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Cooking Tips

So You Want Awesome Grill Marks, Eh?

Here’s how to get 'em.

Published July 30, 2021.

For some, grill marks are the ultimate sign of grill mastery—even if they are mostly aesthetic. They’re the grilling equivalent of perfectly piped letters on a cake or the umbrella in a fancy drink. They make the package look more impressive, but they don’t have a major effect on flavor.

But that doesn’t mean that they’re not worth achieving if you can.

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“People eat with their eyes first,” said Cook’s Country grilling expert Morgan Bolling. “So it's worth a little extra effort to get grill marks, add a garnish, or plate something well. You get a more even crust from searing in a skillet, but grill marks definitely have that cool factor.”

It’s important to know that not every grilled item can or should get grill marks. Some things cook too quickly or too slowly to achieve them. And though they look impressive, they’re not worth prioritizing over cooking something properly. The best candidates for grill marks are items that are relatively quick-cooking and flat, so there’s more surface area in contact with the hot grates. 

Ready to prove your grilling chops? Here’s how to set yourself up for grill-mark success.

Preheat Your Grill

To get good grill marks, your grill has to be hot. A not-hot-enough grill is grounds for sticking, and sticking is the enemy of creating nice-looking grill marks. 

Preheating your grill might take longer than you think, so be patient. We recommend preheating gas grills—with all burners turned to high and the lid closed—for 15 minutes, and we recommend preheating charcoal grills for 5 minutes. (Check out this article to learn why it’s so different based on the grill type.)

grilled chickengrilled fruit
Chicken and fruit are both candidates for grill marks.

Make Sure That Your Grates Are Slick and Clean

After your grill preheats and before you start cooking, use a grill brush to scrape off any stuck-on food from the grates. Then use tongs to wipe the grates with an oil-dipped paper towel. Not only is grilling on a grate encrusted with the remnants of last night's dinner like cooking in a dirty pan, but clean, slick grates also combat sticking.

Dry Your Meat

Wet meat steams; dry meat sears. We often call for salting meat before we grill it, which pulls moisture to the surface of the meat, so be sure to pat it dry before it hits the grill. If you’re not salting beforehand, season the meat right before it goes on the grill. And remember to get your grates nice and oily—if both your meat and the grill grates are dry, there will be some sticking.

Keep in mind that some grilled items just aren’t good candidates for grill marks. If your recipe calls for coating the food in a vinaigrette or a sauce before placing it on the grill, don’t worry about pursuing grill marks. Your food will still taste great.

Decide On the Type of Grill Marks You Want

Two types of grill marks: single-line and crosshatch.

There are a couple types of grill marks: single-line or crosshatch. To achieve either type, you start by placing the food on the grill at a 45-degree angle. Some items such as summer squash and zucchini aren’t on the grill long enough to get more than a single line of grill marks, but turning longer-cooking items 45 or 90 degrees after getting that first mark will create a diamond or square crosshatch, respectively.

Speed Up Browning with the Right Ingredients

When possible, use ingredients that encourage browning. Soy sauce, sugar, hoisin sauce, and even nonfat milk powder all speed up the Maillard reaction and get color on your food faster.

Be Patient

If you’re one of those people who likes to fidget with food as it cooks, find something else to do with your hands. Turning the food too quickly or too often will result in torn meat, pale marks, and duplicate lines after you try to put the meat back in its original position. Give your meat time to form grill marks—if it sticks to the grates, it’s not ready to move.

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