Student No. 1: Natasha Wright, a baking-company salesperson, lives in Colorado Springs with her husband (an Army soldier) and their two little boys.
DIsaster: When Brian left for Iraq, she tried her best to use the grill that had been his domain. Natasha was determined to cook burgers for her kids, but she just couldn’t get the grill going.
Hope: “Maybe I’m not meant to celebrate life with grilled food unless my husband is home,” she wrote, adding that if we could help her become a grilling expert, she’d be “the envy of the cul-de-sac.”
Buy the right meat. Brisket has the perfect mix of lean and fat to make a juicy burger. For uniform texture, ask your butcher to grind it twice for you.
Don’t overwork it. You really don’t even need to add salt and pepper to the meat; all the action is in the toppings. Also, let the patties rest before cooking. Otherwise they’ll be chewy.
Start with a clean cooking grate. Dirt makes food taste bad and makes it stick.
Cook it hot. Heat the grill to between 450° and 550°. Cold burgers on a cold grill are going to stick every time.
Create a nonstick cooking surface. When the cooking grate is hot, wipe it quickly and carefully with an oiled square of several folded paper towels.
The student: Santa Barbara firefighter Matt Osborne.
The disaster: Osborne incinerated some ribs one Super Bowl at the firehouse while leaving them unattended to watch the game with his coworkers. The next morning, he tossed the smoker’s mangled remains into the station’s dumpster and nearly set it on fire.
The hope: Redemption. "The entire event still haunts me today," he wrote. "It has been six years and the guys still bring it up."
Never walk away from your grill. Out of sight, out of mind; you’re going to have something burn every single time.
Pack dry rub onto the meat. The little bits of fat on the meat’s surface are going to melt to form a nice crust.
Cook over the cool zone. Large cuts like ribs will burn over direct heat. To create a cool, indirect-heat zone, bank the lit coals to one side of the firegrate, leaving the other side empty. The empty side is your cool zone. On a gas grill, turn one burner off and put the ribs over it; then lower the other burners to get the right heat.
Use a water-filled drip pan. Put this in the empty section to catch the fat as it melts, preventing flare-ups.
The student: Martin Sweetman of Mountain View, California.
The disaster: When Joan Sweetman went back to college after 25 years of marriage to husband Martin, a director at a software company, it became his job to cook dinner one night a week.
When he tried to grill chicken breasts, he doused them with so much salt and cooked them for so long that they turned into jerky. "Even a steak knife wasn’t sharp enough to cut these babies," wrote Joan.
The hope: A tried-and-true technique. "He needs more help than I can give ― please!"
Add moisture. Brine your chicken using a solution of salt, sugar, and seasonings. The meat will plump up and absorb the seasonings, so the flavor isn’t just on the skin. (This also works really well for pork and short ribs.)
Set up two heat zones. Create a hot zone and a medium to low zone. One mistake people make is grilling thicker cuts, like bone-in chicken and pork chops, over direct high heat. They’ll burn on the outside and stay raw inside.
Start the chicken skin side down. To get crispy, golden skin, put it skin side down over the hot zone and let it turn a nice, golden brown. Then flip it over onto the medium zone to finish cooking.
Make your own barbecue sauce. It’s easy and you’ll look like a rock star.