How to Use a Gas Grill

Gas grilling is as easy as turning a knob, but you may not be taking advantage of all the grill's perks. We'll cover everything you need to know about how to use a gas grill, including tips for seasoned grillers.

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Gas grills are unarguably convenient. There’s no need to fuss around with finding the right type of charcoal, disposing of the spent ashes or figuring out the best way to get it lit. Lighting a gas grill is as easy as turning a knob, but cooking on it might not be as intuitive. We designed this guide to teach beginners how to use a gas grill, but even seasoned grillers can benefit from these expert grilling tips.

How to Use a Gas Grill

Can you just turn the knob and toss on your steak? Sure, but your food will taste better if you start with a clean, preheated grill. Here’s the best way to ensure you’re creating restaurant-quality grilled food.

How to Start a Gas Grill

Before you get started, check the propane tank to make sure it has enough fuel. You definitely don’t want to run out of propane halfway through your grilling session! (This isn’t necessary if your grill is hooked up to natural gas.)

From there, open the grill’s lid and turn the propane tank’s valve counter-clockwise until it’s fully open. Turn one of the burners on high and press the ignition switch. If it doesn’t light, you may need to replace the batteries. You can also light the grill manually using a long match or a lighter wand.

When the first burner is lit, turn the other burners to high. Close the lid and allow the grill to preheat for 10 to 15 minutes.

Preparing the Grill for Cooking

It’s really important to start with clean grill grates. Burnt-on bits will not only impart off-flavors, but they can also cause the food to stick. You won’t get perfect grill marks if half your steak sticks to the grill! When the grill is preheated, clean the grill grates using a wire brush. If you don’t have a brush, you can use one of these hacks instead.

Then to season grill grates, rub a small amount of oil on the grates to give them added nonstick protection. Dip a folded towel in neutral cooking oil (like canola oil) and hold it with a pair of long-handled tongs. Rub the towel on the grill grates, moving it from the back of the grill to the front to protect your arms from potential flare-ups.

How to Cook on a Gas Grill

Now that the grill is preheated, cleaned and oiled, you can get cooking your favorite grilling recipes. Adjust the heat by turning the burner knobs, turning off one or more burner if you want to create an indirect heat zone (more on indirect vs. direct heat later).

The best way to determine the heat is with the hand test. Place your hand, palm-side down, about five inches from the grill grate. The heat is medium-low if you can leave your hand there for 8 to 10 seconds, medium if it lasts for 5 to 7 seconds and high if you need to pull your hand away after 2 to 4 seconds.

Turning Off a Gas Grill

When you’re finished grilling, turn off all the burners and give the grill grates a quick clean. Close the valve on the propane tank by turning it clockwise until it stops. When the grill is completely cooled, cover it with a waterproof cover.

The Best Overall Gas Grill

Weber natural gas grill, best gas grillvia homedepot.com

While you can find an inexpensive charcoal grill that’ll get the job done, you definitely want to pay for quality with a gas grill. Our top pick is the Weber Genesis-II E-335 3-Burner Propane Gas Grill (also available in for natural gas). It’s expensive, yes, but our recipe editor, Alicia Rooker, has owned this grill for almost ten years, and it’s holding on strong. The three burners allow you to cook with either direct or indirect heat, and you can fit up to 20 burgers on the 513 square inch cooking area. It also comes with a side burner for simmering sauces or brats, and the storage cabinet is large enough to hold your grilling accessories. As a bonus, it’s also iGrill3 compatible, allowing you to mount an app-connected thermometer and monitor the temperatures from afar.

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Everything You Need for Using a Gas Grill

Since gas grills are more expensive than charcoal grills, it’s important to protect your investment with a grill cover. Most grill manufacturers sell a specific cover for each grill model, but you can also look for a generic brand. Just be sure that the cover is waterproof and will fit the dimensions of your grill.

You’ll also want to pick up a few key grilling accessories. Grab a pair of long-handled tongs and a set of spatulas to handle all your flipping and turning needs. You may also want a basting brush for brushing meat and vegetables with flavorful marinades as the cook.

When you’re ready to branch out from steaks and burgers, pick up some cedar planks for making a stellar grilled fish, or a poultry roaster for beer can chicken. This particular model also allows you to steam vegetables as the chicken cooks.

Tips for Using a Gas Grill

Young woman opens gas grill, prepares grill for BBQ, steak, sausages for happy family holiday.Shutterstock / solepsizm

Determining the Right Cooking Temperature

We already talked about how to do the hand test to determine the temperature of your grill. But what’s the ideal temperature? It depends on what you’re cooking.

  • High heat (above 450°F) is best for quick-cooking foods, like kebabs and shrimp, as well as steaks and pork chops that benefit from a seared exterior.
  • Medium heat (350 to 425°F) is better for burgers, bone-in chicken and most vegetables, allowing the interior to cook through before the outsides scorch.
  • Medium-low heat (325°F) is best for foods that benefit from gentle cooking, like sausages, pork tenderloin or baked potatoes.
  • Low heat (below 300°F) is necessary for tough cuts like brisket, ribs or pork shoulder.

When to Choose Indirect vs. Direct Heat

You can use a gas grill with either direct heat or indirect heat. Direct heat sears the food by placing it directly over the flame. With indirect heat, the food is placed over the unlit portion of the grill, moving the flame to the sides. In general, it’s best to use indirect heat with anything that takes longer than 20 minutes to cook, like bone-in chicken or large roasts. Direct heat is better for quick-cooking items, like steaks, vegetables or shrimp.

Check out our guide for an in-depth look at direct and indirect heat.

Controlling and Preventing Flare-Ups

Flare-ups are essentially small grease fires. When oil or fat drips off the food and hits the grill’s heating elements, it creates a burst of flames. Small flare-ups are generally not a problem, but they can burn your food if the flames continuously surround the items on the grill.

The best way to prevent flare-ups is to trim excess fat from your meat before grilling. Fat adds flavor, so you don’t want to go crazy here, but trimming can reduce the amount of grease that can drip. When using oil-based marinades, it’s also a good idea to let the excess oil drip off before hitting the grill.

Some flare-ups are inevitable, so be ready to move the offending item off the flame, using an indirect heat side if necessary. If the flare-up doesn’t go away within a minute, remove the food from the grill and let the excess grease burn off with the lid open. You may need to turn off the grill and clean the burners if the flare-up really gets out of control.

No matter what happens, don’t spray flare-ups with water. This is one of the most important grilling safety tips. Water and oil don’t mix. Introducing water to the grill could spread the grease and fuel the flame, causing an even bigger problem.

When to Use the Lid

Closing the grill’s lid turns it into an oven by trapping the heat (and smoke) inside. You’ll want to cook with the lid closed anytime you’re using indirect heat grilling. For direct heat grilling, we usually use an open grill. Cooking one-inch-thick steaks or thin fish fillets with the lid closed could cause the meat to overcook before the outside is crisp and caramelized.

Using a Meat Thermometer

A digital probe thermometer is a must-have grilling accessory. It’s the only way to know—not guess—that your meat has reached the perfect temperature. Place it at least 1/2 inch into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding the bone or any pockets of fat. If you’re not sure about its placement, pull the thermometer back and forth and count the lowest reading. If you’re in the market, Thermoworks ChefAlarm is our Test Kitchen’s preferred brand.

How Often to Turn the Food

Most direct heat grilled food only needs to be turned once. Burgers, vegetables and thin steaks generally need a few minutes per side. Leaving them alone until they’re ready to flip gives them a chance to sear and caramelize. Most bone-in meats or thicker steaks can be flipped multiple times, giving them an overall sear that tastes better than perfect grill marks. Indirect heat grilled foods often don’t need to be turned at all, like beer can chicken or pulled pork. When in doubt, follow the instructions on the recipe.

Tips for Using Propane/Gas

Gas grill with propane tankTAB1962/GETTY IMAGES

How Long Will a Propane Tank Last?

A standard 20-pound propane tank typically provides about 20 hours of grilling time. It’s not a bad idea to have a spare tank on-hand, just in case.

How to Store Propane Tanks Safely

For safety, propane tanks should always be stored outside. It’s okay to store the tank underneath the grill, especially if the grill is covered. It’s not okay to store the tank inside a garage or a shed.

You can keep the propane tank connected to the grill, but be sure to close the valve fully after each grilling session. If you’re not planning to use the grill for a while, you can disconnect the tank.

Connect a Grill to Your Home Gas Line

Gas grills are sold for use with propane tanks (or LP) or natural gas connected to your home. Some grill manufacturers sell a conversion kit while others (like Weber) don’t allow you to convert from one to the other. You’ll want to decide upfront which one will work best for you, as converting the grill may void the warranty.

Natural gas tends to be less expensive, and you don’t have to worry about filling up the tank before grilling. Some say it burns cleaner than propane, but it also doesn’t burn as hot. If you have an outdoor kitchen setup and you grill regularly, natural gas may be the way to go. But propane is generally a good place to start for beginners or infrequent grillers.

Gas Grill Maintenance

Cleaning outdoor gas grill before next grilling.Arina P Habich/Shutterstock

The best way to ensure your gas grill will last is to keep up with the maintenance. That means doing more than just cleaning the grill grates before and after every use. For starters, you’ll want to keep the grill covered when it’s not in use. Exposing the grill to the outdoor elements can lead to excess wear and tear, and it can also cause the metal components to rust.

From there, it’s all about regularly inspecting the grill’s components and keeping them clean. Perform an annual inspection before you fire up the grill for the season. Check the gas line with soapy water to make sure there aren’t any cracks or holes, and check the grill inside and out to ensure no pests have moved in.

Depending on how much you grill, you’ll want to clean the entire grill—inside and out—with warm, soapy water one to three times a year. That includes dissembling the inside components as well as wiping down the exterior. On a regular basis, you’ll also want to clean the grill grates and wipe down the outside of the grill. If your grill has a grease trap or a drip pan, let the grill cool down before emptying and cleaning these pans. Overflowing grease is a sure-fire way to start a fire.

Learn more about how to clean your grill with our complete guide.

What to Cook on a Gas Grill

Grilled huli huli chickenTaste of Home

Oh man, the possibilities for gas grill cookery are basically endless! We’ve grilled everything from chicken and seafood to whole and sliced vegetables. If it can be cooked on the stovetop or in the oven, it can probably be grilled.

Prepare your grill for direct heat to cook burgers, steaks, pork chops, kebabs and vegetables. Or, if slow-cooked roasts and whole chickens are more your style, use the grill with indirect heat instead. Grilling is a great way to keep the heat out of the house, so go ahead and grill your pizza and make chicken wings on the grill instead of in the deep fryer. You can even bake a cake on the grill!

Give your newfound gas grilling knowledge a try with our 100 best grilling recipes.

Our 100 Best Grilling Recipes
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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.