A few summers ago, I got really into grilling. When we're at our lake house, we're regularly feeding between 15 - 25 people each meal, and I was running out of recipes that one can easily make for such a crowd. When we did make burgers or chicken, I had to rely on someone else to man the grill. Why? Because I was scared of it. I had in my head it was a male job (which is ridiculous) and was convinced that I would burn anything I tried.
When I finally starting grilling out of necessity, I found that it is WAY easier (and often better tasting) that cooking on a stove. It's not nearly as precise as one might believe, the margin of error is huge. The big secret about grilling is that it's NOT THAT HARD. Most of the time, I feel like a fraud even taking credit for how good something tastes off the grill.
So if you're a newbie to outdoor grilling, or if you're intimidated, here's my advice: TRY IT. I promise you will surprise yourself with your ability to whip up a good meal for a bunch of people in a short amount of time. If you're truly a newbie, start with burgers. The meat is cheap and they're hard to mess up.
Even though I've become pretty comfortable with our propane gas grill (and our Big Green Egg, but that's a whole different post), I checked in with my grillmaster friend Kyle, known for his delicious burgers. Here are his tips for starting out (and with a bit of my commentary, because I couldn't resist):
1) Allow your grill to get nice and hot. A not-hot grill will just slow cook the burgers and make for a very dry patty. Aim for 400-450 degrees at a minimum but the preference on our grill (a Weber gas/propane grill) is 550-600 degree range.
2) Shape your burger patties so the outer edges are thicker than the center. The edge will cook faster, so if the edge is thicker, it allows for a more evenly cooked patty.
3) Don't press down on the meat while it's cooking! This makes for dry burgers. Once you get to know your grill, you'll know how long you need to cook each side so you can - ideally - only flip them once while grilling.
(Laura's note: Eventually you might get the hang of eye-balling it, but don't be afraid to use a timer when you're starting out. I still use a timer, because I can get easily distracted and forget to watch! Depending on how thick your meat is, and the temperature of your grill, you'll probably cook a burger between 2 minutes to 5 minutes on each side. On a pretty hot grill, with medium-thick patties, I usually do 3 minutes on each side. Remember that they'll continue cooking internally even after you pull them off. So if you're aiming for a pink center, take them up a little bit before they're cooked how you like them.)
4) Add in flavor before grilling. Kyle's go-to recipe is a combination of BBQ sauce (as Okies, we use Head Country OF COURSE) and grape jelly. The ratio varies, but he said about 1 T of each of those per 1/3 lb patty. So 6 T each for 2 lbs of ground beef.
(Laura's note: My go-to add-ins are heavy cream - just a little bit - and Worcestershire sauce. I use Lawry's for seasoning, but a little less that usual since the Worcestershire is so salty. The heavy cream binds it all together and makes for a really rich flavor.
Make up your patties right away, but let them sit covered and refrigerated for a little bit so the flavor really soaks in.)
5. Experiment! We have thrown in bacon pieces, diced pinapple, jalepeno, Italian seasoning and other seasoning salts, soy sauce, even bourbon! Try a blend of ground beef and another ground meat. When we lived in Texas, we could request ground brisket from the meat counter at the grocery store, and we would make 50/50 patties of ground beef and ground brisket.
(Laura's note: With burgers in particular, experiment with temperature and cooking times. Unless you just char them beyond recognition, ground beef is kind of hard to mess up. Try all different thicknesses and combinations, noting that the patties shrink pretty significantly when they're cooked.
If you're making cheeseburgers, you'll find that different cheeses take longer to melt. Good ole American or cheddar will melt quickly, so I put this on 30 seconds to 1 minute before I pull the burgers up. Bleu cheese - my personal favorite - takes longer usually, so I put that on right after I flip them.)
After you feel like you've mastered (or at least feel comfortable with) burgers, move on to making other easy meats and veggies on the grill. Steaks aren't so different from ground beef in terms of how they cook, but always cook chicken a bit longer since you need to make sure it's absolutely cooked through the middle.
We also love to throw on corn on the cob (buttered first, with just salt & pepper, sometimes a dash of cayenne), portobello mushrooms, all kinds of things.
Kyle's non-burger tip is to sear meat on the grill, then finish in the oven. Do a big tray of chicken drumsticks or some pork country ribs this way. Sear on a hot grill, then put in an oven safe baking dish, add a little liquid (water, beer, etc), and cook on 175 for several hours until meat is cooked through. Delicious!
There's so much on Pinterest or YouTube that will help you with grilling. Whenever I get stuck or need inspiration, I google it. Once I got over being scared of the grill, it opened a whole new world of easy and delicious cooking.
I hope this helps and inspires you to do the same! If you have any grilling tips or secrets, I'd love to hear 'em.