You can smell it in the air. If you’re lucky, you can even taste it.
What is it? It is the start of grilling season. Colemans and Kenmores are being brought out of hibernation, as barbecue fans across the country scramble to find their favorite tongs, while butchers get busy prepping ribs, steaks and more. Yes, backyard cooking can imply a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be as time consuming as it’s been in the past.
Thanks to chefs and barbecue pros willing to share their tricks and tips, there are dozens of ways to cut corners at your next cookout. Here are 10 of them.
1. Trim the Fat and Use It
Even though you may not eat the fat on your steaks, you’re still paying for it so you may as well use it. Chef Troy Guard at TAG Restaurant Group uses the fat he trims off his steaks to clean his grill. “I get my grill really hot and then use the leftover fat to clean, and then add flavor, to the grill,” says Guard. “In turn, you’re using the entire cut purposefully, so there’s no waste!”
2. Clean with What You Have on Hand
To battle heavy grease without buying expensive products or spending hours scrubbing, just use coffee says Lauren Haynes. The cleaning expert at Star Domestic Cleaners recommends soaking a filthy grill gate in a sink filled with freshly brewed coffee. “Let it sit for an hour and then give it a quick scrub. Rinse with warm water, and it will be as clean as new.” Another trick, according to Ray Lampe, is to use crumpled up aluminum foil or half an onion as a grill brush. “Just be sure to always heat up the grill before you clean it,” says Lampe, a.k.a. Dr. BBQ.
3. The Shortcut is in the Cut
Forget filet mignon if you want to save money and time on your steaks. “I suggest bigger cuts of steak such as skirt steaks and flank steaks,” says Andre Natera, executive chef at Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas. “Not only are these cuts typically less expensive, you also don’t have as many pieces to man on the grill. Just slice it up nicely when it’s done!”
4. Prep as Much as Possible
If you’re throwing a backyard party and want to spend less time manning the grill and more time with your guests, then do as much as you can in advance. “I like to pre-bake my wings and/or chicken quarters ahead of time and then just touch them to the grill to finish,” says Leland Avellino, executive chef of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. “Also, make all sauces and sides well ahead of time.”
5. Consider Pre-Made Patties
For the vegetarians and vegans at your cookout, don’t feel obligated to make time-consuming homemade veggie burger patties. In the age of the flexitarian, it’s easy to find wholesome veggie burgers that come grill-ready. For example, Sweet Earth Foods, which took home the best meat alternative award at Expo West 2017, offers a variety of refrigerated veggie and vegan burgers-- with half the fat of ground beef.
6. Skip the Smoker, Sprinkle with Smoked Paprika
Don’t have a smoker? Or do you just not want to take the time to heat yours up? No problem. To achieve a smoky flavor in seconds, add smoked paprika to your meat. Chef Doug Psaltis, chef and partner of Chicago’s Bub City, creates his favorite meat rub using paprika, salt, brown sugar (great for caramelization), onion, chili and garlic powders and a pinch of cayenne. To make a sauce from the rub, add water, a little oil or melted butter and use it to baste the meat three-quarters of the way through grilling.
7. Enlist the Help of Technology
Lowe’s Home Improvement sells more grills than any other retailer in the country. They also have plenty of high tech accessories including the Grillbot ($77). This battery-powered robot is basically a Roomba for your grill. It comes with three runtime settings and works on hot or cold grills. Another popular item is a Wi-Fi enabled smoker ($284) which connects to your smartphone so you can monitor chamber and meat temperature without constantly walking over to check the grill.
8. Add a Pie Tin to Your Tool Kit
If your grilling tool kit is missing a pie tin, you’re probably missing out. Pit master Jayna Todisco uses a pie tin for cooking things like asparagus that tend to fall through the grates and for covering meat to create more consistent cooking times. She also uses them to vary smokiness. “If you’re looking for a smoky flavor on your chicken breast, add several wood chips to a particular spot on the coals and add the pie tin cover,” says the winner of the Cowboy Charcoal Fire & Ice Women’s Championship Barbeque Series. “This helps keep smoke concentrated on the chicken and gives you the freedom to cook other things such as vegetables that you may not want so smoky.”
9. Let Delivery on Demand do the Shopping
The point of having a cookout is to spend time in your backyard, eating food-- not wasting time battling some kitchen disaster. To minimize or eliminate grocery store runs, use goPuff. This free app, available in major cities and currently expanding, delivers picnic supplies like paper plates, plastic silverware, red SOLO cups and even beer in some markets. Place the order through the app and have the supplies at your door in 30 minutes or less. This quick turnaround time is feasible because goPuff has its own local warehouses. Delivery is $1.95 but the fee is waived for orders over $49.
10. Make a Mashed Kiwi Marinade
Did you know kiwifruit can cut your marinade time in half? It's loaded with a natural enzyme called actinidin, which can quickly break down proteins in meat and tenderize it much faster than traditional methods. “Use kiwifruit as a base in your marinade for 10 to 15 minutes before tossing your beef, chicken, lamb, prawns or fish on the grill,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietitian and author of "Body Kindness." “You can make your own marinade with two mashed green kiwifruit, two tablespoons olive oil, one teaspoon apple cider vinegar and a dash of salt and pepper.”
Katie Jackson is a travel writer. When she's not working, she's chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus.