Barbecue is an art; from cross-hatching grill marks to generating a good smoke ring to knowing what kinds of woods to use for smoking to knowing how to properly tenderize a brisket.  Contests have even been held all over the country to award the best of these pitmasters, and the fact that you’ll sometimes see trained French chefs competing (and often times losing) is only a testament to the craftsmanship of grilling and barbecue.  And while these skills can take time to master, we’ll show you some tips and tricks to get started on your superior barbecuing and get you closer to becoming a BBQ Master.

Good grilling is all about knowing your grill/smoker, your meat and your ingredients.  You need to know what temperature your grill or smoker likes to coast at, where the hot spots are, where the cold spots are, how much or how little heat escapes your grill, etc.  Successful barbecuing is all about learning how to maintain temperature in order to cook the meat evenly, which is why it’s important to know your equipment like the back of your hand; otherwise the results will be a lopsided piece of meat, burnt by flare-ups and likely too tough or else undercooked.  Just like a car, your grill will take some time to learn all of its quirks and peculiarities—but, thankfully, the time you spend with your grill be more enjoyable and certainly more delicious than driving around in traffic for hours.

Similarly, you’ll to about the kinds of wood you’re using for your grill/smoker.  Wood chips or wood charcoal offers many different varieties of flavoring and temperature and you’ll want to know which chips burn hotter and longer (like oak), which chips produce deeper flavors (apple wood and cherry) as well as the differences between mesquite, hickory and other traditional “smoking” woods.  The wealth of options means more customization and recipe variations for your BBQ.

Knowing your meat is going to be the difference between a good BBQ and a chewing exercise.  In order to produce the most tender brisket, the fall-off-the-bone rack of ribs, an evenly cooked spatch-cocked chicken, even simple items like steaks and burgers, it’s important to know your meat: how to tell if it’s done; how to prepare it; rotation/flipping schedules.  Tougher pieces of meat, like the notorious brisket, benefit from rubs, marinades and especially injections to tenderize the meat; everyone boasts their own secret recipes for getting the injection right, but many of the common ingredients include butter, apple cider vinegar or tomato juice.  You can learn how to tell if your meat is done by doing touch tests with the meat.  This will be different for every meat, but with steaks you can gauge doneness by comparing the meat’s tenderness with the meat at the base of your thumb as you hold your fingers; rare steak will feel like you’re giving an “okay,” with only your index finger held; add fingers in order to determine increasing levels (medium rare, medium, well).

Cross hatching is probably the easiest trick you can learn with the grill. When grilling, rotate your meat a quarter turn (90 degrees) halfway through the meat’s per-side grilling; only to this once each side.

Master grilling will take some practice; but luckily its practice you and your family will likely be more than happy to participate in.

Author Bio: Richard Dobbins writes about grilling and BBQ for Northshore Fireplace here. Richard enjoys working on home projects and reading about grilling in his spare time away from writing.