A Total Beginner’s Guide to Grilling with Gas

updated May 14, 2020
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

If you’ve got a brand-new (or a new-to-you) gas grill in your life and you’re ready to heat things up this summer, we’re here to help. While this guide is designed for novice grillers, there’s plenty of information for the seasoned grill master. We’ve included everything from turning your new grill on — yeah, it’s a little obvious, but we’ve got some stuff to say! — to zone cooking. And then there’s our list of the essential recipes that every grill cook should know.

Let’s get grilling!

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

A Quick-Start Guide to Grilling with Gas

One of the primary reasons home cooks choose a gas grill over a charcoal grill is its ease. A click of a button, the turn of a knob, and suddenly you’re flipping burgers with a beer in hand — no charcoal chimney to sort, no “building” of zones to worry about. Gas grilling has the distinct luxury of lighting and preheating effortlessly. Still, there are a few things you’ll want to take care of before meat meets grill.

Make sure your grill is clean.

Whether your grill is a hand-me-down or fresh out of the box, you’ll want to make sure that it’s clean and ready to rock before lighting it up. Grill manufacturers recommend cleaning your grill at least once a year — and twice is nice — for best performance.

Make sure the fuel source is off and start with removing and scrubbing the grates. From there, clean the grill components under the grates, paying special attention to burner tubes, and wipe out the interior of the lid before wiping down the exterior. Check your owner’s manual for specific cleaning know-how whenever possible.

Pro tip: Clean grates will create better grill marks and prevent the primary cause of sticking — dirty grates.

A detailed guide: How To Clean Your Gas Grill

Check your gas tank.

Once your grill is clean, you’ll need to attach a fuel tank. Propane is the most common fuel type for gas grills, and most hardware and grocery stores have a tank station outside. The first time you buy a tank will be the most expensive, as you’re paying for the tank itself in addition to the propane, but the next time you refuel, return the first tank you bought and exchange it for another at a lower cost.

Play it safe: Propane tanks should always be stored outside. It’s OK to leave the tank under the grill as long as it’s disconnected and covered with a grill cover, but if you move the grill into a garage or shed, the tank needs to stay outside.

A note about natural gas: Natural gas as an alternative fuel to propane for gas grills has grown in popularity over the last 10 years. While the cost to run a line for natural gas is prohibitive, the fuel does cost less in the long-run. Natural gas tastes “cleaner,” but it’s less powerful than propane. Consider natural gas for an outdoor kitchen of your dreams or a built-in grill, but stick with propane if you’re a new or occasional griller.

Light your grill.

Once the propane is connected and the tank valve is open, it’s time to light the grill.

  • Make sure that the grill lid is open.
  • Turn one burner to high or “light” and then press the ignite or auto-light button on the grill. Once the first burner is lit you can easily light the other two or three burners and adjust their heat.

What if your gas grill doesn’t light? Most modern gas grills have a “manual lighting hole” for this reason, and some even include a match holder attached to the grill (it looks like a long wand with a curlicue on the end). Find the hole — it may be on the side of the grill. Light the burner closest to the hole and carefully insert a lit match, preferably a long match or attached to the grill’s match holder. The burner should light right away.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The 3 Most Important Things for Grilling with Gas

Get it hot.

Gas grills need time to preheat, just like charcoal grills, although they take less time. Once lit, turn the burners to high and preheat the grill for 10 to 15 minutes. After preheating you can reduce the heat or turn off burners as needed for your recipe.

Know your zones.

If you know nothing else about grilling but this, you will be a grill master. Zone cooking is a method of grilling that partners direct and indirect heat for maximum efficiency.

  • Direct heat is provided by a burner or two set to high or medium-high and is best for searing, quick-cooking vegetables, and shrimp.
  • Indirect heat is a burner (or two) next to that direct heat source, that is turned off. Indirect heat relies on convection (you’ll need to close the grill to use it; more on that below) for a low-slow heat much like baking in the oven. It’s used for cooking meat to the correct internal temperature or to cook veggies all the way through without causing the exterior to burn to a crisp.

Take advantage of the lid and top rack.

Understanding when and how to use you grill’s lid is a part of becoming a grill master. Covering the grill while cooking lets the portion of your grill set to indirect heat do its job even better, creating a convection environment. This technique is great when you’ve got multiple meals on the grill or a dense cut of meat cooking.

Locking up the lid can also turn the grill into an oven, which is great for baking on the grill. Take caution, though: Covering the grill makes for a much hotter cooking environment, which means you can quickly overcook thin steaks or fish fillets. A good recipe will tell you when to cover your grill, but once you understand what this technique does, you’ll know when to use it.

Top rack basics: Don’t forget about the secondary shelf or top rack just inside the lid. It’s an ideal spot for melting cheese on burgers or warming buns for grilled chicken sandwiches.

Read more:

What’s the Difference Between Leaving the Grill Open or Closed?

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The Best Tools for Grilling with Gas

Many of the tools you use in your indoor kitchen can be used for grilling. Your favorite metal spatula, cooling racks, and baking pans will see lots of use at the grill. In the same vein, there are three kitchen essentials that are also must-haves for gas grilling.

  • Thermometers: A digital probe thermometer is a non-negotiable tool for grilling. It will make you a more confident griller while ensuring your guests eat properly cooked chicken and steak cooked just the way they like it. An oven thermometer hung from the top rack of the grill is also nice if your grill doesn’t have a thermometer on the lid.
  • Long tongs: More effective than oven mitts, a reliable pair of long tongs will serve you well. “Grilling tongs” or not, look for a longer pair, say 16 inches.
  • Skewers: Wooden skewers can replace many unitasker grill gadgets in one fell swoop. Skip a grill basket and use skewers for cooking both asparagus and shrimp with ease.
Credit: Joe Lingeman

5 Essential Grill Recipes for the Beginner

These five recipes are what we consider to be the most essential grilling basics. Once you master chicken, shrimp, pork, corn on the cob, and asparagus on the grill, you can grill anything!

Even More Gas Grilling Goodness