The Biggest Grilling Mistake You've Been Making, According To Mark Bittman

Mark Bittman is an author, journalist, editor, lecturer, and advocate for a just and environmentally beneficial food system. He is also a master of grilling: one of his many cookbooks is "How to Grill Everything." Bittman means everything, too. His work has an emphasis on accessibility and also on not limiting diets to just meat or red meat with every meal. Basically, this writer has developed a mastery of perfectly grilling just about every kind of food. 

Meat is, though, one of the trickier things to grill, simply because it's harder to tell if it's cooked to your preference than, say, vegetables or cornbread. Many of us are concerned about the safety of undercooked meat, and indeed it can often expose us to foodborne illnesses, while overcooked meat can be practically inedible. Sometimes it seems like there are so many ways grilling a steak or sausage can go wrong. 

To Bittman, this whole timing factor is one of the most common mistakes grillers make, according to Chaps Pit Beef. Not knowing when the meat is done is all too often the downfall of what could have been a great grilled meal. The good news is that this is also the easiest mistake to fix. It just takes a little patience and practice.

How to get used to knowing when meat is done

"The mistake most people make is with over-cooking stuff," Mark Bittman said in an interview at the Chicago Humanities Festival. Overcoming this and getting comfortable with recognizing that meat is cooked to the point you want means "learning how to judge doneness, which is something that comes best with experience," Bittman added.

Of course, the recommended times in recipes are a good place to start, but since they can vary from grill to grill, it's also helpful to have an instant read thermometer. If you are still unsure whether your meat is cooked enough, Bittman says he's all in favor of taking it off the grill and slicing into it to check — it's better to keep doing this than guess incorrectly and have gone too far, since you can keep cooking under-cooked meat, but cannot undo over-cooked meat. Of course, with meats like steak, there are also some feel tests you can do to avoid cutting into it.

There are plenty of other tips to make grilling meat effortlessly delicious every time, but avoiding under- or over-cooking is one of the most important first steps, since sauces and seasonings won't be able to help in either case. Considering that the way to master this skill is practice and the way to practice is making mouthwatering meals outside, it's a fun level of grilling to work toward.