Tips for the Perfect Barbecue From the Experts

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6. Use hardwood charcoal, not briquets, if possible

If you’re cooking with live fire, as opposed to gas, use hardwood charcoal, says Del Grande. “The more it looks like irregular chunks of wood (not pressed tar) the better,” he counsels. “Hardwood generally burns hotter, longer, and cleaner [than briquets], without any notes of resin.” Wayman concurs. “I prefer to use hardwood,” he says, “but if you’re using briquets you can always add a piece or two of hardwood for flavor and smoke.”

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7. Use a syringe for the marinade

Van Aken recommends this tool for injecting marinade into large pieces of meat. “It will never get there with a marinade that sits on the surface,” he says. Use a large syringe, he stresses, “the kind a veterinarian would have for a horse,” and be sure to strain any solids out of the marinade beforehand so it doesn’t clog the syringe. In addition to its practical function, he adds, “A syringe gets immediate attention, and that’s the anticipation-builder that any person who loves to cook wants, even if they don’t admit it.”

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8. Use a spice rub

Don’t put wet sauces on meat before you cook it, warn Hirsheimer and Hamilton. These will burn and may alter the texture of the meat. Instead, use dry rubs to add flavor without bringing about textural changes — and save the sauce, if any, for after the food is off the grill. Van Aken notes that while commercial dry rubs are readily available, “It’s very easy to come up with a variety of blends on your own. These give you a story to tell while you’re waiting for the food to cook.”

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9. Use a meat thermometer

Always use a meat thermometer to cook any kind of meat or poultry to the correct internal temperature, says Mixon. Hirsheimer and Hamilton like to keep a thermometer, along with a timer, salt and pepper, and a flashlight (for grilling after dark) in a lidded plastic container near — but not too near — their grill.

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10. Vary the temperature across the grill

While Mixon stresses that grilling temperature should remain constant, Del Grande notes that, even though it’s constant overall, it doesn’t have to be the same for every part of the grill. “Slope the coals to one side or the other, or even back to front,” he suggests. “This gives you a range of temperatures, letting you sear over the hot side and slow-finish on the cooler side.” He adds that “This works for gas grills, too. Don’t turn all knobs up all the way. Use a lower setting on one part of the grill.”