The Simple Grilling Hack That Gives You Double The Roasting Room

Whether you're barbecuing or grilling for a backyard full of guests, it's all too easy to end up short on grill space. Fitting everything onto the grates is even more of a challenge when you have some foods that need to be kept off of direct heat, and others that should go on top of the flames. To avoid having to play Tetris on your grill, use some materials you already have on hand. Empty cans and an extra grate from your grill or even your oven can double your cooking space.

First, grab three or four empty metal cans that are the same height as each other, so you can create a stable, even surface. Be sure to remove any labels, then remove the top and bottom of each can with a can opener, and arrange them on your grilling surface in a triangle or square shape (depending on how many cans you're using). Balance the extra metal grate on top. Alternatively, you can set the grate atop a pizza stone rack for the same results, minus the hassle of finding identically-sized cans.

You have now created an additional cooking surface, which is adjustable via the height of the cans you balance it on. A lower rack will hold your food closer to the heat, while higher cans are great for lightly toasting food or just keeping it warm. Now your items won't have to compete with each other to get to the heat zone that's best for them.

Make the most of your grilling space with more smart hacks

Another simple way to maximize your grill space is knowing where and how certain foods can be cooked. Potatoes and corn, for instance, can be wrapped in aluminum foil and set directly atop the coal, with no grill grate space required. Hot dogs and sausages can be stacked atop one another after getting an initial sear, saving precious space for other foods. You can even use rib racks to cook slabs of meat at an angle, so they take up less space than they would if laid flat. As a tip to cook the best ribs, be sure to place each one with its bone angled down for more even cooking.

You can also repurpose grill grates in a clever way to cut down on food-serving hassle. As you finish cooking a round of hamburgers or chicken wings, you can remove the grate and use it as a serving tray, so long as you put it on a trivet of some sort and warn your guests that the grate is hot. Replace the old grate with new one, and you can resume cooking immediately, without having to plate each item. To make this method even easier, attach handles to your grates or simply buy grates with handles already installed, allowing for easier transport.

Plan ahead to use your grilling space wisely

Using space-saving strategies will help you crush your next grilling session, but there's one more major aspect to keep in mind: timing. Not all foods cook at the same rate, especially when they're prepared at different temperatures, so you need to plan your actions around each item's cook time. 

Most obviously, you should put foods that take the longest to cook on the grill first, so they can be on the literal backburner while you focus on other items. Work your way down to the foods that cook the quickest, and if you've planned well, most of your food should be reach a perfect level of doneness at around the same time. Even if your timing is a little off, you can make use of the extra grate trick to keep items warm while you finish up everything else.

Another good rule of thumb is to prep your items as much as you possibly can before starting to grill. For instance, leave our classic pepper steak recipe to marinate overnight for maximum flavor, and choose side dishes that can be made in advance and refrigerated. The last thing you want to do during a party is juggle grilling, basic food prep, and serving your guests all at once. Plan strategically, and your food will always be perfectly cooked and hot off the grill, with no burned bits or cold dishes in sight.