially likes this tactic for slowly grilling larger cuts of meat, a whole chicken or fish. The larger the cut, the more important it is to cook low and slow. The same holds for dense vegetables such as cabbage or beets.
Choose Your Temp Tech
The secret to great grilling is getting an accurate cooking temperature. The best way to pinpoint that, Raichlen says, is with a point-and-shoot thermometer. Just aim the laser beam at one of the grill grate’s bars to get a reading.
Raichlen is not above going low-tech, however, and recommends what he calls the Mississippi Method.
“Hold your hand three inches above the grate over the zone where you’ll be grilling and start counting, ‘one Mississippi, two Mississippi,’ etc.,” he says. “You’ll be able to keep your hand over a hot grill for two to three seconds, over a medium grill for five to six seconds, and over a low-heat grill for 10 to 12 seconds.”
Know Your Zones
Raichlen says that there are two important numbers to consider when taking your grill’s temperature reading, depending on they type of cooking you’re doing: the temperature in the cook chamber (low, indirect heat) and the temperature at the grate level (high, direct heat).
The first one helps inform slow-grilling and smoking, and the second affects direct grilling and searing. To help, know that low temperature just above grill level is 250 to 275 degrees F, medium is around 350 F and high is in the 500-to-650 F range.
End With Oil
Don’t let your grill cool down before you clean it. If ever you were going to slip on a pair of grill gloves, it’s now. It doesn’t take long. Just quick-spritz the screaming-hot grates with water, Raichlen says, then work over with a stiff-wire grill brush — ideally one with a long handle, to build in more distance between you and the hot grill.
Finally, draw a tightly-folded paper towel or cotton cloth dipped in vegetable oil across the hot grates with a pair of tongs. “Oiling the grate this way prevents sticking, but it also cleans the grate more than brushing alone ever can,” Raichlen says.
This quick work buys you a better view the next time you open the lid: Not dirty grates, but rather a clean, well-oiled surface that’s prepped and ready to grill.