Brooklyn-based chef Isak Buan shares his top five grilling tips and tricks for beginners.
Each year, when summer is upon us, our creative juices get flowing. We fantasize about all the delicious char-grilled meals we’ll enjoy in the early evening sun at breezy barbecues, refreshment in hand.
Just fire up the grill, throw on some meat and veggies, and boom: succulent perfection. Right?
Not so fast. Before you fire up the grill for the first time and plan a big summer BBQ, there are a few considerations to heed.
What Beginners Should Know About Grilling
For some people, outdoor cooking is a brave departure from the everyday oven and stovetop.
Baked meat is healthy and easy: just set it and forget it until the beep. Then, pan-frying is quick and risk-averse. After all, it’s pretty hard to mess up when we have complete control over the flame levels. Plus, we can watch our food reach our level of satisfaction in real time.
Conversely, outdoor grilling is a bit more of a science, and it’s not always so intuitive. There are some hard and fast rules to abide by that will ensure your summer gatherings around the fire won’t come out mediocre—or worse, like burnt little kerosene-flavored nuggets.
However, once you master some basic grilling tips and techniques, there’s some wiggle room to let your creative mind roam to grill some unique masterpieces.
5 Outdoor Grilling Tips from a Chef
We were lucky to get some pointers from Isak Buan, the chef de cuisine at Win Son in Brooklyn, New York. Off the clock, he loves to grill on his tiny fire pit in Bed-Stuy.
Thankfully, he keeps things simple and shares some of his best grilling tips with us.
1. Invest in the Basics
There’s a lot of fancy grilling gear on the market, but we don’t actually need all the bells and whistles to grill a delicious meal.
In fact, a few simple basics will suffice.
“Aside from the obvious like tongs or a grill brush, something people rarely use that I think only professionals seem to think about is a tray with a resting rack,” Isak begins. “We often refer to them in the kitchen as a sheet tray, but any type of baking tray will do.”
He also suggests getting a rack for the top of the grill, where your freshly grilled meat can rest. “It keeps the char nice and crispy by allowing the fat to drip off. [This way], it doesn’t just swim in its own juice,” he shares.
2. Oil + Salt Are Non-Negotiable
Next, when it comes to the actual food, don’t go lean and dry.
As far as easy barbecue recipes go, Isak says the primary things you need are:
- a well-oiled ingredient (to keep the meat from sticking)
- more salt than you think you need (to bring out the flavor)
In his own words, if there’s not enough oil and not enough salt, you might as well throw it out. “Everything else you do or add builds upon this,” he explains.
Once you decide on the food you’d like to grill, “Rub it with spices, marinate it with citrus, massage it with garlic, or whatever ‘witchcraft’ you prefer.”
3. Keep Your Eyes on the Grill
“After we’ve well-oiled our veggies or our meat, salted it to saline perfection (and added all other desired spices), then we need to take the time to cook it well,” Isak continues.
By this point of the beginner’s barbecue journey, it’s essential to give the grill your undivided attention.
At Isak’s urging, “Don’t scroll through your Instagram, don’t walk the dog, don’t FaceTime your grandma. Watch the food!” No shade, Grandma. We’ll catch you later!
4. Don’t Let the Fire Taste Your Food First
Considering how grills and even standard meals at certain restaurants are marketed, this grilling tip may come as a surprise.
“Fire doesn’t taste good,” Isak explains. “Despite what fast food commercials might tell you, fire touching your food makes it taste like gasoline.”
So, how do you sidestep such fiery faults?
“When something flares up, move it to another side of the grill until things calm down,” he advises. Also, “Keep in mind that highly fatty foods such as pork, chicken thighs, or cuts of beef like ribeye will produce flare-ups due to their melting fat dripping into the fire.”
This is one of the main reasons why you absolutely need to keep a close eye on your grill.
5. Don’t Skimp on Grill Maintenance
Lastly, in order to keep up your grill skills all summer long, you’ll need to take good care of the equipment. Fortunately, it doesn’t take too much work.
Isak explains that to keep your grill nice and cared for, you pretty much only need to:
- keep it well-oiled
- use a grill brush before, during, and after every cookout
Additionally, don’t forget about your grill in the off-season. Be sure to keep it covered—especially when it’s cold and/or rainy.
Last but not least, when it comes to your grill, Isak offers up his most valuable tip of all: “Use it often!”