We’ve all been there: Visions of photo-ready grilling give way to burned burgers, empty fuel tanks, or dried-out chicken. Keep the grill dream alive by heading off common mistakes.

 

COLD SNAP

Charcoal requires time to reach optimal cooking heat. Don’t slap meat on the grill until the coals are white and ashy. Another way to test for optimal heat: hold your hand 4 inches above the grill. If you have to move your hand after four seconds, it has reached the right temperature.

FIRE!

Fatty meat, drippy marinades, and dirty grills sometimes lead to fiery flare-ups that can blacken your creation beyond recognition or edibility. Avoid a five-alarm fiasco by cleaning your grill before you get started.

1. Bring your grill to high heat and scrape off any old grease or food residue with a stiff brush, halved onion, or grill scraper.

2. Lightly brush the grate with cooking oil.

3. Trim excessive fat from meat.

4. Keep a no- or low-heat zone on the grill so that if a flare-up does occur, you have someplace to move the meat until the flame dies down.

OUT OF GAS

It’s frustrating and stressful to run out of fuel when your meal is halfway grilled. If you use propane, keep a full spare tank on hand.

PREP LIKE A PRO

Prep your grilling station before you get started so that you’re not caught unprepared. Cooking goes fast on the grill, and there often isn’t time to run back inside for a forgotten ingredient or tool.

DRIP, DRIP, DRIP

Resist the temptation to use a fork to poke and turn grilling meat. Every hole lets juice drain onto the fire, where it causes flare-ups instead of doing its real job: keeping meat juicy and flavorful. Instead, use tongs or a spatula.