The trick to good grilling isn’t digging up some crazy intricate recipe or trying to tackle a fancy cut of meat. All you really need for a summer of badass barbecuing is to master a few different types of meat with a handful of go-to techniques. Barbecue expert Chris Lilly, partner and pitmaster at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, shares five no-fail approaches to grilling everything from chicken to burgers to fish, guaranteed to take you through Labor Day.
Burgers at backyard barbecues often don’t look or taste as good as you had imagined. That’s because people tend to overwork the patties, which can make them tough, and under season them, which makes them bland. These are easy mistakes to avoid.
What You’ll Need: Ground meat like chuck, short rib, brisket point, or a combo (ideally from a butcher or a good meat department at a grocery store); seasoning with a high salt content.
Prep: Shape the beef into medium-size balls and lightly press on them until they form disks. Season generously to ensure there’s enough salt to carry flavor through the entire patty during grilling.
Cook: Cook directly over heat on as high a rack as possible (preferably over charcoal) at 400 degrees. Leave the patties alone until you see juices pooling on the topside, then flip them.
Are they done yet? When the internal temperature reaches 145-150 degrees, take them off the grill. (Use every pitmaster’s go-to gadget, an internal meat thermometer, to gauge.) Let them rest for three to five minutes.
Go for a rib-eye and look for one with a lot of marbling. “It’s got a higher fat content and you can get that beautiful char,” Lilly says.
What You’ll Need: Rib-eye steaks (about an inch thick); salt and pepper or a bottled seasoning blend.
Prep: Season the steaks and let them sit for at least 30 minutes.
Cook: Place the meat on a 500-degree grill directly over heat for four and a half minutes on each side, then check the temperature. If your steaks are thicker than an inch, cook them longer.
Are they done yet? If you want rare meat, go for 120 degrees; 125-130 degrees for a medium rare; and 130-135 degrees for medium. (Sure, you could wait longer for well done, but c’mon!) Let them rest for five minutes.
Ever wonder why a Rotisserie chicken is so juicy? “Chicken is unique in that the more you cut it the less protection you have,” Lilly says. “You’re never going to get a juicier chicken than when you leave it whole.”
What You’ll Need: One whole chicken, ¾ cup of applesauce, 3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce and a loaf pan.
Prep: Season the chicken with salt and pepper, place it in the loaf pan, mix together the applesauce and Worcestershire and then pour it on top of the chicken.
Cook: Place the pan over indirect heat on a 300-degree grill for 2 hours.
Is it done yet? When the internal temperature of the dark meat reaches 175 degree, take it off the grill. Let it rest for about 10 minutes.
For an easily scalable dish, pick up some chicken breasts and whip up one of Lilly’s all-time favorite (and very easy) dishes.
What You’ll Need: Skin-on boneless chicken breasts, salt, pepper, a stick of butter and ⅓ of a cup of chopped basil; a pan.
Prep: Sprinkle salt and pepper on the chicken, mash together basil and butter in a separate bowl
Cook: Place the breasts, skin side down, on a 400-degree grill over direct heat for two to three minutes. As soon as the skin starts crisping, put the chicken in a pan with skin side up and move it to indirect heat. Baste the chicken with the butter mixture and let it stay on the grill for half an hour.
Are they done yet? When the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees, take them off the grill. Let rest for about three minutes.
Cooking a whole fish is actually not that difficult and yields a juicier finished product than a filet. “Using a whole fish is one of the absolute best ways to grill seafood,” Lilly says. “The skin on the bottom is like a boat for all the fluids and juices, so you’ll get a lot more moisture.”
What You’ll Need: Mahi Mahi or striped bass, some mayonnaise, and a seafood seasoning (store-bought is fine) with a high salt content.
Prep: Remove the skin on one side of the fish, or better yet, have your fishmonger do it. Rub the exposed meat with the mayo (this will serve as a protection of sorts for the skinned side), then rub the whole thing with your seasoning.
Cook: Bring a grill to 250 degrees cooking fish over indirect heat for 35 minutes.
Is it done yet? When the internal temperature hits 150 degrees, it’s cooked. Cut it into filets like this.