Few things in life bring people together the way a backyard BBQ can. The smells, the laughs, and the tastes all work together to create an atmosphere of fun.
In this article, we’ll look at the foundations of outdoor grilling– grill and meat choices, techniques, and helpful tips to take your BBQ to the next level.
Whether you’re just looking to get started in your backyard BBQ adventure or consider yourself a pitmaster, there will be something you can glean from it!
Choosing the Right Grill
We’ve got an entire guide to the best grills on the market, but it’s also essential to understand the differences between the types of grills when choosing which is best for you.
Gas grills use an attached propane or natural gas tank as their fuel source. They provide instant heat that is easy to control, making it an excellent choice for weeknight grilling.
While they don’t naturally have the smokey flavors you’d expect from a charcoal grill, you can add a smoker box to the bottom of the grill that can give you a hint of the taste.
Charcoal grills are affordable and will give you the quintessential backyard BBQ flavor you want with just a little learning and effort.
They use charcoal chunks or briquettes as fuels, which take a while to heat up, and there’s a learning curve to managing.
The best thing about charcoal grills is their versatility. You can use the same grill for grilling, searing, smoking, and more.
Pellet grills are the newest grilling trend. They get their name from the small pellets of compressed wood used as fuel for the grill.
Pellet grills are generally the priciest of the grill options, but you get what you pay for!
Many of them are filled with technology. Apps connect your phone straight to the grill, allowing you to keep an eye on the temperature of the meat and even adjust the grill’s temperature.
These grills are excellent for beginners because you have the ease of an electric or gas grill combined with a smokey flavor of a charcoal grill from the wood pellets.
Electric grills allow you to bring your grill wherever you go. You don’t have to be prepared with gas, charcoal, or wood pellets. Plug it in, and you’re ready for a backyard BBQ!
These make great grills for apartment living if your apartment complex has rules against open flames. You could even use one inside since there’s no smoke or fumes.
Essential Backyard BBQ Tools and Equipment
There are a few bits and bobs that will improve your backyard BBQ experience exponentially.
Your run-of-the-mill kitchen utensils won’t stand up to the intense heat of the grill, so you’ll need to invest in some grilling-specific utensils.
You’ll need tools such as
When choosing your grilling utensils, you’ll want to invest in something that will last a while. Stainless steel is an excellent choice because it’s rust-resistant.
Make sure the handles are made of heat-resistant material that is not metal. You don’t want to burn your hands!
Also, consider the length of the tools. You want them long enough that your body can stay safely away from the fire but short enough to control them easily.
Charcoal Grill-Specific Accessories
A charcoal chimney will speed up heating all the charcoal by keeping them contained in tight quarters. Once they’re all heated, release them from the chimney to the bottom of the grill and get cooking.
If you’ve got a classic 22” kettle grill, a Slow ‘N Sear will be your new best backyard BBQ friend. This tool will keep your temperatures consistent and split your grill into two distinct grilling areas– smoking and searing.
It also has a water reservoir that keeps moisture inside the grill for up to five hours, meaning you’ll end up with tender, juicy pulled pork if you grill it low and slow!
An instant-read thermometer is a budget-friendly option to do the job. Simply put it in the meat, and you’ll know the internal temperature in less than three seconds.
Programmable thermometers take it up a notch with a probe left in the meat, attached to a base by a stainless mesh cable. The base is magnetic and can stick to the outside of the grill. It also comes in handy when baking meat, too. Program them with the desired temperature, and an alarm will go off when the meat is done.
Smart meat thermometers are wireless and connect to a phone through Bluetooth. Use the company’s app to track the temperature from the comfort of your couch.
Whichever route you choose, insert the probe into the thickest part of the meat to get an accurate temperature.
Cleaning and Maintenance
A grill brush is necessary to keep your grill in backyard BBQ shape for the long haul. Cleaning off any leftover debris while the grill is hot is essential. Nylon brushes can melt, and steel bristles can slough off, but a bristle-free metal brush will do the job splendidly!
Even if your grill is under some sort of roof, like an awning or covered patio, having a grill cover will help keep it looking great. Not only will it keep unwanted critters out, but it will also protect the metal from unwanted moisture that could lead to rusting.
Meat Selection and Preparation
You could use your grill every night of the week for a month and still have a wide variety of tasty treats to enjoy!
Nothing says backyard BBQ like a big, juicy steak! But, there are several other beef cuts worth cooking next time you grill.
Short ribs are from lower down on the cow’s body and are generally meatier, and back ribs are those closer to the spine and typically come in a rack.
Whether you want to enjoy short or back ribs, cooking them low and slow is the trick to fall-off-the-bone beef ribs.
Short ribs take 3-5 hours to grill, while back ribs are ready after 2-3 hours of cooking.
Briskets seem intimidating, but anyone can grill a delicious one with enough time and patience.
The average brisket is between 15-18 pounds. That is a lot of meat! Since they’re best cooked low and slow, grilling can take 10-16 hours.
Briskets are notorious for stalling out. They’ll get to a temperature, usually between 160-165°F, then not go up a degree for hours. When that happens, don’t give up! Cover your brisket with aluminum foil, and trust it all works out.
Look for cuts like ribeye, filet mignon, sirloin, and New York Strip for the best, juiciest steaks.
Steaks need 2-3 minutes over direct heat to get the crispy outside people love so much. That’s also where they’ll get their grill marks.
Once seared, move to a spot with indirect heat to cook them to your likeness.
Oink, oink, baby! Pork is incredibly versatile on the grill and can pair with many different wood smokes for unique flavors.
You no longer need to head to Chilis next time you want some baby back ribs. Get them from the grocery store and grill them up yourself!
Like many other backyard BBQ types of meat, pork ribs love to cook low and slow. Baby back ribs take 4-6 hours, and spare ribs will be ready to enjoy after cooking for 5-7 hours.
Also called a pork “butt,” pork shoulder is one of the most budget-friendly cuts of meat you can grill. They’re usually not very expensive per pound, huge, and can feed many people.
Pork shoulders should be cooked–you probably guessed it–low and slow. Get it started early in the morning if you want to eat it for dinner because they need to cook for 8-12 hours, depending on their size.
If you get a bone-in one, you’ll know it’s ready to go when you can pull the bone out with absolutely no effort.
Pork tenderloin is a quick and easy way to enjoy pork at your next backyard BBQ.
They do best with direct heat and are ready to eat in 15-20 minutes. Let them rest for another ten minutes to let the juice soak back in. You’ll be left with tender medallions of pork that almost melt in your mouth.
Don’t skip out on grilling poultry. While it may not be as alluring as other cuts of meat, these birds are tried and true on the grill and make for some delectable dinners.
Chicken and turkey breasts cook much quicker than their whole counterparts. Just pop them on the grill until they reach an internal temperature of 165°F.
Grilling a lot of chicken at once is a great meal prep for healthy, budget-friendly meals throughout the week. It’s left so juicy that it reheats wonderfully.
Grilling a whole turkey or chicken may take longer, but it’s worth it. Not only do you have the entire bird’s worth of meat to enjoy, but you’re also left with incredibly crispy skin that’s a treat by itself.
Each cut will vary slightly, but these are generalities to remember when preparing your backyard BBQ.
Membranes and excessive fat don’t mix well with grilling. Make sure to trim off as much as you can. You can leave a thin layer to make meat moister, but skipping this step will make the texture less enjoyable.
Do NOT skimp on seasoning. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it needs to happen.
Most meat will taste delicious with a healthy amount of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. If you feel like getting fancy, try some seasoning blends created explicitly for the cut of meat you’re grilling.
Marinating your meat before your backyard BBQ does a few things for it.
First, it enhances the flavor. Use flavors that complement each other and the cut of meat you’re using.
Secondly, it helps to keep the moisture in. The grilling process will naturally zap out some of the meat’s moisture, but the more in there, the juicier it’ll be.
And last, and maybe most important, it helps tenderize the meat. Ingredients like citrus juices, yogurt, pineapple, and salt break down tough muscle fibers in the meat, allowing it to melt in your mouth when it’s ready to eat.
You can marinate meat for as little as an hour or up to a full day before. Don’t exceed the 24-hour mark, or the meat may become mushy.
Basics of Backyard BBQ Techniques
A few simple tips will have you that much closer to being the pitmaster of your backyard BBQ.
Direct vs Indirect Grilling
When learning how to grill, you’ll see the terms “direct” and “indirect” grilling repeatedly. They simply mean:
- Direct grilling– Use high heat, typically directly over flames, to cook thinner pieces of meat quickly.
- Indirect grilling– Place the meat away from the fire and use the flame’s residual heat to slowly cook larger pieces of meat.
Hot and Fast vs Low and Slow
“Hot and fast” grilling typically coincides with direct grilling. The same is true for “low and slow” and indirect grilling.
Here’s a critical piece of information for every backyard BBQer. Any cut of meat can be cooked low and slow. It may take longer, but it’ll still taste good.
If a piece of meat needs to be cooked low and slow, you can’t try to speed it up by cooking it hot and fast. You’ll be left with either a burnt outside and undercooked inside or meat so tough it might be shoe leather.
A two-zone fire is how you’ll set up an indirect grill. One side of the grill will be filled with flames, and the other will have residual heat.
Using a charcoal grill, use a Slow ‘N Sear to make it easier, or just pile all the charcoal up on one side of the barrel.
On a gas grill, use the knobs to turn one side of the grill’s flames hotter than the other.
Backyard BBQ Safety
A backyard BBQ is all fun and games until someone gets sick or hurt! Here are a few precautions to take so the fun doesn’t have to stop.
The key to safe meat handling while grilling is avoiding cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods. Wash hands regularly and disinfect cooking utensils and surfaces often.
Make sure to cook all meat to the appropriate temperature. Check a guide if you’re unsure.
Use grilling tools and common sense to avoid burning yourself. Make sure charcoal or wood pellets are entirely out before leaving them unattended.
Wrapping Up the Ultimate Guide to Backyard BBQ
The great thing about backyard BBQs is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. You’ve got to figure out what works best for you, your space, your budget, and your taste buds.
The best part? Even “failing” can taste pretty great! Have fun and experiment. Your friends will thank you!
Looking to take the entire backyard BBQ experience up a notch? Check out our Backyard Living page for more ideas.
- About the Author
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Stephanie Lamberth is a writer who gained most of what she knows about gardening from summers spent on her family’s farm tending, picking, and storing the produce they grew.
Her family started and ran a thriving farm that fed hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the community with fresh, naturally grown produce. She learned the effort and the reward of growing your own food!
Stephanie now lives in Tennessee with her husband and three kids. Their schedules don’t allow for a large garden, but she loves incorporating herbs from their flowerbeds in her kitchen and using her knowledge to help others.
Stephanie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org