Like beach days and sunscreen, grilling is one of those must-dos when the weather starts to get warm. And there are plenty of easy grilling recipes that will help you make the most of delicious cookout food all summer long—whether you’ve been barbecuing forever or it’s your very first time lighting up a pit.
Though grilling can seem daunting at first, this outdoors, hands-on cooking method is no more complicated than your usual stovetop fare once you get comfortable with the basics. There are a couple of simple prep steps you need to take, but the actual cooking involved is just as simple as what you do in your kitchen on a daily basis—especially once you develop an intuitive feel for grilling (and confidence!) after a practice round or two.
In fact, once you get the hang of it, cooking over a live fire can actually produce better, more consistent results than oven or stovetop cooking. Instead of trusting that your oven or electric range is at the right temperature or setting a timer and forgetting it, you can actually see and feel where the temperature is higher or lower on the grill when grilling and adjust accordingly. In general, bigger flames will be hotter, smaller ones cooler, and you can easily shift your food around depending on the kind of result you’re trying to achieve. Get a gorgeous char on a turkey or plant-based burger by placing it over a high flame for a couple minutes, for instance, then move it to a cooler spot for a few minutes more to allow the interior to finish cooking (or to keep it warm while your buns finish toasting).
It may take a bit of trial and error to get used to the ins and outs of how to grill various foods to perfection, but once you do you’ll never want to go back to cooking inside. Because the best part of grilling—aside from the authentic flavor of food hot off the grates, of course—is the setting you do it in. Nothing beats enjoying the fresh air and beautiful weather, from sunny poolside afternoons to pleasant evening gatherings set to the sound of crickets (or city life), while you’re grilling up a summer feast.
What are the steps to grilling?
The basic steps of grilling involve cleaning the grill off (if necessary), getting your tools ready, preheating the grill, oiling the grates, getting your ingredients ready, and then cooking.
When you break out the grill—whether it’s the first time you’re using it this season, a brand new grill, or just covered in icky stuff from the last use—you’ll need to clean it. Xochitl Bielma Bolton, owner and operator of Boston restaurant Bird & Wolf, tells SELF that you should start by unpacking your grill, removing any dust, and thoroughly washing the grates with soapy water and drying.
You’ll also want to make sure you have the right materials on hand—your fuel source (gas, charcoal, or wood chips) and a couple of grilling accessories, Bolton says. As for fuel sources, charcoal and wood chips both add flavor to your food, but charcoal burns much hotter and longer than wood and therefore tends to produce more consistent results. On the other hand, gas grills are more predictable—but won’t infuse that same special, smoky taste into your food. Now onto tools: Grab a set of heat-resistant tongs for moving food around, a water spray bottle for managing heat and flare-ups, and a food thermometer to guarantee all your meat is safe to eat.
After that, you’re ready to actually get cooking. First, heat the grill. Begin by starting a fire in the base of your barbecue with your chosen fuel source. If you’re using charcoal or wood chips, a large flame will form at first. As it subsides, you will need to add more fuel to build a base that stays hot enough to properly cook food. This preheating ritual can take up to 25 minutes (and sometimes longer), according to The Kitchn. So be patient and don’t be afraid to get started a little early. If you’re using a gas grill, however, you’ll only need roughly 15 minutes to ensure it’s fully preheated.
Next, it’s time to prepare the grates. When everything is hot and ready to go, Bolton says that all you need to do is oil the grates of your grill, either using a wire or silicone pastry brush or a spray bottle. Placing food on an unoiled barbecue will make it more likely to get stuck and your grill much harder to clean later on.
Finally, you’re ready to start cooking. The specifics here depend on the food you’re making, the recipe you’re following, and the exact results you’re after, but the gist of the method is always the same: Place your food items on the grill as instructed and tend to them as necessary. This may involve moving the food around based on the kind of heat exposure you’re looking for, for instance, as well as flipping, looking for signs of doneness, opening or closing the grill, and checking the internal temperature (for meat).
After you’re done and the grill has cooled down, you’ll want to do a wipe-down to remove food remnants and residue. Regular cleaning will help prevent too much encrusted buildup. (For a deeper clean, follow the directions above or the manufacturer’s instructions.)
What is the best thing to cook on the grill?
Although there are so many things you can cook on a grill, not all foods are equally suited to this cooking method. In general, sturdier, larger, and more solid ingredients—like whole or halved vegetables or fruits, burgers, whole fish, and uncut pieces of meat—are preferred for grilling.
That’s because these kinds of ingredients won’t slip easily through the grates the way some foods might, like chopped vegetables, delicate fish, or crumbly or semi-liquid ingredients. With many of these smaller or less cohesive ingredients—like sliced veggies, shrimp, or cubed meat—skewering is the way to go. Other times, like with a super tender fish filet or bunch of asparagus, foil packs are your answer. Grilling recipes will indicate when these methods are a good idea.
What should I grill for the first time?
The best grilling recipes for first-timers are the simplest ones. Think more substantial veggies and proteins that don’t require so much fine-tuning for excellent results.
For beginner-friendly grilled dinner ideas, Bolton suggests starting with seasonal summer vegetables—think corn on the cob, halved zucchini, or bell peppers—and a forgiving protein, like chicken. (Salmon or burgers would also work.) That way, you can get comfortable with your home barbecue set-up and practice your hand. Over time, you’ll develop a more instinctive sense for how long various foods take on the grill or exactly what they look and smell like when they’re done just how you like them.
This list below has got you covered—we’ve rounded up 30 easy grilling recipes that are perfect for beginners and experts alike. From meaty BBQ ideas to veggie-forward masterpieces, these are destined to be at your next summer barbecue.