12 Grilling Mistakes That Are Ruining Your Cookout

Grilling mistakes

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Common grilling mistakes to avoid
Cheapism / DALL-E 3

Sizzling Mistakes

Few things epitomize summer as much as a good cookout with family and friends. But while grilling provides a great way to enjoy our favorite meats and veggies, even the most seasoned grill masters can fall victim to common mistakes. 

From mismanaging the flames and crowding the grill to misjudging cooking times, these mishaps can drastically affect the flavor, texture, and overall quality of your grilled goods. 

Here are 12 common grilling mistakes, plus tips on how to avoid them to ensure your next cookout is a resounding success. 

Barbecue Grill in the Backyard with Open Flame

1. Using Lighter Fluid

While convenient, using lighter fluid for quick ignition can taint your food with an unpleasant, chemical taste. It also compromises the quality of your grilled dishes. Instead, opt for a chimney starter filled with natural lump charcoal or briquettes. While it may take a bit more time and patience, this method eliminates the risk of chemical contamination to help your food taste better. 

Barbecue Ribs

2. Adding BBQ Sauce Too Early

Since most BBQ sauces have significant amounts of sugar (about 12 to 17 grams per serving), they can burn at high temperatures, resulting in a bitter and overly charred exterior. By adding it too early, you can ruin the texture and flavor of your meat. To avoid this, apply the sauce during the last five to 10 minutes of grilling. This will allow the sauce to thicken and caramelize without burning.

Perfectly cooked burger patty

3. Not Using a Meat Thermometer

While some grill "experts" claim they just know when the patties are done, eyeballing the meat is unreliable and can lead to undercooked or overcooked dishes. Undercooked meat can pose health risks, while overcooked meat can be dry and tough. Instead, invest in a good meat thermometer and use it towards the end of the cooking process to help you achieve the perfect internal temperature every time. 

Fat and meat residues on the wire shelf after cooking.
Alexey Krukovsky/istockphoto

4. Throwing Water on the Grill

In a panic, some might resort to throwing water on a grill to douse flames or flare-ups. But in reality, water can cause the flames to spread, potentially leading to injury and even worse flare-ups. The sudden temperature change can also damage your grill. Instead of water, control flare-ups by using a grill lid or by moving the food to a cooler part of the grill to reduce the oxygen supply to the flames.

Pro tip: Always have a fire extinguisher or baking soda at hand to put out potential grease fires safely and efficiently. 

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Juicy steaming meat on a charcoal grill, pork steaks, chicken breast, sausages, pieces of meat chops, Romanian minced meat (mici)  at a street food festival

5. Crowding the Grill

Overloading the grill restricts airflow and reduces heat, which can lead to uneven cooking and an even longer cook time. Instead, maintain a bit of space between items to allow heat to circulate properly. This will not only ensure even cooking but will also make it easier to manage when it comes time to flip those patties and hot dogs. 

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The male hand cleans the black grill with a soft brush. Grill for frying meat. Cleaning the outdoor gas grill in the backyard.
Sergei Telenkov/istockphoto

6. Not Cleaning the Grill Between Uses

Old food residue (barf) and grease build-up can cause unwanted flare-ups and impart off-putting flavors on your food. A dirty grill can also lead to health hazards by harboring harmful bacteria that can contaminate your food. To prevent this, clean your grill grates after each use and perform a deeper clean regularly (at least twice a year). This way, you can ensure your food will taste fresh and delicious every time. 

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Stainless Steel Barbeque

7. Ignoring Preheat Time

A hot grill sears food on contact, keeps it from sticking, and helps achieve those iconic grill marks on your favorite cuts of meat. By allowing your grill to fully preheat (usually about 10 to 15 minutes) with the lid closed, you'll ensure an optimal cooking temperature. This step will not only help red meat cook more efficiently, it also allows vegetables and seafood to slightly char without becoming soggy or drying out.

Man Dousing Cooking Oil On Vegetable Skewer - Close Up

8. Not Oiling the Grill

Similarly, forgetting to oil the grill before cooking can be another recipe for disaster. Food, especially lean meats and vegetables, tend to stick to the grill grates when they are not properly oiled. This not only makes flipping more difficult but can also ruin the look and texture of your food. To avoid this, lightly oil your grill grates with a high-smoke-point oil such as canola, vegetable, or grapeseed oil before preheating. 

Pro tip: Use a paper towel soaked in vegetable oil and held with tongs to rub over the grates, or spray a high-smoke-point oil directly on them. This will create a non-stick surface to ensure your food can cook evenly without sticking. 

Flipping Burgers

9. Flipping the Food Too Often

While tempting to do, flipping those patties too often can disrupt the cooking process and prevent the formation of a crisp, caramelized exterior. It's better to let food develop a sear and only flip it once or twice during cooking. This will ensure a more even cooking to help your meats and vegetables achieve that perfect crispy exterior.

top view of raw beef hamburger patties on barbecue grill grate with spatula
Andreas Häuslbetz/istockphoto

10. Pressing Down on Burgers and Meats

While pressing down on meat with a spatula might seem harmless, it actually forces out the juices that make your meat tender and flavorful. This can lead to dry, tough, and less enjoyable burgers and steaks. Instead, allow your meat to cook undisturbed for a few minutes on each side to help it retain more moisture and flavor. 

grilled new york strip steak resting on wooden cutting board

11. Forgetting To Let the Meat Rest

Resting allows the juices in your meat to redistribute, resulting in a juicier, more tender cut of meat. Cutting into a steak immediately after grilling causes these juices to run out, leaving you with meat that's bone dry and chewy. By allowing your meat to rest for a few minutes before slicing (typically about five to 10 minutes), you'll end up with a much more flavorful and satisfying meal. 

Chef hand cooking grilled pork meat in BBQ smoker.

12. Ignoring Indirect Grilling

While direct heat is great for searing and cooking thin cuts, thicker cuts like bone-in poultry, ribs, and roasts can burn on the outside before they're cooked through. Using indirect heat by placing these away from the direct flame on your grill can allow them to cook slowly and more evenly.