As soon as summer hits, I, like many others step outside to barbecue every night that I can. It’s not unusual for me to barbecue or grill seven nights a week and on weekends you can even find me in my backyard making breakfast over the open flame. There’s something so utterly fantastic and enjoyable about cooking over a fire, not to mention that the flavors become so much more evolved and sophisticated than baking it in the oven or pan frying over the stove.
The weekends are the best. That’s my time for barbecuing low and slow all day and making larger meats. It’s done over charcoal or wood, never using the gas grill. So one might ask, why own a gas grill if you don’t like using it? Because it’s faster than charcoal, and it’s still far better than cooking in the kitchen.
On weeknights when the kids need to be in bed early or for large groups where time is of the essence, nothing beats quick grilling over the fire. Here’s a quick guide on some of the fastest barbecue techniques and recipes to make your quick-fix dinners far better than a store-bought frozen pizza.
Grilling Vs. Barbecuing
Many people use the two terms interchangeably, but the fact is they couldn’t be more different.
Grilling is a fast version of barbecuing and can be done in just a few minutes.
Barbecuing is the method of cooking larger meats low and slow over indirect heat for hours or even overnight to achieve a perfect blend of flavors and aroma with meat tender enough you can pull it apart with your fingers.
Grilling doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use a gas grill. In fact, I often grill over direct heat on my Weber Kettle with the only two differences being that it takes longer to preheat my Weber, but it tastes far better on the Weber than it does on my Napoleon gas grill.
If you don’t have thirty minutes to spare to prep and heat your charcoal grill stick with the gas for these recipes.
Tricks to Quick Grilling
There are few tips and tricks you’ll want to use when attempting to finish a meal in under thirty minutes from start to finish. All of them are simple and just require a little bit of pre-planning.
1. Make sure your grill is clean.
Of course you always want to clean your grill grates before each use, but I find that if I give my grates a quick clean after each meal, it’s that much easier to get them ready when I don’t have time to waste. This goes for any drip pans you have as well. Ensure they’re well maintained, so you don’t have to spend ten minutes emptying them to prevent a fire.
2. Keep the tank filled.
If you’re going to be grilling quickly, you don’t want to waste time having to fill the propane tank. By checking its capacity after each meal, you can ensure that you won’t be caught without a flame when the chips are down, and you just promised the neighbors hamburgers for dinner.
3. Keep your tools on the go.
This goes back to the boy scout motto of always being prepared. By keeping your tools clean and ready to go, you won’t be caught trying to tame a char with nothing to flip the meat with. This doesn’t just go for tongs and spatulas but also means having plates ready when the food is done, spray bottles with oil and one with water for flare-ups as well as any prep bowls, bbq gloves and corn holders you might need for whatever you have on the grill. Most large gas grills will have a storage locker or drawers under the actual grill. Otherwise, try keeping all your tools in a handy case to ensure you don’t forget anything.
4. Don’t rush the meat.
If it’s going to take three more minutes to cook the chicken, it’s going to take three more minutes to cook the chicken. This means ensuring that your meat is done to perfection before it comes off the grill. While you may be stressed for time, bringing raw chicken off the grill is only going to mean having to invest more time in finishing it and avoiding health hazards. Risking your family’s health should never be a priority over time. Make sure the meat is cooked so it can be safely consumed. This also means making sure that meats like steak are cooked to preference. If someone requests a medium steak and you bring it out rare, it’s just going to mean having to put it back on the grill to finish it.
5. Heat it up quickly.
If you need to grill your dinner on medium heat, setting the grill to medium is not the fastest way to bring up the temperature. When you initially light the grill, you should always light it with the setting as high as possible before turning it down. In the event you’re rushed for time, try keeping the grill on high until it reaches the desired temperature. At that point turn it down. However, I should mention that there are very few items I cook over medium – I almost always grill my food on high heat.
6. Keep it simple.
Great meals don’t have to be difficult to prep. Many of the recipes we provide are arguably quite intensive, but it doesn’t mean that a fast meal needs to be. All of the recipes in this article are simple and easy to make. We’re quick grilling because we have time constraints. These are meals we want in a hurry.
7. Instant Meet Thermometer
Use an instant meat thermometer to make sure everything is safe to eat. We use the one from ThermoWorks.
Here are a few of my personal recipes that I often make when we’re running short on time. To give you an example of just how time sensitive my weekdays are, my wife and I have three children (ages 12, 3 and almost a year). She arrives home from work with the kids in tow at about 5:30 and the two youngest are in bed by 7:00pm. That means we usually have less than an hour after dinner for their baths and bedtime routine, not to mention letting them play for a bit before bed. In our house, weekday meals are always rushed, and with these recipes, they’re also always on time.
Steak with Roast Thyme Butter
Coarse sea salt
Fresh cracked pepper
Take your steaks out of the fridge with enough time to let them return to room temperature, usually about 20 minutes before you’re ready to grill. Ideally, you could buy them on your way home from work. Of course, there are other methods to dry aging and making the perfect steak, but I suggest reading our steak guide for that.
First, you want to give them a quick rubdown with some high quality oil. Many chefs will argue that you want to grease the grill, but I actually prefer to grease the meat instead. After its bath, season all sides of the steak generously with salt. Another tip I use is not adding the pepper at this point. Again, many chefs say to add the pepper at this time, but at high heat you run the chance that the pepper will burn which will give your steak a bitter flavor. Once you’ve salted the steak and your grill is hot, place the steaks on the grill and let them develop a quick sear.
Again, I’m going to go against the status quo and say don’t leave your steak sitting for one or two minutes per side, but instead keep flipping them every 15 seconds.
In a hot pan, toss some butter in and let it sizzle for a moment. Then, add some crushed garlic and fresh thyme. At this point add the pepper to your steak. As soon as the butter is fully melted, add the steak to the pan and gently baste it with the butter before taking it off and letting it rest for 5-10 minutes before eating. All in all, whether it’s rare to medium rare steak, the entire cook time should take less than five minutes.
Coarse sea salt
Cracked black pepper
Red pepper flakes
An exquisite side for many meals, asparagus is one of the fastest vegetables to cook and takes less than 10 minutes on a hot grill. While your grill is heating up, gently toss your asparagus in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. After you’ve covered them, sprinkle the salt and peppers on top. In a grill pan or foil drip tray, place the asparagus on the grill over indirect heat constantly turning them so they don’t burn. Once you get a beautiful golden color to them, remove them from the grill and enjoy. In total, it might take about five minutes and it can sit along side your main course as it cooks. If it’s taking too long, throw it on some direct heat for a quick exposure to the fire. Just keep an eye on them.
Can of corn niblets or leftover grilled corn that’s been husked and cut off the cob.
Avocado cut into small pieces
Fresh lime juice
Fresh garlic that’s minced
Cracked black pepper
Large shrimp that are peeled and deveined.
Soft flour tortillas
In our home, Mexican food is a staple. While these tacos aren’t your most ‘authentic’ style, they are delicious and a hit for both adults and children.
Once the grill is hot, place a grill pan with some olive oil in it and add the scallions and corn to let them get a quick sear. Once they begin to get a nice brown, take them off the grill and set them aside. Place the jalapeño pepper on the grill and char it. Take it off the heat and remove the charred skin before chopping it up. Take all of those ingredients and put them a mixing bowl. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste as well as some lime juice, the cilantro, garlic, avocado and a touch of olive oil. Mix thoroughly. After brushing the shrimp with some olive oil, place them on the grill and cook them for about 2-3 minutes until they turn slightly opaque. Turn them once making sure to get a light grill mark on each side. Place the tortillas on the grill for about 20-30 seconds and flip them. Fill them with the shrimp and salsa. Most of the grilling can be done simultaneously so don’t be afraid to multitask. If you do cook everything together, the entire meal will take about 10 minutes to complete, including prep time.
Seared Scallops with Fragrant Butter
Large sea scallops
Coarse sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Fresh lemon juice
Fresh minced garlic
Brush both sides of the scallops with olive oil and skewer them together to prevent them from falling through the grates. Otherwise you can do them in a grill pan or skillet. Season both sides of the scallops with salt and pepper. In a separate pan, let the butter sizzle over the hot grill and add all the remaining ingredients. Place the scallops on the grill over direct heat and let them grill until they just turn opaque, for about four minutes, turning them once. Remove them from the grill and plate them on a small plate with a lip. Strain the butter sauce onto the round of the plate so the plate is fully coated and remove the scallops from their skewer, gently plating them on top of the sauce. Place a fresh sprig of rosemary on the side for decoration. In total, the entire cook time for this meal should be no more than three to five minutes. For more info on how to buy scallops check out our fish and seafood guide.
Uncooked lobster tails
Fresh lemon juice
Shell side down, place the tails on a cutting board and split them lengthwise to reveal the delicate meat. In a hot pan over the grill, soften the butter, lemon juice and salt being sure not to fully melt it. Give it a quick mix and spread it over the meat of the lobster including under the shell if you can. Place the tails, shell side down on the grill over over direct heat and close the lid. Let them cook for about six or seven minutes until the meat turns opaque. Serve it with your favorite sauce or as is. All in all, the entire recipe should take about ten minutes.
Thinly sliced Granny Smith apples
Stick of butter divided into small squares
A perfect warm dessert with a hint of barbecued goodness, place the apple slices into a mixing bowl and toss with the syrup, sugar and cinnamon until well coated. In a small handkerchief size piece of parchment paper place the apple mixture in the center and a piece of the butter on top. Bring the ends of the paper over like you’re wrapping a present and fold them over until the package is wrapped twisting the ends together to seal it. Place the packets over direct heat and grill for about ten minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Charred Corn and Cilantro Spiced Salad
Can of corn niblets
Large handful of coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
Habanero pepper diced
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of fresh lime juice
Finely chopped garlic
1 tsp of ground cumin
1/2 tsp of smoked paprika
Coarse sea salt and ground pepper to taste
In a hot grill pan with olive oil, place the corn and continue to toss it until it’s lightly charred. Remove it from the heat and quickly place it in the freezer to cool for a few minutes. Combine all the ingredients together in a salad bowl and mix well. Serve. All together it takes about ten minutes to make. It works even better as leftovers the next day once it’s married for awhile in the dressing. If you have more time use corn on the cob right on the grill. Then cut the corn off the cob. I also like to add avocado to this recipe.
Fresh Cucumber and Onion Salad
Cucumber thinly sliced into rounds
Sweet, white or red onion sliced into thin rings
1 cup sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
My wife and I usually make the dressing by taste and eye so you’ll want to play around with it a bit. Basically just toss all the ingredients together in a bowl and enjoy. It takes about 2 minutes and that’s because you need to cut an onion and a cucumber. It’s fresh way to liven up your meal. If you have time though, let it sit for an hour or two to marry.
Hamburgers, hot dogs, fast-fry pork chops and store bought sausages all take under fifteen minutes to grill. The goal is to pick small cuts of meat or fish that cook quickly. Even thin chicken thighs can be done easily enough in ten minutes. We hope you’ve enjoyed the primer on quick grilling and will try at least a few of these recipes this summer. What are your favorite recipes for the grill and how do you save time when you need to get a healthy and delicious dinner on the table quickly? Tell us in the comment section below.