By Christie Vanover | Published July 25, 2022 | Last Updated July 26, 2022

I’ve partnered with TrueCar to provide their 400+ employees with a virtual BBQ demo called Skills on the Grill. This event is part of their summer programming known as Camp TrueCar.   

TrueCar is a leading automotive digital marketplace that lets consumers connect to their nationwide network of Certified Dealers. With access to an expansive inventory, TrueCar is building the industry’s most personalized and efficient auto shopping experience as they seek to bring more of the process online. Consumers who visit TrueCar will find a suite of vehicle discovery tools, price ratings and market context on new, used and Certified Pre-Owned vehicles

woman grilling lobster and creamed spinach

Would you like to sharpen your grilling skills? Not sure where to start? Below, I’ll outline different types of grills and BBQs, tools and equipment, and cooking techniques, demonstrating how to properly grill chicken, make pulled jackfruit (veg/v), and skillet mac n cheese.

Skills on the Grill

Types of Grills

When it comes to grills, they are predominately fueled by four different heat sources: gas, charcoal, wood pellets or electricity.

Gas grills are the most popular grills in American households. They are fueled by either portable propane tanks or natural gas that is fed from a line connected to your home.

The temperature is managed by turning dials that increase or decrease the flow of propane.

Charcoal grills come in many varieties, including a traditional Weber Kettle, a ceramic cooker like a Big Green Egg, a gravity-fed grill like a Masterbuilt or a drum smoker.

When using a charcoal grill, you can use either charcoal briquets or lump charcoal. The heat is managed by opening and closing vents on the top and/or bottom of the grill. As oxygen is introduced, the heat increases.

Pellet grills have become extremely popular because they are so easy to use. You fill the hopper with wood pellets, set the temperature and add your food. There is no need to manage the fire, because the grill does this for you.

Electric grills are plugged into an outlet and the electricity provides the heat. The electric grills made for indoor use don’t offer the added benefit of smoke, but the outdoor electric grills do allow you to add wood chips or pellets to enhance the flavor of your food.

Managing Heat

Grilling and barbecuing are both a game of heat management. Some foods can be cooked directly over hot coals or flames; whereas other cuts are better cooked over indirect heat.

All pellet grills are indirect heat cookers. They have a metal plate over the fire pot that blocks the direct heat source. Some pellet grills do offer features where that plate can easily be opened to allow searing, but that’s often an added accessory.

Ceramic cookers allow you to cook over direct or indirect heat, because they come with a ceramic plate that can be placed over the coals to block the direct heat source.

Standard charcoal grills and gas grills are more often used for direct heat cooking because you place the food directly over the coals or gas burners.

You can make a few adjustments for indirect heat cooking. On a charcoal grill, you can push the coals to one side, creating two zones. Similarly on a gas grill, you can turn one to two burners off to create an indirect zone.

Cooking Temperatures

Most grilled food is cooked at temperatures from 350F degrees and higher; whereas most smoked food is cooked around 225-250F degrees.

Each recipe you create should offer a recommended grill temperature and it should outline whether the food should be placed on the grill over direct or indirect heat.

If the recipe is for something that is smoked, it’s almost always referring to indirect heat. However, some recipes like a reverse-seared ribeye require you to use both direct and indirect heat cooking.

This is where you start by smoking the meat over a lower temperature. Then at the end, you move it to high, direct heat to finishing the cooking and create a sear.

Food Temperatures

The USDA recommends safe cooking temperatures for each type of protein to ensure that any risk of harmful bacteria is mitigated. Below are the current recommendations. These recommendations also provide the ideal doneness temp for maximum juiciness.

When cooking meat, it’s best to use an instant-read meat thermometer to ensure your meat has reached this level of doneness.

  • 165F chicken, turkey
  • 145F pork
  • 165F ground meat and sausages
  • 125-165F steak
  • 145F seafood
  • ~200F smoked meats like pork, brisket and ribs

Measuring temperatures isn’t just for meat. It’s also helpful to know when vegetables are done. For instance, if you cook potatoes to 205-210F degrees, they will be perfectly tender.

Marinating, Brining, Saucing, Glazing

You should definitely season your food with salt and pepper at a minimum. But there’s an array of spice blends on the market, including my award-winning line up of brisket, chicken and pork rubs, where are great on proteins and veggies.

Before seasoning, you may also want to consider marinating or brining your meat. Marinades generally have an acidic component like vinegar or citrus juice. The marinades help break down tougher cuts, but are also great to add a boost of flavor – like with my skirt steak tacos.

Brines tenderize meat with salt. They can either be wet or dry. Wet brines require you to make a solution of salt, water and usually sugar. Then, you soak the meat in the liquid in the refrigerator. This is a really popular technique for smoked turkey, but I also use it for my chicken breasts.

A dry brine is a salt-heavy seasoning applied to meats before grilling. But instead of going straight to the grill, the meat is left to absorb the flavors in the refrigerator for several hours overnight.

Sauces and glazes should only be applied at the end. They usually contain a heavy amount of sugar. If you apply them at the beginning of the cook, they could burn before your meat is done cooking.

Once your meat is near finished cooking, then you can baste on your favorite sauce or glaze and return it to the grill for 15 minutes to an hour (depending on the recipe) for the sauce to set and get tacky.

There are also sauces or dressings that can be served on the side, like Alabama White Sauce. These are great for dips or condiments to a sandwich.

Tools and Equipment

Your number one tool is your grill, but there are a few other tools that I depend on when I’m grilling and smoking recipes.

Long-handled tongs and a long-handled spatula are a must for turning steaks and flipping meat.

If you use a charcoal grill, a charcoal chimney will make starting the fire easier.

With a pellet grill, invest in a shop vac to clean up pellet ash every few cooks.

Heat gloves are needed to protect your hands. They’re basically outdoor oven mitts.

The number one precision instrument to ensure a perfect cook is a Thermoworks Thermapen ONE Instant read thermometer.

bottles of BBQ rubs on black background

Recipes

Now that you know the basics, let’s get cooking. The three below recipes outline one of the most popular grilled dishes – chicken breasts, plus a unique vegetarian replacement to pulled pork, and everybody’s favorite side – macaroni and cheese.


platter of grilled chicken breasts sliced.
Grilled Chicken Breasts
This recipe delivers the juiciest grilled chicken you'll ever make, and it includes instructions for different types of grills.


blue pan with two forks and smoked BBQ jackfruit.
Smoked BBQ Jackfruit
Whether you're a vegetarian or a carnivore, I promise you'll be pleasantly surprised by this smoked BBQ jackfruit recipe.


cast iron skillet of macaroni and cheese over a campfire
Campfire Macaroni and Cheese
Campfire macaroni and cheese – a little bacon, a little jalapeno, a lot of cheese.