Up your grilling game
June 17th, 2010
12:00 PM ET
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Dads, all eyes are going to be on you this Labor Day whether you like it or not. Might as well thrill 'em at the grill with a few moves that'll take your burgers and steak from yum to YOWZA!

Fire it up

Charcoal briquettes and lighter fluid are just dandy - if you like the acrid taste of chemicals and extra carcinogens added to your food. Gas is quick and clean, of course, but maximum fire flavor comes from hardwood lump charcoal. It's generally not treated with extra chemicals and it's a cinch to light, once you know the trick.

That'd be a chimney starter. It's a vented, metal, handled cylinder with a shelf inside. Just grab a sheet of newspaper and start folding the long end in on itself, until halfway up. Then bring the shorter edges together in a ring, and crumple the unfolded portion of the paper into the center until it looks like a little hat.

Tuck that into the bottom of the chimney starter and pour the coals into the top portion. Make sure you're in a cleared area - outside, always outside - with no ambient, flammable branches, grass, untucked sleeves, hair, children, dogs, etc., around. Then light the paper through the bottom vents. It will catch fire, igniting the coals from below.

Scrub it up

While you're waiting for the coals to ash, scrub the grill grate. That caked-on gunk from last Labor Day doesn't "add flavor" like some folks say. It's just gross, and it adds funky flavor. You're better than that.

Scrub the grate with some balled-up heavy duty aluminum foil and once the goo is gone, slather it with some cooking oil so food won't stick.

Cook it up

Once the coals are no longer glowing and have a light layer of white ash, pour them - carefully, as they tend to spark - into the bottom of your grill. If you feel like getting a bit fancy, throw in a few sprigs of water-soaked rosemary or a handful of mesquite or hickory chips that have been soaking in beer. This adds an irresistible smoky scent and bang-up flavor to just about any food - even tofu.

Replace the grate and close the lid. The grate should be screaming hot when the meat hits it, and this will help. A closed lid will also aid in cooking your burgers and steaks quickly and more thoroughly once they're in.

Beef it up

Yeah, you've got it down to a science, but these little tips will take your burger game to the next level.

- Don't skimp on fat. yes, you're trying to eat healthily, and we applaud that, but we've never met a 90 percent lean burger that's not painfully dry. Opt for 80 percent or even 70 percent and just skip the extra slice of cheese.

- Consider using grass-fed ground beef. It's better for the environment and the flavor is outta this world. Just try it once and see how it stacks up against plain old supermarket beef.

- Don't handle the meat too much. Form it into loosely packed patties that are slightly lower in the middle than on the sides. The dimple will even out as the meat cooks.

- For the love of all that is holy, don't mash down with a spatula while the patties are cooking. Yes, it's big, manly fun to hear the tsssssssss sound as the juice hits the coals, but that's flavor you're wasting.

- Don't fuss with the patties while they're cooking. Cook on one side, flip once and cook the other. That's it.

Steak it up

- Most of the burger tips apply to steak as well - grill screaming hot, don't move it around too much, just the one flip, don't skimp on fat.

- We will, however, make an exception for grill marks. Halfway through cooking a side, lift the steak and rotate it 45 degrees for a killer, professional-looking crosshatch.

- Blot the meat with a paper towel before you season and cook it. Wet spots just steam the meat and you're cheating yourself out of delicious char.

- Speaking of seasoning, kosher salt, fresh-ground pepper and olive oil all are you really need. It's great to get fancy with marinades, but it's STEAK. Just enhance the glorious flavor of it, and you'll be good to go.

- Once you take the steak from the grill, let it rest on a board for about 10 minutes to let the juices redistribute. It'll be uniformly delicious and cut like butter.

Happy grilling!

See all our best grilling advice at Grilling 101



soundoff (323 Responses)
  1. D.Allen

    The tip about using hardwood lump charcoal is great. I love it!! But I must caution....this type of charcoal pops like popcorn from time to time, so please be careful. Small floating embers can cause a fire if the surrounding area is dry. My Super Bowl Sunday almost turned tragic! BEWARE...I suggest wetting the surrounding area down prior to starting and keep the water hose near.

    June 18, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Reply
  2. matt

    use the electric coil starter for the setting the lump wood charcoal on fire. Real fast....and i totally agree with the flavor quality of using wood charcoal..

    June 18, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Reply
  3. Steve

    Actually, some of this contradicts what I've heard before. I heard that with steaks, you should turn them often, that seals in the juices better.

    June 18, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      That is bad advice. Leave the thing alone. Get some good marks on it but let it cook without fussing with it too much.

      July 3, 2013 at 3:05 am | Reply
  4. Miss Girl

    What about the lesbians?! Where are they in all of this?!

    May 31, 2011 at 1:47 am | Reply
  5. roorriehymn

    Любимая кинолента на твое мнение !

    Участники форума eatocracy.cnn.com поделитесь

    Мой – Форрест Гамп

    May 30, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Reply
  6. hawaiiduude

    I prefer guava wood chunks and kiawe wood chunks from hawaii!

    May 30, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Reply
  7. William Moore

    our range hood is already several years old but still going strong",`

    October 5, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Reply
  8. Reality Check

    If a man doesn't know these "tips", are they really a man?

    One thing that wasn't mentioned is that italian dressing should never, ever, ever, ever be used to marinate a steak. Nothing burns me up more than seeing a bunch of amateurs talk about how great their steak is when they marinate it in craft zesty Italian. Idiots. It goes on salad.

    September 6, 2010 at 10:34 am | Reply
  9. MonkeyShine181

    I have another tip. Try not to be drunk off your lousy @$$ while you're grilling. Paying more attention to how fast you can gulp down that 11th beer instead of how long the steaks have been atomizing over that 9000-degree blue-flame fire that you created by using plastic chairs for fuel instead of charcoal... yeah, that's not gonna cut it.

    September 6, 2010 at 10:26 am | Reply
  10. Smurfeater

    This makes my soul hurt

    September 6, 2010 at 10:14 am | Reply
  11. Good Eats Viewer

    These are all very good tips, but lets give credit where credit is due. All of these tips have been shared by Alton Brown on his show Good Eats. Pieces of this article appear like they were stolen word for word. Its a good summary, but its missing a big special thanks or references section at the end. Phonies!

    September 6, 2010 at 10:13 am | Reply
  12. Jean-Michel

    45 degree turn will get you sissy grill marks; try 90 degree.

    September 6, 2010 at 10:11 am | Reply
  13. Kevin Quinn

    http://cancer.about.com/od/foodguide/a/grillingmeat.htm For those who wonder whether or not grilling can cause cancer. According to this site and their MD's, it can.

    September 6, 2010 at 10:08 am | Reply
  14. duder454

    If you want burgers that are tender and juicy as f, mix 2 or 3 tblsp of white cooking wine or water per patty.

    September 6, 2010 at 9:49 am | Reply
  15. Ron

    I got my first Big Green Egg about 16 months ago. The lump charcoal is a huge difference in taste. Using lighter fluid is history for me. I'm so happy I found this store here in Nashville that has been selling grills for over 40 years. They a so fully of tips from years of experience. Chef Jeff has some great recipes as well. They are The Hearth & Grill Shop and can be found at http://www.hearthandgrill.com

    I still cannot believe how great the Big Green Egg is for grilling and smoking any kind of meat or fish.

    September 6, 2010 at 9:43 am | Reply
  16. Bruce

    Try this, you will love it. Mix 1 part horseradish and 3 parts mayonaise and spread over the steak just after you take it off the grill. I found this recipe in a cookbook written by a former Cattle Trail Cook. Sounds weird, but just try it. It is delicious!!!

    September 6, 2010 at 9:32 am | Reply
  17. sam

    this is so not news...

    September 6, 2010 at 9:16 am | Reply
  18. CNN Reader

    Why does this article refer to Father's Day like it's around the corner? Are we reusing material here? It seems to me this article should have been centered around Labor Day.

    September 6, 2010 at 8:34 am | Reply
  19. Kim

    For great BBQ and grilling ideas and recipes visit http://www.therecipesource.net !!

    September 6, 2010 at 8:29 am | Reply
  20. jos

    "springs of rosemary...to just about food..."

    September 6, 2010 at 8:05 am | Reply
  21. Craig Hunter

    I won't be grilling this year.

    I go laid off and can't find a job that pays anything more than minimum wage. After paying child support, alimony, and taxes, there's nothing left.

    Labor Day is a great holiday. On Labor Day, we can celebrate the greatness of our country.

    September 6, 2010 at 7:44 am | Reply
  22. steve B

    Charcoal only leaves a tast if you rush it. You have to let it get gray first. Once that happens the checmical lighter fluid has burned off. Thats what leaves the taste. Also, clean the grill top but leave it greasy. You dont want old food chunks but the old grease leaves it seasoned so the meat doesn't stick.

    September 5, 2010 at 11:07 am | Reply
    • Steve

      I agree about the lighter fluid. Make a pyramid of the charcoal and squirt the fluid around the bottom. Let the coals stay in the pyramid or cone until they're glowing ALL the way through. Then there's never any aftertaste of lighter fluid.
      But I clean the grate thoroughly thank you. I don't want ANY residue. Never had a sticking problem either.

      June 18, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Reply
  23. Big Daddy

    As these are all good tips from everyone, do what you like when you grill. Everyone has their own "tricks" and "secrets". I have known a few people that it's just not in their blood to grill anything so this article may help at it's most basic. Too bad I won't be home to grill for the family this weekend, but I have the green light from the wife to do some ribs and a pork shoulder upon my return.

    Even easier to start your "lump charcoal" with a chimney is to use the gas burner on the side of your gas grill. Those of you that have a gas/charcoal combo grill will know what I'm talking about.

    September 5, 2010 at 10:54 am | Reply
    • Big Daddy

      Go straight to the butcher and ask for whatever steak you chose, cut at least an inch and a half thick. They will know what you're talking about. I never buy beef that is sitting in the packages at the store. The best beef I've come across is from Costco. Steaks are good, ground beef is 90/10 or 85/15 and is perfect for grilling.

      September 5, 2010 at 11:00 am | Reply
  24. Judge Smails

    1) To the vegetable only people – go choke on a rutabaga
    2) To those discussing cancer charring eating – go away
    To the rest of us who enjoy cooking out, grilling, smoking – enjoy the day

    September 5, 2010 at 10:38 am | Reply
    • Alex

      Enjoy your killing.

      September 5, 2010 at 10:41 am | Reply
    • Steve

      Really, all the vegetarian/vegan wussies shouldn't even be reading this, let alone posting their ignorant, whiny drivel here. Just go have some milk toast with your mommies and stfu.

      June 18, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  25. RicRandom

    This is mediocre advice and, in some cases, dead wrong. Check out America's Test Kitchen's show and website for the ultimate grilling advice. Bridgette rocks!

    September 5, 2010 at 10:30 am | Reply
  26. Jeff

    Eating too much red meat clogs the arteries of your heart.

    September 5, 2010 at 10:26 am | Reply
    • me

      Thanks, Captain Killjoy!

      September 5, 2010 at 10:32 am | Reply
    • Steve

      Not true. Cholesterol and fat that you eat is burned up by the body and not stored as fat. The cholesterol that your body MANUFACTURES in your liver in response to eating a lot of carbohydrates is what gets stored as fat and clogs your arteries. People should eat more meat and less carbohydrates.

      June 18, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  27. weppamay

    You'll all grill just nicely in HELL!

    September 5, 2010 at 10:25 am | Reply
    • Bruce

      you NEED to STAY on your medication...

      September 6, 2010 at 10:11 am | Reply
  28. barcie

    Recycling an article from June is a bit lame. Although I didn't grill on Father's Day (hey, it's supposed to be our day off), I grill year round two or three tines a week. Since my family doesn't eat beef (I do), most of my experience is with seafood and poultry. I do like to cook meat slowly (after marinating for a few hours in a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, herbs), flavored with the smoke of wet wood chips (mesquite for chicken, shrimp, mahi mahi, swordfish; hickory for salmon). Regarding the chimneys to get the coals started, there are 2 disadvantages. The chimneys are small and you may need two of them. By the time the coals on top are ready, the ones on the bottom are almost gone. Lighter fluid will burn off long before you put your meat on. We'll probably do a mixed grill today, steak for me and salmon for the family, and mixed marinated veggies on shish kabob skewers. Yum.

    September 5, 2010 at 10:24 am | Reply
  29. Randy

    Great tip for grilling on barbque !!!
    I like to get cooking ASAP so i squirt lighter fluid under the coals on the old ashes at the bottom to start the fire with a bang. Watch out for the 3 to 4 foot flames, be careful. I'm cooking in 10 minutes because the fire is intense and gets the coals lit from underneath quickly. Just make sure to let all the lighter fluid burn off and you will have no fumes left. When no more black smoke comes out your ready to go. 8 to 10 minutes tops and your coals are ready for cooking.

    September 5, 2010 at 10:18 am | Reply
  30. Chimney Shmimney

    My father back in the day used a coffee can with both ends removed and vent holes at the bottom........Now you gave it a fancy name....Chimney....I'm a purist......I use what I call the 'Ponzi scheme"....I have jewish friends who don't like the pyramid reference.......Stack your coals like a mountain.....Squirt your fluid into the middle , bottom of the mountain and light.........After the coals grey up, knock down the mountain and grill away......

    September 5, 2010 at 10:15 am | Reply
  31. Rex

    Funny picture. If you look close you can clearly see the charcoal and it aint lump! Those are the same briquettes they say not to use! Lump charcoal varies in size and shape. Grass fed beef? Good luck finding that! Supermarket beef may be grass fed if you live in the sticks. Cattle farmers operations have to be so large to make money your chance of finding a cow that eats grass for 2 years and not processed feed for 1 year is about 1%. Typical CNN crap, do as I say, not as I do.

    September 5, 2010 at 10:08 am | Reply
  32. NoThanksCNN

    CNN says: "You had your chances on Father's Day and July 4th and blew it. The steaks tasted like lighter fluid, the burgers were like hockey pucks. So, again, here are some tips."

    Wrongo, charcoal-breath. I didn't blow anything. The steaks were magnificent–the burgers were certainly tastier than those at any barbecue or restaurant I've been to. But thanks for your concern!

    September 5, 2010 at 9:53 am | Reply
  33. Graywolf

    http://www.original-bbq-recipes.com

    No better place for recipes and tips.

    September 5, 2010 at 9:10 am | Reply
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