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7 Grilling techniques you need to massively raise your barbecue game

When it comes to the humble barbecue there's nothing wrong with keeping things simple. Mark Bittman wants to help you elevate your game.

"Over the last four years (and possibly 40), I’ve surprised myself with what can work on the grill (pretty much everything), and how little thought and effort you have to put in to get wonderful results out."

Recently releasing a book on all things grill-related, How to Grill Everything, Mark Bittman is the go-to guy for your char-related problems. Here are some of Mark's biggest takeaways from all the years of experimenting.

1. Use ponzu sauce

"In case you don’t know ponzu, it’s kind of an all-purpose sauce from Japan that plays a role not unlike vinaigrette. Use it as a dipping sauce for almost anything, or as a marinade for poultry, beef, or lamb. Here, I subbed it in for barbecue sauce - a great success." Mark suggests making it yourself for the best results.

2. If you have cabbage, use it 

"Many people groan when they get a giant head of cabbage from the CSA (and then another the following week), not necessarily because they don’t like it, but because there doesn’t seem to be that much to do with it. But cabbage, as it turns out, is phenomenal when grilled (bonus: no shredding). Cut into wedges and seared directly over the fire, it develops fantastic flavor and texture."

3. Pickle veggies after you grill them 

"Broccoli and cauliflower are especially great after you cut them into florets. Firm vegetables - fennel, kohlrabi, daikon, onion, jícama - should be grilled in half-inch-thick slices, then cut into sticks. Whole green beans, okra, and radishes (whole or half, depending on their size) are all treats. Cucumbers hold up surprisingly well on the grill; cut them into spears. Carrots should be left whole, halved, or quartered so the pieces are no thicker than your pinky." Pickling vegetables is as easy as soaking your grilled goodies in brine.

4. Smoked nuts are the perfect snack

Smoked nuts are super easy to make yourself. "My favorite nuts for smoking are walnuts, almonds, and pecans, but pine nuts, peanuts, macadamias, cashews, and blanched hazelnuts are all fab. To me, 30 minutes smoke time is ideal for most nuts, but start tasting before that to find what’s right for you."

5. When grilling fish, cook directly on the coals

"I’m serious. You’re going to put your fish directly on the coals (this is one instance where gas grill won’t cut it). No, the fish won’t burn. Instead, you’ll end up with a charred crust and a tender inside with an incredible smoky flavor, like cooking on a campfire. This is a solid technique for a good steak, too."

6. Grilling cakes is a thing and you will enjoy it

"Baking over a live fire is just incredible. Nothing can compare to the crisp crust and char on bread or pizza just off the grill, and since corn bread and biscuits are natural partners for barbecue, it makes sense to bake them outside. But cake? Sure, it’s a little out of the ordinary, but trust me: It works. One of my favorite desserts in How to Grill Everything is this Double Orange Olive Oil Cake. Eat with vanilla ice cream for a kind of smoked-Creamsicle effect."

7. Classics can be revisited on the grill

"The internet is full of “revisited” classics at this point: béchamel made with olive oil, cauliflower crust pizza, grilled cheese with tons of additions (berries? Come on!). Some of these things work, some are moronic, some are trendy because they’re moronic, but putting a classic on the grill is a no-brainer. Case in point: chicken cutlets. We all love them on a fat roll with cheese and red sauce, but if you try them on the grill, you probably won’t fry them again. Plus, there are a ton of different options for sauces and ways to season your breadcrumbs."

With summer just about here now, there's no excuse to shy away from the grill. Grab some friends and get to cooking. Be careful about what salads you eat, though.