10 Tips for Grilling to Perfection

Veggie skewers for picnic parties

If you plan to take the lead on grilling at your next San Diego picnic, then check out these tips from our picnic pros. With more than 30 years of experience grilling on-site over live fire, they know the tricks of the trade!

San Diego Picnic Grilling Tips

1. Work with Quality Ingredients

From choosing your ingredients to selecting cooking utensils, everything that goes into and on your grill matters. Consider these picnic grilling options:

  • Cooking with wood: Infuse unique flavors like the sweetness from applewood or tang from mesquite. California oak, pecan wood from the Southern US, and hickory wood from Tennessee are all great options.
  • Charcoal grilling: Keep things simple and still bring a smoky, rich flavor. Just make sure you use additive-free lump charcoal and a natural lighter fluid to avoid particulates that can contaminate your food.
  • Premium picnic food: Just like our chefs, choose USDA Grade A beef and hand select the freshest seasonal produce.

2. Prep for Success

First, make sure your grill is ready for its big day! Thoroughly clean the grate with non-stick spray before lighting. You also need to turn the charcoal or wood to prevent splashes or flare ups.

Now you are ready to preheat. Once your fire is going, spread the coals and give the grill 10 minutes to become evenly hot across the surface. Food sticks less to a hot grate, cooks more evenly and can develop a wonderful carmelization.

Remove meats and poultry from the refrigerator 15-20 minutes before you are ready to grill. This will help them cook evenly and retain flavors and moisture.

3. Oil It Up

Lean cuts lack the juicy fats that prevent them from sticking to the rack. So protect them by oiling the hot grill rack with a paper towel soaked in oil. Of course, please use tongs!

4. Save a “Cold Spot”

Create a safe haven for your food on the grill when it starts to get too toasty. This is ideal for holding grilled vegetables before serving and takes the stress out of timing your meats and veggies. If they are cooked but you aren’t ready to serve, just move them to the area of your grill that does not have coals under it. 

5. Choose the Right Grilling Temperature

Visible flames are a sign that your grill has reached too high of a temperature for cooking. Here is how to gauge the grill’s heat:

  • Red-hot coals without flames: Very high heat—as hot as you want your grill to get. This is a great way to grill veggies quickly without them wilting and losing color.
  • Medium fire: Has some red coals but also has a coat of grey ash forming on the briquettes or wood. Most protein does well being grilled over a medium fire.
  • Cool fire: You can hold your hand over the fire for 5 seconds or more. This level of heat does not cook anything thoroughly without completely drying it out.

6. Plan Grilling Times


Different meats and poultry need varying amounts of time on the grill. Here is a general timeline to follow:

  • Steaks first: Cook to rare and pull off the grill to hold in a covered pan, the meat will continue cooking to medium rare, You can always throw it back on grill to your desired degree of “doneness” right before serving.
  • Chicken or ribs second: Cook until done; put in pan and cover with foil
  • Fish last: It cooks the fastest and gets cold rapidly

7. Spice It Up!

Sauces, rubs and marinades are often the best-kept grilling secrets because they have the potential to add so much flavor. Simple salt, pepper or garlic seasoning can work wonders. But do not be afraid to experiment with flavor and texture!

8. Lock in Moisture

Skin and bones provide a fortress against dried-out picnic food. Among the top grilling tips for chicken is to cook bone-in chicken skin-side up the first 3/4 of the time while giving boneless chicken breasts equal time on each side.

9. Use a Thermometer

Even if you feel like the ultimate grill master, double-check your work with a thermometer. At a minimum, this provides the peace of mind that guests will not fall prey to food-borne illness.

10. Let It Rest

Food needs time to sear, so wait until you see grill marks to give it a flip. And when they are grilled to perfection, let the meats rest on a clean platter covered with foil for about 10 minutes so the juices can redistribute. Picnic catering in San Diego is full of fun activities and games, so go ahead and take a minute to play.

Most importantly, have fun experimenting with your picnic grilling ideas and becoming a master griller. Just remember to keep your eye on the fire and a smile on your face!

For more than three decades, our picnic team has been delivering outstanding fun and delicious food to San Diego picnics. To start planning your unique picnic, contact us online or give us a call at (858) 586-1717.

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