What kind of grill should I use? What’s the cooking temperature for a well-done burger? How do you make the best ribs? We answer all of your barbecue questions in this guide on how to BBQ. 

No matter how you spell it, barbecue means good times and great food. Everyone has their own interpretation of how this method of cooking should be done. This is evidenced by the numerous variations in sauces, recipes, grill types and accessories.

One common trait which seems to be shared by all barbecuers is the ability to have a good time. Whether cooking on the latest in Webers or a homemade variation at the beach, there’s something about the wafted scents of a barbecue that always mean good food and good times.

Successful barbecuing relies mainly on your sense of adventure and your willingness to experiment (beef, pork, fish, poultry, veggies, fruit, bread—go for it). I believe a true barbecuer is a creative individual who can adapt to any situation, using whatever tools are available to produce a delicious meal.

I hope you will find this information useful and above all, use it and enjoy yourself in the great outdoors.

In celebration of our 40th anniversary in 2020, we’re digging into our archives and sharing classic stories told over the years in Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. We hope you enjoy this look back as much as we do!

This piece was featured in July 1983 in the story “Do They Barbeque in Heaven?”

Types of Grills

This is a brief description of the most popular models.


The most popular, lightweight and inexpensive, these range from simple table top units to models on wheels with hoods and rotisseries. Larger versions have cranks to adjust the grill height, which aids in controlling cooking temperatures.


These small, efficient, cast-iron open grills have adjustable grates, air dampers and coal racks to allow the ashes to fall to the bottom. Perfectly sized for appetizers, small kebobs and barbecue for two.

Kettle and Wagon

These versatile grills are more expensive. Both types feature lids. Air dampers in the bottom of the grill and in the lid control ventilation and thereby the cooking temperature. When open they function like brazier grills; when closed they work like ovens with the heat controlled by the dampers. You can give the meat a smoked quality by simply adding damp hickory chips to the hot coals and closing the lid.

Gas and Electric

These grills both work on the radiant-heat principle. Volcanic pumice or ceramic briquettes are placed on racks between the heat source and the grill. Then the heat from the briquettes cooks the food. These grills are extra-convenient versions of the kettle or wagon models; they are easier to start and have more efficient heat control. My own personal tastes call for cooking over charcoal or hardwood rather than gas or electric grills.

Water Smoker

A heavy dome-type grill with a water pan, the smoker is among the newest types of grills to become widely available. They are popular for cooking game and fish. Foods are kept moist and juicy while they’re slowly cooked with charcoal briquettes and hickory chips or your favorite aromatic wood. The water smoker operates with the use of two pans, a water pan and a charcoal pan. The water pan is placed about 12 inches over the coals. When the grill is covered, steam rises in a cloud to permeate food. Food cooks for hours, basking in the aromatic vapor from the coals. Gas and electric water smokers are also available.

Grill Accessories

The right barbecue accessories are essential to ensure a safe, convenient and pleasurable experience. These accessories allow you to be versatile with your cooking, but remember, you don’t need the latest accessories to be a great barbecuer.


Your utensils should have wooden or thermoplastic handles. They include two sets of tongs, long-handled forks, long-handled spatulas and basting brushes.

Hot Pads and Cooking Mitts

Should be heavy-duty and handy at all times. Extra-long mitts are ideal for handling hot grills and protecting hands from splatters.

Water Bottle and Baking Soda

These are ideal for extinguishing flare-ups. Spray water directly at coals or sprinkle baking soda over coals after removing food.

Meat Thermometers

Are available in two styles: quick register and meat probe. They are used to ensure rare, medium and well-cooked meats on the grill. See the BBQ Roasting Temperatures section below for ideal temps.


Increase the versatility of the grill. The slow turn is excellent for browning and basting roasts and whole birds.

Wire Accessories

The flat spit basket and tumble basket are powered by rotisserie and are ideal for delicate fish. A roast rack promotes even cooking and lets you lift a roast easily. Rib racks increase the cooking area by as much as 50 percent. Hinged grill baskets with long handles hold fragile foods securely and make turning easier. Long-handled skewers are ideal for kebobs.

BBQ Roasting Temperatures

Place a meat thermometer into the center or meatiest portion, not touching the bone.


140°F Rare

160°F Medium

180°F Well Done


170°F Pork should always be cooked to this temperature before eaten.


140°F Rare

160°F Medium

180°F Well Done

Chicken and Turkey

170°F Breast

180°F Thigh

Testing the Temperature of the Coals

 One way to test the temperature of the fire is to place the palm of your hand above the coals at the approximate level the food will be cooking.

  • 3” for beef and lamb
  • 4” for poultry
  • 5” for pork

Count the seconds that you can hold this position:

  • 2 seconds – hot
  • 3 seconds – medium-high; fire is ready to cook
  • 4 seconds – medium
  • 5 seconds – low

To raise the temperature, knock the ash off the briquettes and push them closer together. You might also try fanning with a bellows or folded newspaper. To lower the temperature, distribute the coals farther apart, raise the level of the grill or mist with water.

Charcoal and wood fires take 30 to 40 minutes to burn down to the ash-covered coals needed for grilling. Outdoor gas cookers take 10 minutes to warm up. Electric grills take approximately 25 minutes.

3 of Marty’s Favorite Barbecue Recipes

Try out these simple recipes at your next cookout. 

Country-Style Ribs with Hot-Spice BBQ Sauce

This cut of pork has much more meat per pound than ribs and is ideal for the grill. I prefer a hot, spicy sauce to enhance the flavor.

Hot-Spice BBQ Sauce

  • 18 ounces Open Pit BBQ sauce, regular flavor
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup Louisiana hot sauce
  • 2 tablespoons hot mustard
  • ½ cup finely diced sweet onion

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes, uncovered. Set the sauce aside until ready to use. Cook ribs without sauce until they are fully cooked and then add sauce during the final 20 minutes when the coals are cooler.

Marty’s Honey Wingers
  • 3 pounds chicken wings
  • Honey marinade (recipe below)

Honey Marinade (combine all ingredients and stir)

  • 4 tablespoons salad oil
  • 2/3 cup soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced or pressed)

Marinate poultry for 4 to 8 hours, then baste as it cooks.

Baked Apples

Basic, easy and delicious.

Core the apples (any kind). Fill with raisins, coconut, brown sugar and cinnamon. Place in foil and wrap in a bundle. Grill over medium heat for 20 minutes until tender.

Photo(s) by Vincent Keiman