This blog is updated in 2021
Don’t you just hate it when you try to flip food on the grill and it won’t come loose? It sticks and tears, makes a mess, and results in dry, not-so-pretty food. That was one of my constant frustrations with grilling until I learned a few easy tips from reading an issue of Cook’s Illustrated a few years back. Now I’m consistently successful with grilling food that doesn’t stick. This has worked for me time and time again. With grilling season kicking into full gear around here, I thought it was a good time to share my Stick Free Grilling Tips.
How to achieve stick free grilling. It’s simple really. There are 3 things that need to happen. Your grill needs to be:
- clean — food sticks to a dirty grill, so the grates should be cleaned before each use
- lubricated — a quick coat of cooking oil on a hot grill grate will season it and help food release easily
- hot — the grill needs to be hot before you add food to it; the hot grates sear the food and help it release better
Follow these easy steps, in this order, and you’ll accomplish all 3 in a few short minutes. With this method, you can leave the grill dirty after it’s used and clean it right before you use it the next time. I’ll explain why as we go.
Step 1. Before you start to grill each time, assemble these supplies:
- cooking oil — I use canola oil, but any oil that will tolerate high heat will do
- a small bowl
- paper towels — 1 or two should be enough
- grill brush — I use a Grill Wizard Brush, click here to view on Amazon*
- long tongs — I use 16″ locking tongs for grilling, click here to view on Amazon*
*both of these are top-rated by Cook’s Illustrated
Step 2. Heat the grill. The easiest way to clean the grill is to get it screaming hot first. I have a gas grill that I turn on high, close the lid, and let it heat for 10-15 minutes. Below, the photo on the left shows the cold, dirty grill with some food remnants still left on from the last time I used it. The photo on the right shows the grill after it has been heating on high heat for 10 minutes. You can see that the food remnants have blackened. In fact, they almost turn to ash. That’s why the high heat is helpful–it’s much easier to scrape off the charred food ashes–they release much more easily than the stuck-on food.
Step 3. Use a grill brush to scrape the burnt food from the grill. The brush I use has a brillo pad type scrubbie on it, and it quickly cleans off the grill grates. No elbow grease required. Takes seconds. Seriously.
- Aluminum foil substitute — Don’t have a grill brush? You can wad up a piece of aluminum foil and hold it with tongs to make a quick DIY grill brush. I won’t tell you it works as well as a grill brush, but it does work pretty well in a pinch.
Don’t let crud build up on your grill! Take a minute to heat and scrape the grates before you grill each time, and you’ll never have to deal with major, time-consuming, messy grill cleaning again.
Step 4. Season the grill grates with oil. Wad up a paper towel and grab it with the tongs. Pour a small amount of oil into a bowl, and dip the end of the paper towel in the oil. You want the end saturated with oil, but not dripping. If oil drips on the hot grill, it can flame up.
Step 5. Quickly (so the paper towel doesn’t burn), drag the oily end of the paper towel over the grill grates. You’ll see them get shiny from the oil. The heat from grill cooks the oil onto the grates to give them a non-stick surface for the food you’re about to add.
Step 6. Close the grill lid and let it heat up again. Then add your food to the hot grill. In most cases (unless you have a recipe that says otherwise) and particularly in grilling meat, it is much less likely to stick and dry out if you put the food on a very hot grill for the first few minutes, and then turn the heat down if necessary. This seals in the juices and also makes the food less likely to stick.
This is why I prefer to clean my grill before I use it each time (rather than after). I have to heat it up to clean and oil it, and then it’s already hot and ready for grilling my food. Plus, I’d rather not hassle with cleaning the grill after I’ve cooked and sat down to eat. Reheating the grill after the meal so that it can be cleaned and oiled isn’t as efficient.
Another important tip: Once you’ve added food to the hot grill, don’t try to flip it over too soon. It needs to form a sear on the side that is cooking so the proteins firm up and are ready to release. If you start to flip your food and it isn’t releasing easily from the grill, let it cook a little longer. Most of the time, it releases easily when it’s cooked enough. That is, if you’re starting with a clean, hot grill. If your grill is dirty, your food will likely stick no matter what else you do.
Well, that’s it. Told you it was simple! Not rocket science, but sometimes it’s the simple things that make life easy. I grill with much more confidence now that I’ve learned the secret to stick free grilling. Do you have any grilling tips to share? If so, please add a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.
Make it a Yummy day!