Grilling for Beginners: Outdoor Cooking 101

April 18, 2024 by Kenmore

Grilling for Beginners

As the warm weather begins its long, slow return and attention shifts from indoor activities to the great outdoors again, it’s the perfect time to get ready to get grilling!

Before you fire up your gas or charcoal barbecue grill, it makes sense to take a moment or two to go over the basics of cooking outdoors, over an open flame. Not surprisingly, there are a few similarities with the skills of searing, roasting and sautéing with your indoor cooktop and oven… but there are more than a few differences, too.

Even if this isn’t your first rodeo, it’s never a bad idea to brush up on the grilling basics before the season kicks into high gear.

Safety First!

grilling for beginners

You probably already know this, but it bears repeating… grilling means fire, and fire can be dangerous if you’re not careful. But if you follow the basic rules of BBQ safety, you can play it safe while enjoying all the sizzling, smokey goodness of grilling.

Make sure you place your grill outside, and away from your home. Grills DO NOT belong inside your home, not even the garage!

Place the grill on a level, flat surface like a deck or patio before you begin.

Make sure the grilling surface is clean before you begin. Use a grill brush regularly to keep the grates and racks free from stuck-on mess, and make sure the heat diffusers and drip pan beneath the grates haven’t accumulated debris that could catch fire unexpectedly.

If it’s your first grilling session of the season, check the gas line and connections for leaks with a soap & water solution. If gas is leaking, bubbles will form.

Prep Your Food First

Make sure the meats, veggies, etc. that you plan to grill are properly sliced, prepped, oiled, seasoned and ready to go before you fire up the grill. Once the fire is burning, you will want to keep an eye on it and not keep heading back to the kitchen for additional food preparation. Besides, any rubs, marinades or seasoning blends should be applied well beforehand, and hour or more, so their flavors have a chance to penetrate and integrate with the food before cooking.

If you’d like to learn a little more about using spice rubs to add rich flavors to your grilled foods, you can read about them here.

Also, be sure to keep your raw meats separate from everything else (veggies, cooked items, etc.) at all times, from prep to finish. This helps to avoid cross-contamination from possible food-borne pathogens.  For example: don’t use the same plate to carry raw meat to the grill and cooked foods to the table.

Ignite, Then Pre-Heat

grilling for beginners

If using a gas grill, be sure to follow your grill’s instructions carefully when turning on the gas and igniting it. If you are lighting a charcoal grill, follow the instructions included with the type of charcoal you are using. “Match-ready” charcoal just needs to be lit with a match or lighter; traditional charcoal briquets may need lighter fluid or some other fire-starter to ignite properly.

When your grill is properly ignited and the fire is doing its thing, close the lid and wait for the grill to preheat before you begin cooking on it. Most grills will include an internal thermometer that will tell you when your grill has reached a proper cooking temperature, typically between 325°F and 450°F. You will probably want to reduce the flame at that point to keep the heat steady within that temp range and not continue to climb.

Oil Up the Grates

Once your grill is fired up and preheated and ready to cook, spread an even layer of vegetable oil on the cooking grates to keep your foods from sticking. Take a small wad of paper towel and soak it in a neutral, oil like canola or grapeseed oil, then pinch it within a pair of tongs and use that to spread the oil all over the grates. You can also use a basting brush to spread the oil, or use a spray-on nonstick product before lighting the flame.

Start Cooking!

grilling for beginners

Place your prepped foods on the hot grill grates and listen to that sizzle. Isn’t that just the prettiest sound? Now, close the lid and keep it closed. Use the control knobs to regulate the heat inside so it stays within your desired cooking range.

So, what is your desired cooking temperature? It depends on the type of food you are grilling. Fish fillets, vegetables and fruits usually like a lower heat (325 to 375). Chicken needs a medium heat and slightly longer cooking time to ensure thorough cooking results. Steaks, chops, burgers, and hot dogs typically do better when cooked hot and fast (400 to 450). Larger pieces of meat, such as a pork tenderloin, whole chicken or a rib roast, require low-and-slow cooking (follow specific instructions in the recipe you are following).

Give It a Flip

grilling for beginners

One of the most common mistakes that first-timers make is to put their food on the grill… and just leave it there. The top side, which they can see, doesn’t look nearly cooked enough, so they keep it in place and they wait. And wait some more. Spoiler alert: that side never cooks, while the underside gets burned to cinders!

It’s important to use a long-handled BBQ turner/spatula or a set of tongs to flip your meat, and to move it around the grill to avoid flare-ups resulting from melting fat. For example, if you’re cooking a 12 oz. steak over a high heat, aim for about 6 minutes on one side, flip it, and cook 4 minutes on the other (ten minutes, total).

When’s It Done?!

checking grill temperatures

There are some cool tricks that experienced cooks use to determine the doneness of their grilled meats. But for beginners, we recommend using a quality grill thermometer to determine the internal temperature of your food, and using the standard guidelines of food safety from the USDA to avoid any food-borne pathogens.

The USDA lists these as the minimum meat temperatures you want to reach:

Beef, Pork, Veal & Lamb Steaks, Chops, Roasts:  145°F and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes

Ground Meats:  160°F

Ground Poultry:  165°F

Poultry Pieces or Whole Bird:  165°F

Ham, fresh or smoked (uncooked):  145°F and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes

Fish & Shellfish:  145°F

You should keep your food on the grill until it reaches or exceeds these target temps. But don’t worry… if you take it off too soon, you can always put it back on and cook some more!

Let It Rest

© Joshua Resnick / Adobe Stock

Once you take your cooked meat, poultry, seafood and/or veggies off the grill, it can be really, REALLY tempting to slice into it and start plating your meal. But hang on for just a bit longer! If you let your steaks, chops and chicken breasts rest on a cutting board for just a few minutes first, that helps the juices to settle back into the meat so it won’t all run out all over your board and plate when you slice. A little patience lets you enjoy more flavorful juice in each bite!

Get the Right Gear

kenmore grills

To help ensure your grilling success, Kenmore offers a full assortment of quality grills to meet the needs of all outdoor cooking enthusiasts – from absolute beginners to legendary grill-masters! If you’d like to step up your grilling game and get the most out of this grilling season, we make it easy to choose the grill that’s right for you.

burger patty press

And for grill covers, thermometers, spare parts, space heaters and other helpful accessories… we’ve got you covered.


Here are answers to some of the most often-asked questions about grilling for beginners.

What is the difference between grilling and barbecuing?

In common usage throughout most of the USA, the two terms are often used interchangeably and essentially mean the same thing. But among experienced outdoor cooking enthusiasts, especially those in the South and Southwest, “barbecue” refers to a specific style of grilling that involves low temperatures, long cooking time, zesty spice rubs & sauces, and lots of smoke.

Is grilling hard to learn?

No, it’s not! Like anything else worthwhile, there’s a bit of a learning curve and you shouldn’t expect to get expert-level results when you’re just starting out. But with a little patience, and a little practice, you’ll soon find that cooking outdoors comes just as naturally as cooking in the kitchen.

What is the easiest meat to grill?

A famous New York chef once remarked that he could probably train a chimpanzee to grill a boneless ribeye steak, and nobody dining at Delmonico’s would know the difference. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, of course… but it is a fairly forgiving cut if you want to try it out.

Simply season it on both sides with salt & pepper, leave it on a plate indoors for about 30 minutes to get it up to room temperature, preheat and oil the grill (about 425°F or so), and cook for 4-6 minutes on each side. Be sure to check the meat temperature before removing to ensure it’s cooked appropriately. Let it rest for five minutes, then serve. Easy-peasy!


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