Years of grilling meat and veggies fresh from the garden have taught me how to properly prepare and cook foods for the best flavor, texture, and presentation. However, common grilling mistakes can result in tough meats, charred vegetables, and tasteless dishes that turn many people off of outdoor grilling altogether. This summer, fire up the grill and try your hand at some new and flavorful foods cooked to perfection in your backyard.

Checking the Doneness of Meat

It’s not always possible to gauge the doneness of meat by looks alone. There are two basic methods used to test meat and poultry to ensure that it has reached a safe and desirable temperature. The easiest way to check if your grilled meat is cooked is with a grill-safe meat thermometer. Instant-read thermometers are available in dial or digital versions and can measure temperatures in as little as 15 seconds.

To achieve an accurate reading, insert the thermometer into the proper position depending on the type of meat you’re grilling. If you’re cooking a beef, pork, or lamb roast, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding any fat or bone. When cooking steaks, burgers, or chops, insert the thermometer horizontally into the center of the meat. When grilling poultry, the thermometer should be inserted into the thigh (whole poultry) or the thickest area (poultry parts), avoiding any bones.

The finger test can also be an effective way to test a meat’s doneness. With your hand relaxed, press the index finger of your other hand into the fleshy area between the base of the palm and your thumb. This is what raw meat feels like. Next, gently bring your middle finger and thumb together and press the base of your thumb. This is what medium meat feels like. Finally, bring your pinky finger and thumb together and press the base of your thumb. This is what well-done meat feels like.

There are also a few other tricks of the trade that can help gauge whether or not your meat is cooked. When grilling whole chickens, insert a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh. If the juices run clear, the poultry is done. When grilling fish, doneness is confirmed when the flesh turns opaque and easily pulls away from the bones. If extra help is needed determining doneness, consider the use of a disposable doneness sensor.

Grilling Fruits and Vegetables

Grab some fresh vegetables from your garden or the local farmers’ market to give flavor and texture to your meals. Grilled fruits and veggies can be added to stir-fries, salads, kabobs, and many other dishes. What vegetables are best for grilling? Try asparagus, potatoes, corn, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, or green beans. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the veggies and grill until tender and lightly charred, about 6 to 8 minutes.

Certain fruits can also be cooked on the grill. When fruits are grilled, the sugars begin to caramelize, creating a smoky taste. Some great fruits for grilling include watermelon, apples, peaches, strawberries, figs, coconuts, and bananas. To grill, brush the fruit with a bit of olive oil to intensify the flavor and prevent it from sticking to the grill. Wrap the fruit in foil or skewer it to make a kabob. Grill for 3 to 5 minutes or until tender.