Follow These 5 Grilling Tips From a Pro for Cookout Success

Make the Most of the Versatile Summer Tool

mackerel on a grill outdoors

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Once a month, a chef from the Institute of Culinary Education will take over our Instagram account @thespruceeats to demo a recipe and share essential tips and tricks. Head over to Instagram to learn more!

Chris Scott is a chef at the Institute of Culinary Education. He is also the former executive chef and co-owner of Butterfunk Kitchen and Birdman Juke Joint

Grilling is one of my favorite cooking methods to use year round and I especially enjoy it during the summertime. There’s great seasonal produce and cooking outside in the warm weather is always a fun experience. Grilling adds a wonderful smokiness to your food and reminds me of the basics of cooking, when it was just salt and an open fire. The grill is a versatile cooking tool and there are endless foods that can be prepared using it. 

If you don’t have a grill, you can emulate this cooking technique using a griddle pan or cast-iron pan on the stove. 

I love grilling mackerel because it is so flavorful with a slightly fishy taste. My recipe for grilled mackerel with roasted rainbow carrots, black olives, parsley, and yuzu uses the grill in a variety of ways! Here are my top tips and techniques to help you get the most out of your grill.

There’s No Wrong Food to Grill

As you’re deciding what you want to cook, remember that nearly every food tastes delicious when grilled. While you may want to avoid smaller food items (which might fall through the grates) and foods with a fragile structure (which may fall apart), you can get a grill screen to ensure no item is left behind. This works well for ingredients like grape tomatoes, for example. 

Keep an Eye on the Flame

Throughout the grilling process, it’s important to monitor the grill’s temperature and flame. Make sure to preheat the grill so the cooking process starts at the right temperature and to ensure food doesn’t stick to the grates. Once your food is on the grill, avoid having the fire directly touch your food. You want the heat and smoke to cook your food, not the fire, otherwise you’ll end up with a lot of char and burnt food.  

Use Marinades to Boost Flavor

Almost all food items can be marinated prior to grilling to add additional flavor. A marinade can be made from anything and will typically include oil as a base. Feel free to get creative and add your favorite herbs, spices, and staples like onion and garlic. Here, the mackerel marinade includes parsley, garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes. Make sure to drip off excess marinade before you place your food on the grill to avoid flare-ups that can create too much char and soot on your food and impart a burnt texture. 

Remember the Versatility of the Grill 

Grills are great for cooking vegetables and meats in a traditional sense, but don’t forget you can achieve different cooking methods using your grill! In this recipe, I created a makeshift pan using aluminum foil and placed it directly on the grill to roast the carrots. This simultaneously roasted and steamed the carrots, bringing out their natural sugars and earthiness. I also used the grill to make the yuzu sauce by putting the saucepan directly on the grill and using the heat to reduce it.

Don’t Fear Fish!

When you’re shopping for dinner, don’t be afraid to buy fish to grill. With seafood, the firmer the fish is, the better. So, I’d recommend salmon, mackerel, catfish, monkfish, or even lobster once you take it out of the shell. Mackerel has beautiful skin (which I leave on) so I like to do most of the cooking on the flesh side, then flip it onto the skin for about 30 seconds. This way the patterns on the skin are still visible and you have nice grill marks on the flesh. If you like crispy skin, you can grill the skin side first instead. Once you put the fish on the grill, you don’t want to move it around too much, and keep in mind that fish will cook faster than other meats like steak.

The more grilling you do, the better you’ll get and the more intuitive the process will become. Don’t be afraid to experiment and use your senses when you cook, you don’t have to rigidly follow the steps of a recipe to get a delicious result. That said, here’s my recipe for grilled mackerel for you to try (or use as guidelines) on your next grilling adventure.