For the past few days, my friends have been insisting that Summer 2014 is finally here, which means three things are guaranteed: new love, pit stains, and awesome barbecue parties. Although I refuse to believe that any temperature below 70 degrees can officially be considered “summer weather,” I’m willing to forgo my usual distaste for cold summers and replace it with my insatiable hunger for charred meat, cold beers, and good vibes.

In an effort to avoid royally screwing up yet another outdoor grilling sesh, I hit up founder Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats, as well as Haight Whole Foods master butcher Hector Yedra, and Whole Foods meat department leader Danny Callaghan to pick up some bang-up BBQ tips from the meatiest dudes in the business. (For even more tips, hit up the Whole Foods Guide to Grilling.)

Sorry, But It’s Not Actually a Barbecue

Everybody under the sun seems to think that all outdoor cooking can be called “barbecuing,” but if you’re averse to looking stupid when asking for the right cuts of meat, Yedra breaks it down: “BBQ is the technique that involves cooking meat for long periods of time at a low temperature, with smoke from a wood fire.” For this, you need a smoker, not a grill, and unless you intentionally bought the combo, you’re grillin’ baby! “In this city, not many people have big backyards to fit a smoker, or have the time to be able to smoke the meat,” adds Callaghan. “Grilling is cooking directly over the fire, whereas BBQs are ‘slow and low.’”

Bewildered in the Meat Aisle?

Here, Farr is a traditionalist: “BBQ staples are all about keeping it simple. It’s easy to get too complicated.” His go-to grilling favorites are sausages, rib-eye steaks, and pork chops “with a decent amount of fat inside the muscle.” Pair them with the classics: coleslaw, beans, mac-n-cheese, mixed greens, and most importantly, cold beer. On the other hand, Callaghan and Yedra are all-inclusive. “Beautiful spare ribs, baby back ribs, a nice piece of bone-in rib eye, New York strip, filet mignon, butterflied lamb, and of course all pieces of poultry work really well on a grill. Cold beer is a must, but a nice sangria works perfectly for a summer BBQ.”

But I Don’t Eat Meat!

Oh my god, we get it, you’re a vegetarian, a pescitarian, a breatharian – whatever. Don’t worry, you’ve got more options than a DMV phone menu, so follow Callaghan’s tips and cover that grill with some squash, asparagus, zucchini, and bell peppers. You can even grill tofu, but he suggests first marinating it in soy sauce and orange juice, then popping it on the grill to catch a bit of flavor. “Portobello mushrooms are fantastic,” he adds, “you can even use those as the bun.” Just be sure to get a headcount on the vegans and make sure to cook all their food first, before you throw the juicy meat slabs on the grill.  

For an amazing closer that everyone can enjoy, throw some sliced fruit like pineapple, mango, or peaches on the grill. It makes for a really yummy dessert. Trust me, people will be all like, “What?” and then all like, “Wow!”

Classic No-No’s

Fridge to fire. It’s really important to season your steaks ahead of time, and let them sit out for at least an hour to temper, keeping them covered in your kitchen, not in the refrigerator. That’s gonna give you a much more even cook. (Farr)

Dirty grill. If you don’t first clean the grill, the meat will stick to it. And a dirty grill changes the flavor, so just clean your grill beforehand. (Yedra)

Putting coals in the middle of the grill. Put all the coals on one side of the grill for “indirect cooking.” You want to put your meat over direct fire to get it nice and charred for a couple of minutes, get that nice grill flavor, and then move it over to the cooler side to keep cooking it without burning the meat. (Callaghan)

Moving, flipping, or pressing on your steaks too often. When you put steak on the grill, Do. Not. Move. It. Often. Let the meat stay there to create a nice beautiful crust on the outside. Depending on the size of the piece, an inch or so thick steak should cook in about 4–5 minutes per side – and you should flip it once and only once. That’s a big mistake people make – flipping the meat too much. (Yedra)

Dig in while it’s hot. After cooking, you want to let that meat rest for 10 to 20 minutes to let all the juice reconstitute, because if you cut right into it, all the juices will fly out all over your board and you’ll have a dry piece of meat. (Callaghan)

Beer-Boil Your Bräts

Ever precook beer sausage? Farr instructs us: “Take some beer and onions and bring them to a light boil; then take the raw bräts and lay them gently into the simmering liquid. Bring it back up to a simmer, then turn off the burner, cover it, and let the mixture sit for 20 minutes. When the time comes, char ’em up on the grill, and don’t even worry about undercooking. Plus, you can pull those onions out of the beer mixture and lay them on top. Deelish, no stress.”

Well-Done Steaks: Travesty or Tolerable?

Eating a well-done steak is considered the sign of a bland palate, and some grill masters will refuse to overcook their steaks. Callaghan says that for him, overdone meat is a bit of a travesty: “I need a little ‘moo’ left in my meat.” On the other hand, Farr thinks that “as long as you’re happy eating it, however you want it is how it should be – eye of the beholder.” Jury’s still out, it seems.

Final tip: Don’t forget to keep a stockpile of hoodies for your very likely unprepared guests. This is still bone-chilling San Francisco-in-July we’re talking about. Have a great BBQ!