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4 Flavor Secrets for Amateur Grillmasters

Here's how to take any grilling recipe to the next level

Beef ribs being basted with bbq sauce on a grill with a basting brush
Getty Images

It’s not hard to love a succulent pork shoulder that’s been rubbed, smoked for hours, rested, pulled and sauced. But to be honest, I love it a whole lot more when someone else is doing all the work. 

Sure, laboring over a grill can be a pleasurable experience. But when I light my fire, I want to be savoring the spoils in less time than it takes to finish my first beer. 

The easiest way to accelerate the grilling process is to grill with gas. If you’re still using charcoal because you think the meat tastes better, think again. Multiple blind taste tests have shown that when it comes to direct grilling (as opposed to low and slow BBQ), you can’t taste the difference. That’s because the smoky flavor you’ve come to associate with charcoal really comes from the dripping fats and juices that vaporize on contact with high heat and permeate the meat — regardless of whether they are hitting hot coals, lava rocks or metal.  

My grilling guru Elizabeth Karmel, coauthor of the Substack newsletter What’s 4 Dinner, says the secret to fast, flavorful grilling always starts with what she dubs the grilling trilogy — a generous coating of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

These basic ingredients help deliver the classic grill marks, crisp crusty texture and grill flavors we crave. “Plus, they help prevent sticking, which is a real issue for outdoor cooks,” she says.

Here are four more shortcuts that’ll add layers of flavor to your favorite meats, burgers, fish or veggies — literally in minutes.

Wrap it 

Everything is better with bacon, and that’s true even with grilling. Bacon imparts a natural smokiness to anything it’s wrapped around, and keeps your protein of choice moist. 

Wrap the circumference of your protein with a single slice, or mummify it in its entirety. Either way, choose thinly sliced center-cut bacon, secure the strips with wooden toothpicks and cook over medium indirect heat to ensure that the bacon doesn’t burn before your protein is fully cooked. 

Rub it

Dry rubs add complexity to any protein. Some are as simple as Elizabeth’s three-ingredient rub, made with 2 teaspoons granulated garlic, 1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika and 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds. 

Others are more complex, balancing the heat of ground chiles or cayenne powder with the sweetness of brown sugar and a wide variety of herbs and spices. You can make your own rub or choose from an infinite number of commercial blends. 

Season your protein just before grilling, and grill over medium heat so that the sugars, herbs and spices don’t burn.

Mop it

A mop is a thin diluted sauce that will add moisture to your protein as it cooks and prevent it from drying out — while at the same time seasoning it as the liquids evaporate and the flavors coat the surface of your food. 

Mops can be made from scratch, but the lazy man’s version is as simple as two parts of your favorite store-bought BBQ sauce plus one part of your favorite beer. Use a pastry brush or a dedicated cotton BBQ mop to baste your protein once it’s three-quarters done.

Sauce it

Simple blender sauces are my favorite way to upgrade anything that can be grilled. My favorites are made from a generous handful of vibrant fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil. Argentina’s chimichurri has become a popular go-to, and there are many other versions from all over the globe that incorporate regional herbs and spices. 

Can’t decide? My versatile One-Minute Garlic-Herb Sauce will help you cross the finish line in record time. Spoon it over or under simply grilled proteins, potatoes and other veggies, and discover the virtues of laziness.

One-Minute Garlic-Herb Sauce for Everything

1 large handful of whatever herb — or mix of herbs — you have on hand (basil, parsley, cilantro, dill, fennel tops, celery tops, chives, mint … )

1 clove garlic, smashed

1/3 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Optional ingredients (one or more of the following): 

1/4–1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

1 teaspoon capers, drained

1–3 anchovies

Toss everything into a blender, hit high and let the motor run for 30 seconds. Boom, done. Will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Follow Article Topics: Eating-&-Drinking