Dale MacKay’s Top Tips for Grilling and Barbecuing

Dale MacKay

Things are heating up outside and we’re not just talking about the weather. As summer approaches more people are heading outside to cook on the barbecue or grill. But sometimes, stepping up to the grill for the first time can be intimidating. Top Chef Canada winner and Fire Masters judge Dale MacKay is an expert when it comes to cooking on the grill. In a recent interview with the chef, he gave us his top tips for grilling and barbecue beginners, plus some of his favourite recipes to cook on the grill.


You May Also Like: Dale MacKay’s Advice for Young Chefs in the Restaurant Industry

Are you a big barbecue fan? How often do you grill or barbecue?

“I am! I live at my cabin probably more than half the time now and I love cooking outside. I have redone my outside [area] to have an outside kitchen rather than just a barbecue so I have burners and all that kind of stuff. In the summer, I cook most meals outside just because it’s better than cooking indoors and I just love to grill!”

Grilling can be an intimidating form of cooking, what are your top tips for beginner grillers?

“The first thing that intimidates people, and it intimidated me before I became a [griller], is being asked to go outside and light the barbecue. I think that’s actually the most intimidating part of the whole thing. Once you get that going, it really actually can’t be any more straightforward. It’s just high and low [heat] and putting things on the grill.

So I would say to not be intimidated. Figure out how to start the barbecue and then just cook things that you already know how to do!”

Is there a noticeable difference when you cook on a barbecue or grill versus on a stovetop?

“Yeah, I think it’s the type of direct heat especially because you get that char! It depends if you’re using charcoal, obviously you’re going to get all that beautiful charcoal flavour. But, people often get scared of [char] marks. They think you make those grill marks and they’re there just for looks. It’s not for looks, it’s for flavour. I [cook] cabbage on the grill and people think I’m crazy because I basically char it until it’s black and then I wipe it with butter. But while that’s happening on the outside, the inside is steaming, so you’re getting those beautiful char flavours. There is a difference between burnt and heavily charred, but they’re pretty close, you know? You’re just really drawing out that flavour. So I love it.”

Sandwiches on a plate

Are there any specific recipes that you recommend for beginner grillers?

“My go-to is chicken thighs. I love chicken thighs. I eat them all year round because you can put them on really low and slow. Put them skin side down and the skin gets all crispy. Chicken thighs, in my opinion, almost taste better when you cook them longer than you think because they have so much nice fat in them. That’s when they’re still really juicy. I do a lot of vegetables on the grill too. Everything from portobello mushrooms to asparagus, it all tastes great.

One of [my] summer recipes is chicken thighs with barbecue sauce grilled, so they get kind of crispy in barbecue sauce. And I love Caesar salad. I eat Caesar salad all the time too. So I put that all in a King’s Hawaiian roll. It’s delicious, hits all of the satisfying notes and it’s just easy.

Even sweet stuff! I think people underutilize the grill when it comes to desserts. Pineapple and strawberries. I’m doing a strawberry s’mores with Kings Hawaiian rolls. You put a marshmallow in there with some strawberries, some chocolate, and you torch it or put it on the grill. It’s delicious.”

Related: BBQ Side Dishes That Are Just as Exciting as the Main Event

What are your essential barbecue tools?

“Throw away the stupid tools that come with the barbecue or the sets that people buy you for Christmas. They’re the worst! For whatever reason, everyone thinks you need ginormous tools to cook on a barbecue.

Just get a good pair of kitchen tongs that you would normally use, like a metal pair of kitchen tongs. Then I would say [get] sheet trays and a metal resting rack. If you’re taking your meats off, you can put them right onto a rack. It’s going to sit there and all the juice is not going to come out as it’s cooling down. Another essential thing is, even if your barbecue doesn’t have a burner on it, you can buy quick burners for $20. Having a burner so you can [use] a frying pan while you’re out there, saves you a lot of in and out of going outside and inside. So if you’re heating up a sauce or there’s something you’re going to cook in a pan, you have that option at the barbecue.”

A man grilling on a BBQ

Fire Masters

What are your favourite grilling recipes in the summer?

“I would probably say ribs or chicken thighs because I eat them all year round. I do like doing pulled pork quite a bit. That’s a bit more of a mission but I find it’s super satisfying. It’s nice when you do a big pulled pork or brisket because you can put it on the table, [with some] rolls and different accompaniments, and folks make their own as they go, so you don’t have to sit there and build them all for everyone. It is more casual and more fun!


I find that less is more in general with entertaining, whether it be Thanksgiving or a barbecue party. Do four things really well rather than doing seven things that are okay!”

You May Also Like: How to Take Your Summer Hosting Game to the Next Level

Do you have a preference between a gas barbecue or a charcoal barbecue?

“I mean if someone else is going to build the coal fire for me, I’ll take coal every time. But it’s a lot more effort. It’s nice to have both, but I would say 90 per cent of the time I’m probably going to go with the gas grill because it’s just so much easier and more convenient. But if I’m going to be doing something where I want to invoke a lot of flavour into it, then I’m probably going to go charcoal. If I’m trying to impress some people I’ll go charcoal. There’s more flavour, just a lot more effort.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

For a chance to try Dale’s BBQ chicken caesar sliders with Kings Hawaiian, they will be available at the Toronto Zoo on May 18 and 19 and the International Children’s Festival on June 1 and 2 in Vancouver. Watch Dale on shows like Top ChefTop Chef CanadaFire Masters and Wall of Chefs on Food Network Canada. Stream Live or On-Demand with STACKTV. Try it free today!