Let's face it, backyard barbecuing can be intimidating and even the most experienced cook is bound to make a grilling mistake or two.
The meat-loving 27-year-old knows her way around a grill and, after traveling around the country in search of the most amazing meat dishes, has learned plenty about the dos and don'ts of great grilling.
Just in time for the Fourth of July, Rada shared eight common grilling mistakes — and her best tips for how to fix them.
1. Neglecting the prep and setup
Rada advocated for doing yourself — and your guests — a favor by prepping as much as possible before starting to barbecue. “Marinate your meat, mold your burger patties, pat dry your meat and make sure it's room temperature,” she said.
She also recommended lighting the grill at least 30 minutes before people arrive.
2. Treating every piece of meat equally
“I think the biggest grilling mistake people make is assuming that every piece of meat cooks the same based on the cut,” Rada said. Since the same cuts of meat can differ greatly in thickness and fat content, she recommended using a meat thermometer on each type to determine its doneness.
“Personally, I love grilling a good steak because I like my meat still mooing. My least favorite thing to grill is chicken. You wouldn’t think that grilling chicken would be hard, but it’s very easy to sear and almost burn the outside on a very hot grill, but still end up with a really raw inside.” Pounding or butterflying the chicken before placing it on the grill helps to avoid this problem.
3. Grilling kebab ingredients on the same skewers
“It’s also scary to see people prepare this summer staple,” said Rada. “People put the meat and vegetables on the same skewer assuming they’re going to cook the same way. It kind of pains me because one is going to get overcooked and one is going to get undercooked.”
Instead, Rada recommended cooking kebab components separately and serving them on different plates, allowing guests to make their own skewers with the cooked chunks of protein, veggies and fruit.
4. Cleaning the grill with old wire brushes
Rada cleans her grill after every two to three barbecues depending on the buildup, and she strongly prefers using bristle-free brushes as opposed to traditional metal wire grill brushes.
“I’ve heard some horror stories about the bristles breaking off and ending up in the food, so that kind of terrifies me," she said. The two other grilling tools she considers absolutely essential are a reliable meat thermometer and a great pair of tongs.
5. Not investing in a rubber basting brush
Rada called a rubber basting brush “the epitome of a tool that is extremely helpful,” and said it’s the most underrated grilling tool out there. “I think rubber basting brushes are really great because they help your barbecue sauce go to the next level since you’re not using a brush that absorbs some of the flavor,” she said.
6. Applying sauce too soon
No one likes the taste of burnt barbecue sauce and, according to Rada, that’s exactly what you’ll get if you apply most sauces too early since the sugar in the sauce will quickly burn. “You can add a sauce throughout the cooking process, but only if it has a low sugar content.”
Sugar caramelizes quickly and is prone to burning and charring. Instead, sauce up grilled foods about five minutes before removing them from the grill. You'll still get be able to get a nice crust without totally ruining your meat.
7. Forgetting marinades
“I personally like marinating my chicken or meat ahead of time and then just baste it with sauce at the end,” said Rada. “If I’m barbecuing, I’m usually running around so I don’t have time to stand and stare at the meat.”
She said that the window of time for marinating can be anywhere from overnight to just two hours before grilling. "It just depends on your desired flavor and how much time you have."
8. Being stingy with seasonings
“Don’t be afraid of over-seasoning,” said Rada. “A thick cut of meat is going to render off some of that seasoning during cooking.”
When she’s using a lighter seasoning, like just salt and pepper, Rada always likes to incorporate something sweet, too. “Adding grilled apples, peaches or pineapples adds a char and sweetness that can take a plain cut of meat to the next level.”