BBQ and Grilling Hacks: 12 Genius Ways to Save Time and Money

A Dozen Amazing BBQ And Grilling Hacks You'll Wish You Knew Sooner!

BBQ cooks are some of the most inventive cooks around. Live fire, hot coals, grill grates, heavy hunks of raw and cooked meat...they can all present some serious challenges. Here's a griller's dozen of our favorite outdoor cooking hacks to make life a little easier while creating delicious BBQ!

Clean your grill grates with aluminum foil and tongs

Don't have a grill brush handy? Simply heat up the grill, ball up a sheet of aluminum foil, grasp it with a set of tongs, and start scrubbing away. Works as well as a brush!


Stoke the fire with a hair dryer

If you’re in a hurry to get a fire going in the grill, pull out your hair dryer. Sounds crazy, but it's like a bellows on steroids. Fire is oxidation, and a hair dryer supercharges the whole process with a constant blast of oxygen, transforming a lame, smoldering pile of coals into a perfect fire in minutes. Note that you will need access to an electrical outlet for the hair dryer.


Use a charcoal chimney for crazy high heat searing

Nothing beats the flavor of a steak seared over a raging hot fire, but heating up an entire charcoal grill can be a waste of time and fuel when you are only preparing 1 or 2 steaks. Instead, transform your charcoal chimney into a makeshift high heat grill, a.k.a. the afterburner method. Just fill the chimney 1/2 to 3/4 of the way with charcoal and fully preheat the charcoal briquets. Lightly oil 1 or 2 steaks (preferably under 1" thick) and season only with salt (pepper will burn). Add a small grate to the top of the chimney and allow the steaks to grill while moving and flipping them frequently, like every minute, until perfectly seared and cooked to 130°F for perfect medium rare.


Check your propane level like a pro

Before your next grill session, make sure you have enough gas in the tank to finish the job. Try this trick: Get a cup or two of really hot water. Pour it over the side of the tank, then run your palm over the tank from top to bottom. The metal will feel hot at the top, where the tank is empty, and cooler toward the bottom, where it's full of propane. You'll also see condensation form where there is propane, showing you the propane level in a line between empty and full.


Turn a disposable pan into a grilling basket, grill topper, jalapeno rack, or smoke generator

I swear we do not work for the aluminum industry, but aluminum pans and foil have a myriad of uses. Make a smoke generator by putting wood chips or pellets in a small aluminum pan and setting the pan on the burners of a gas grill. Or make a grill topper by turning a disposable aluminum pan over and cutting a series of 1-inch by 1-inch Xs in the bottom with a sharp knife. Use the grill topper to cook small foods like sliced onions or mushrooms or shrimp. slices. You can also use the same technique to create a jalapeno rack for grilled jalapeno poppers. Just push the bottom 1/3 of the peppers through each X so that they stand upright, then place on the indirect side of a grill to cook.



Turn stems and stalks into flavorful skewers

If you want to make kebabs but don't have skewers on hand (or simply want to add flavor to the meat and vegetables), use rosemary stems, lemongrass stalks (pictured below) or sugarcane to hold everything together. 


Keep fish from sticking to the grates

Fish can be tricky to cook on the grill. Avoid sticking while also imparting great flavor by placing a single layer of sliced oranges, lemons and/or limes on the grill grate then cooking the fish directly on the citrus. Another great technique is to coat the fish with mayo. That's right, mayo. Mayonnaise is mostly oil and it has almost no impact on the flavor of the fish but it does a good job of keeping the fish from sticking.


Create your own secret sauce by doctoring a store-bought sauce

Making your own BBQ sauce takes time. Instead, create a signature sauce by taking a bottle of mass market sauce and adding ingredients such as fruit juice, fruit jellies or jams, dried spices such as smoked paprika or chipotle, coffee, or melted butter (for richness). Heat the sauce and allow it to reduce to the consistency you like then chill until ready to serve.


Separate the raw and the cooked

Not a good idea to rush granny to the emergency room after your cookout. You also want to minimize trips back and forth from your indoor kitchen to the outdoor barbecue. Aluminum foil to the rescue again! In the kitchen, line a cutting board or sheet pan with foil or plastic wrap and you can put your raw rubbed, marinated, or brined food on the foil-lined board or pan to carry the food out to the grill. Once the food is on the grill, crumple up the dirty foil or plastic wrap and toss it in the trash. Then keep the cutting board or sheet tray outside to use for transporting the cooked food. Clean and simple!


No basting brush? Use fresh herbs

If you planned on basting your meat with a flavorful liquid, butter or sauce but don't have a brush, simply take a few fresh herb sprigs and tie them to the handle end of a large wooden spoon with butcher's twine to create an aromatic mop. Rosemary branches work best, but thyme, oregano, and sage work great too!


Double skewers help keep food secure

Skewers are a great way to grill smaller foods like cubed meat, mushrooms, chopped vegetables, and shrimp, not only creating individual servings for guests but also minimizing the amount of food you have to manage while ensuring nothing falls through the grates. Unless you are using broad, flat skewers individual pieces of food tend to rotate as you flip the skewers. To prevent spinning, thread a second skewer parallel to the first one. It will hold the food firmly in place.


Turn a cooler into a warmer for keeping large cuts of meat hot

You've spent all night cooking a brisket or pork butt to perfection but your guests won't arrive for a few more hours. Or you're heading over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house with your famous ribs. Don't despair! Convert a cooler into a warmer by placing a layer of towels on the bottom of the cooler, wrapping your meat in a double layer of foil and setting it on the towels, then adding a top layer of towels before closing the cooler. If undisturbed, the meat will stay nice and warm for up to 5 hours (though to play it safe, insert the probe from a remote thermometer in each type of meat before closing the lid and watch to make sure the internal temperature doesn't dip below 140°F). Learn more about creating a makeshift faux Cambro here.


BBQ and Grilling Hacks

Clint Cantwell

Clint Cantwell is's Senior Vice President, charged with creating recipes, writing articles, shooting photos, and a little bit of everything else. Cantwell was was named one of the "10 Faces of Memphis Barbecue" by Memphis Magazine and was the winner of Travel Channel's "American Grilled: Memphis".

Dave Joachim Editor David Joachim has authored, edited, or collaborated on more than 45 cookbooks including four on barbecue and grilling, making him a perfect match for a website dedicated to the “Science of Barbecue and Grilling.” His Food Science column has appeared in "Fine Cooking" magazine since 2011. 

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