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Top 24 Most Common Grilling Mistakes

Each of us makes many mistakes regardless of whether they are a beginner or have been grilling for dozens of years.

These small mistakes very often have a significant impact on the course of the entire cooking process as well as the end result and the food’s flavor. That's why it's a good idea to pay attention right away to what kind of mistakes you make most often in order to gradually eliminate them and improve your skills.

Those just learning how to grill simply don’t have enough experience in the field and do the things they are most often told to do by others. Experienced people, on the other hand, often repeat bad habits they have learned in the past.

If you want to improve your skills or became a real grill master, check out the top 24 grilling mistakes and find out how to avoid them and why.

These are mistakes made when cooking on different types of grills, mostly the charcoal type, but most of these mistakes can occur with every type of grill.

1. Using a Lighter Fluid or any chemicals when getting the charcoal burning

Lighter fluid is chemistry, which has a very negative influence on the food, altering its flavor significantly. Of course beginners will find it to be a great way to quickly get the charcoal burning, but you have to know that there are other equally convenient and fast ways that don’t utilize any toxic additives. First of all, this kind of tinder is expensive, and secondly it produces a bad aroma for a very long time, which gives the food a completely different and not very pleasant flavor.

I recommend buying a charcoal chimney starter, which is not expensive and allows to light up a large amount of charcoal evenly in a short amount of time, only requiring some paper. A very convenient, cheap and most of all toxin-free method that I recommend to everyone.

2. Spreading the charcoal inside the grill too early

It is a huge mistake to spread the charcoal too early which mostly results in different temperature zones forming ( cold and hot ). This kind of mistake very often makes the grill warm up significantly slower.

The best solution is to get the charcoal burning with a special chimney that allows to warm up the charcoal evenly. If you don’t use this method, make sure that most of the charcoal is really ready when lighting it up ( When the charcoal gets covered with a gray coating, it means that it is ready ).

3. You forgot to properly preheat the grill

You think that your charcoal is entirely covered with gray coating which means that it is ready and you can start cooking? Wait a second, right before you start cooking you have to make sure to reach the right cooking temperature depending on what you’re going to grill. Cooking in a wrong temperature might result in your food being burned on the outside and / or raw on the inside.

For example, if you want to prepare a steak, you have to warm up the grill to a very high temperature which takes some time, you can't put a steak on right after getting the charcoal burning, when the temperature inside the grill is not right yet.

4. You forgot to Clean The Grates Before Grilling

Dirty grates give many negative effects, of course one of them is the repulsive sight of it if one of your guests sees it. You have to remember, though, that dirty grates are a cause of a bigger number of Flare-Ups and bad flavor of the food. If you want to avoid that then you should definitely make sure that the grill grates are clean during each cooking.

You can clean the grates after you’re done grilling or before you start. The best method is to warm up the grill, close the lid for 10-15 minutes, and then clean the grates using a special brush depending on what type of grates you have. Warming up a grill with grates allows to burn the food remains and makes it much easier to clean the grates of grease and food remains with a brush. Read more on how to properly clean grill grates.

5. You forgot to throw away the old ash

Before each cooking, it is the best to remove the old ash that is accumulated inside the grill. It is important not only when cooking, but it also allows to keep the grill in a good condition for longer. Ash tends to collect humidity, and when combined, they create a hard to remove substance.

Ash can also block the air vents which will make temperature control much harder ( Very important for the kamado grill ).

Another huge downside and possibly a problem of such mix is the increased risk of corrosion

That's why it is the best to remove the ash after each cooking, it is not obligatory but that way you take good care of your grill and avoid additional work related to cleaning it in the future as well as lower the risk of corrosion appearing.

6. You keep cooking with the direct method

grilling mistake 1

You think that cooking everything directly over the fire is the best solution?

That’s the best method to burn something fast, if it’s thinner chunks of meat then it’s not a problem but if you’re going to cook something thicker then get prepared for your meat potentially being raw on the inside.

The direct method is great for grilling steaks, hamburgers or wieners but if you're planning to grill a whole chicken, turkey or ribs then you have to do some research and learn other cooking techniques, for this kind of food it will be the best to use the indirect method cooking that you will learn more about below.

7. You don’t use the indirect heat method

Using indirect heat for cooking food gives your food plenty of benefits.

Indirect heat prevents meat from getting burned, undercooked or even dry. It is a method that is especially recommended if you plan to cook thick chunks of meat but it requires the right conditions and a proper type of grill ( it needs to have a lid ).

It consists of cooking the meat on the opposite side to the source of heat, so that the food is not directly over the flames. Getting indirect heat is very simple, which you can learn more about in the how to cook with the indirect method guide. It is a technique that’s a little complicated at first, but there’s actually nothing to worry about, you just have to remember few basic rules.

8. You leave the grill’s lid always open

You bought a grill with a lid and are wondering what it’s for?

If you’re one of those people who always cook with the lid open, then you’re among those who make a big mistake.

The grill’s lid was designed to hold the heat inside the grill. That way it is way easier to reach a much higher temperature and then keep it. When the lid is open you use much more fuel to reach the desired temperature. Thanks to a lid, the food gets cooked much faster and more evenly, because it creates conditions similar to those in an oven.

A very important question is also how thick the meat you're planning to cook is, if your meat is ¾ inch thick or less then you don’t have to close the lid, but if your food is thicker than ¾ inch then you have to close the lid if you want to avoid having undercooked meat on the inside.

Of course there are instances when opening the lid is a good solution like when you want to quickly lower the temperature, but during normal cooking you should always keep the grill’s lid closed.

When the lid is closed, you have control over the direct heat, which might also be useful when searing steaks or hamburgers.

9. You open the lid too often

Checking if the meat is ready every dozen seconds is completely pointless. That way the inside of the grill keeps changing temperature, by opening the lid you instantly let the hot air out, thus lowering the temperature significantly.

You won’t make the cooking process faster this way, but you will extend it significantly by lowering the temperature when opening the lid ( the heat escapes ).

If you cook thick slabs of meat, it matters a lot, if you can't resist checking up on the food then buy a meat thermometer with a probe, which will allow you to control the temperature inside the meat all the time without lifting the lid.

10. You don’t control flare-ups

burgers flare-ups

Bursting flames are effective, but burned food is not quite so tasty and effective. Flare ups are caused by food juices directly contacting the source of heat. Make sure to keep the grill grates clean because dirty grates are a cause of a higher number of flare ups.

What’s the easiest way to deal with flare-ups? Always leave some free space on the grill’s grates, whenever there are flare-ups just move the food further away and wait for the flames to go away on their own, never put them out with water. Using water causes risk of getting scalded with hot steam generated from sudden contact of water with hot charcoal.

The topic mostly relates to charcoal grills, it is much less likely in other types of grills. For example, in a gas grill there are special covers designed to separate grease from the burner, thus reducing flare-ups to the minimum. But if it happens that flare-ups do get out of control in a gas grill, it is the best to turn off the burner located in the area where flare-ups occurred.

11. Don’t put out flames with water

You should never put out flames with water, temperature control should be done using the air vents, the lid and the right amount of charcoal. Putting out the flames might end up bad not only for the food, but for yourself as well.

After a contact between water and hot charcoal, there’s a huge amount of steam combined with ashes, which might lead to burns if you’re not careful.

On top of that, it's better to remember that ash starts to settle down over time and lands on the food to a large extent, and it’s not like anyone likes having their meat with ashes.

12. You don’t use the air vents or you do it wrong

That’s right buddy, air vents are not just for decoration. They were designed to serve their role the best they can and you have to know that when in the right hands, they have a huge influence on controlling the whole cooking process.

The burning process always requires oxygen. The amount of oxygen impacts how fast or how slow the charcoal burns. The more oxygen, the faster and hotter the charcoal burns, whereas the less oxygen, the slower the charcoal burns, which lowers the temperature. The air vents on the top and the bottom are there to control the air flow. The lower air vent lets the required oxygen inside the grill, whereas the upper air vent is there to let the oxygen out.

By properly controlling the air vents, you can increase, decrease or hold the desired temperature. At first it might be a little difficult, but with a little practice you will quickly learn how to properly set the lower and upper air vent.

13. You don’t control the temperature inside the meat

Temperature control allows you to make sure that the meat will be perfectly prepared. Regardless of how experienced you are in grilling, you should use a thermometer.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that, even the most experienced people can make mistakes. It’s hard to tell by eye or by touch if the food is really ready on the inside.

The best way is to use a grill thermometer that can accurately show the temperature inside the meat. What should the right temperature be? Plenty of devices come with integrated tables where you can find the information on that, if not then you can simply look it up on the Internet.

There are several types of thermometers which makes it the best for you to check them out and choose the type that suits you the most.

14. You cook in temperatures that are too high or too low

You have to remember that you need to properly warm up the grill before cooking. It is the best for the temperature inside the grill to be adequate to the type of food.

You can’t cook a steak in a temperature that is too low and you can’t cook a whole turkey in a temperature that is too high because both of them will not be suitable for consumption. The steak won’t be well done, and the turkey will be raw on the inside.

It is very important to properly choose the temperature for what you’re going to cook. It is especially important if you cook thick slabs of meat, when the temperature is too high, such meat will certainly be raw on the inside. 

I recommend using adequate meat temperature chart that will show you what temperature you should grill your food in so that you can be sure it is ready.

15. You cook too many different things at the same time

This is actually an extension of the previous paragraph.

You shouldn’t cook many different things at the same time, most of food requires different temperatures which would make it difficult to get great results of cooking in such case.

On top of that, large amount of meat significantly extends the cooking process and increases the risk of the meat being undercooked.

It is much more convenient to grill smaller amounts of food in phases. That way you have a full control over the food and can be sure that everything will be properly cooked.

16. You only cook hamburgers or steaks

grill vegtables

Be open to something more, experiment, try something new other than hamburgers, steaks or hot dogs. Something new will improve your skills, there are many different products in the world so you should make use of them.

For that reason, I really recommend learning to cook with the indirect method, it’s a whole new flavor of the food as well as new possibilities. The beginnings are difficult, but it's really worth it – the Internet is full of many different recipes.

Plenty of people forget that even grilled vegetables are very tasty.

Of course vegetables are delicate which is why you need to know how to properly grill them so that you don’t burn them directly over the fire. For grilling vegetables, you can use tinfoil, special grill grates, frying pans or baskets.

17. You grill cold meat

If you got an idea to grill frozen meat, just taken out of the freezer, then sadly I have to disappoint you because it is a bad idea.

The exception is thin and even pieces of meat like frozen hamburgers that could be grilled evenly. You have to remember, though, that grilling frozen food takes about 50% more time.

There is no thicker, frozen meat that is suitable for grilling. Such meat is frozen to a different degree, which makes it impossible to cook it evenly.

If you’re in a rush and you have the kind of meat like thin hamburgers of equal sizes then you can go ahead and cook it. You have to know, though, that frozen meat will differ significantly from the fresh kind ( the difference is mostly evident in the flavor ).

That's why it is the best to avoid freezing such meat and only cook it fresh.

But if you have already decided to grill cold meat then I recommend using an instant read style thermometer to make sure that the temperature inside the meat is perfect.

18. You store the meat for too long in a wrong temperature

Remember that some types of meat are recommended to be taken out of the fridge about 20-30 minutes before grilling so that they can reach the room temperature. The purpose of that is to make sure that the meat gets cooked evenly and fast.

It happens sometimes that after the end of the grilling process, frozen meat is well done on the outside whereas the inside is raw.

There’s another very important thing to remember, always store the meat in the right temperature. It is the best to take the meat out of the fridge 20-30 minutes beforehand so that it reaches the room temperature, but never store such meat for more than half an hour in warm surroundings.

It is very dangerous because the bacteria can show up in raw meat very fast. If it is hot outside and you’re planning to bring meat along somewhere on a trip where it will take more than 20 minutes then you should never do it without a portable freezer or else you’ll meat will be inedible by the time you reach your destination.

These are very important safety measures, bacteria can especially show up in raw meat during hot days and they multiply even faster. Probably everyone got poisoned with bad food at least once and knows how very unpleasant it is which is why you should take the best precautions you can.

19. Use marinates and meat condiments

Marinating gives plenty of benefits, it especially makes meat more aromatic, delicate and it can be stored for much longer. It would be the best for you to marinate the meat for many hours before the grilling.

Most of us, though, are on a tight schedule which is why we put it away for later or buy premarinated meat, or alternatively grill without marinates.

Whereas premarinated store-bought meat is better than nothing, it is the best for you to make your own marinate that will be 100% natural if that’s what you want so that it will only contain the things you like.

Marinate makes meat much more tasty which makes it a good idea to experiment with it.

Marinate is best to be made many hours before grilling so that the meat has enough time to absorb all those aromatic ingredients, the same goes for regular condiments.

20. Adding sauce to the meat in a wrong time

Sauces should be added last, preferably few minutes before you’re done grilling. Why is it so?

Usually a sauce contains sugar that gets caramelized in high temperatures and gets burned fast. If you add the sauce to the meat too early then it will simply burn down, creating a dry layer and you won’t add any interesting flavor to the food that way.

Always add the sauce right before you’re done grilling, it is the best to do this using a silicon brush.

21. You won’t let the meat rest after the cooking – You cut the meat too early

I know that situation perfectly well when everyone is hungry already and you just took the meat off the grates. It might seem like you can already cut up the meat and eat it, but by doing so right after taking the meat off, you make a huge mistake.

Meat needs few minutes to rest after you’re done grilling, preferably 5 to 10 minutes. Over that time, the juices get spread evenly over the entire meat, after 5-10 minutes you can serve the meat to the guests. If you cut the meat before that time passes, a large amount of the meat juices will simply ooze out, which will cause your food to lose some of its flavor.

Another important advice – Don’t cut the whole meat into pieces right away, the more you cut the meat the more juices get out, which will make your meat more dry and cause it to lose flavor. Only cut as many pieces as you know you can eat so that your meat can keep as much of the juice as possible.

22. You use the same tools for cooked and raw meat

bbq tools

It is another important advice that allows you to maintain hygiene when grilling and avoid unpleasant situations where bacteria gets from raw to cooked meat because you use the same tools for everything.

When grilling, you need to use separate tools for raw meet and for the one just being taken off the grates. The same goes for all the containers. Bacteria are very harmful for our health and can very easily get through if you don’t use separate tools.

23. You forget about the fuel supply

There is nothing worse than suddenly running out of gas, charcoal or any other type of fuel that your grill runs on. You can’t put the grilling process on hold, which makes it the best to always keep spare fuel so that in an emergency you don’t have to drive to the nearby store.

24. You don’t ask for advice

You’re stubborn and think you know everything? Of course there’s plenty of self-learners out there who learn plenty of things from their own experience but when it comes to grilling, it is much better to simply use other people’s advice.

Don’t be afraid to ask your experienced friend or simply look for help on different grilling websites.

These days the Internet is one big library where you can find answers to a whole lot of questions.

The number of BBQ related websites is impressive which is why I encourage you to seek the answers to many grilling related questions on the Internet. That way you can solve your problem fast and easily as well as improve your skills which I think is what matters the most.

As you can see, my list of grilling-related mistakes is quite long.

Based on my own experience, I tried to come up with this many mistakes to avoid. Plenty of them don’t apply to everyone, but I think that everyone will find something helpful here.