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Spring and summer immediately bring to mind the great outdoors and all the fun we can have in the sun. One of the greatest pleasures is outdoor cooking. Before fixing up the grill and popping on a burger, hot dog or steak, peruse some tips and tidbits.

To tenderize chicken or pork chops before barbecuing, boil them in a saucepan for 15 minutes or microwave them for two to five minutes. Then drain and marinate in barbecue sauce for 30 minutes. Now the meat is ready to barbecue.

Don't forget that you can put other foods besides meat on the grill. Try barbecuing vegetables as well. Wrap onions, corn on the cob or sliced potatoes in heavy-duty foil. Dot them with butter or margarine or even barbecue sauce, and seal the foil. Then put the package on the grill for a few minutes.

Concerned about food spoiling during your cookout? Try to avoid egg salad, potato salad and pasta dishes, especially on hot days. Also avoid mayonnaise; use butter or margarine instead.

Never buy pre-husked corn; all of its flavor will be lost with no husk on it. Grilling corn is a great idea. If you want to grill it in the husk, soak it in water for two hours to prevent it from scorching. To sweeten the corn, add 2 tablespoons brown sugar to the water. Otherwise, take it out of the husk and lay it on foil. Add butter and spices to the corn
before wrapping it up. Cook 20 to 25 minutes, rotating once.

To keep meat flat when grilling, simply cut a few small slits along the outside fatty portion. This will prevent the meat from curling toward the center. Keep a spray bottle filled with water near the grill for flame control. Simply spray a small amount of water on the fire when it becomes too high.

Use a muffin pan to hold condiments such as mustard, ketchup, relish and onions. This eliminates the need to pass around several bottles and jars.

To grill fish, use a fish grate or double aluminum foil with holes punched in it. Place a couple of lemon slices in with the fish. Leave the skin on the fish. Grill fish six to 10 minutes for every inch of its thickest part. (For example, for fish that is two inches thick, grill for 20 minutes.) If fish is frozen, brush it with oil and double the grilling time.

When cooking chicken, use indirect heat over a longer period of time. This will allow the chicken to cook through without burning it on outside. Before removing from grillcheck for doneness with meat thermometer.

When cooking beef steaks or pork chops on the grill, start with high heat in order to sear the meat. This will help the meat stay juicer. After five to seven minutes, turn the meat over, then turn the heat down to medium.

The best tool to have for grilling is a pair of tongs. Tongs eliminate scraping any burnt material from the grate onto the meat, as would happen when using a spatula. Tongs also grasp the meat firmly. Never use a fork because once you pierce the meat, the juices will flow out and cause meat to become dry. Plus, dripping juices can cause a flare-up.

What's the difference between a T-bone and a porterhouse steak?
A porterhouse has tenderloin larger than three inches. That's why a porterhouse steak costs more -- the additional tenderloin.

Safety tips:

Finding a place to put a grill in your yard can be harder than expected. It should be placed away from all flammable material, such as grass, trees and the house, and it should sit on a nonflammable surface, such as brick or concrete. Use long-handled utensils to avoid being burned -- the best protection comes from wooden handles. For protection, some people wear oven mitts that cover the whole forearm.

Always warn people nearby before starting a fire. When using lighter fluid, add it only before lighting the coals, never while they're burning. Let the fumes from the fluid burn off before adding food to the grill.

To prevent food poisoning, keep raw meat in a cooler or ice chest until right before putting on the grill. Thoroughly wash your hands and any utensil used on raw meat to prevent food poisoning. One solution is to keep a bottle of hand sanitizer next to the grill.

Grilling tips:

To prepare the fire, fill an empty milk or juice carton with charcoal and place in the bottom of the grill. Light the top of the carton. The wax lining of the carton slows its burn speed, allowing the coals to heat to the desired temperature. As the carton disintegrates, the coals spread across the bottom of the grill.

To heat coals quickly, drill a hole in the bottom of a metal pail, fill the bottom with crumpled paper and pile coals on top (figure A). Set the coals on fire and leave in the pail until they begin to turn white and embers form in the center. Being careful not to burn yourself on the hot pail, dump the coals in the grill.
Use a marinade on meat or poultry to add flavor. Or tie a bunch of rosemary or other herb of your choice with natural cooking twine (figure B); throw the bundle on the coals to cook the flavor into the meat.

Cleaning tips:

Heat the grill until the grate temperature is high enough to kill bacteria. Scrub your hot grill with a wire brush to remove buildup -- crumbled aluminum foil works just as well

First, consider the following three questions, which we'll discuss in turn:

1) Why buy a grill?

Grilling provides a convenient method to prepare delicious food for one person, an entire family, or even all your neighbors. Before you shop for a grill, consider the manner in which you will use it. Consider the number of people you will usually feed, the amount of food you will cook, the amount of time you will have to prepare the meals, and how often you plan to grill. Some people grill almost every day, and some grill for many people, entertaining friends and family. Your answer to this question will determine the size and type of grill you should select. If you anticipate occasionally cooking for several people, opt for a grill with a cooking surface big enough to feed them all!

2) Where will I use the grill?

Plan ahead to find the best grill to fit your needs. If you have limited space or plan to move the grill often, look for a lighter, portable model. Not going anywhere? You may want to look at built-in models that are stationary and let you get down to some serious grilling.

3) What kind of grill should I buy-charcoal or gas?

Recently, gas (natural gas or propane) grills have gained in popularity over charcoal (or wood-fired) grills. The choice comes down to a matter of personal preference, but some factors might influence your decision. I don't want to choose sides, so I will just give you the advantages of each type:

Charcoal Grills:

Taste.
Although gas grill owners will disagree, many charcoal grillers insist that their way simply tastes better, darn it! A Unique Experience. Many people have fond memories of growing up and grilling over fires, but this advantage goes beyond that. It's hard to express this advantage to those who have never grilled-you have to do it to appreciate it-but it's an awful lot of fun to build your fire, light it up, poke around in the charcoal to regulate heat, and all that. With gas grills, you just twist a dial, or flick a switch,
and you've got a flame.

Gas Grills:
Ease of Use. Ask a gas griller about the benefits of a gas grill and you will definitely hear about the convenience. No charcoal or lighter fluid, no waits for the coals to heat up or cool down-simply turn a dial or push a button, and a flame appears. When you finish grilling, you turn it off and don't have to worry about disposing of charcoal or ashes. Industry watchers believe that the convenience of gas grills helps explain the rapid growth of the grills' popularity. Temperature Control. Need more heat? Turn the dial. Too hot? Turn the dial. Also, you easily can maintain a constant temperature.

Now that you have an idea of the type of grill that will best suit you, compare grills by investigating the following options:

Size of the Grill.
Your options range from grills the size of a shoebox to grills the size
of a sport-utility vehicle. The size of the entire grill determines where you can put it. Don't just look at the overall dimensions, however. Look at the size of the grill's cooking surface, often expressed in square inches. Grills with similar exterior dimensions may have cooking surfaces of different sizes. Don't stop after looking at the cooking surface, however! If you plan to grill large items (maybe even your Thanksgiving turkey), consider the height of the lid if you purchase a grill that comes with a cover.

Portability.
If you buy a built-in grill, it won't go anywhere after installation unless
you move it with heavy machinery. Other grills give you the option of moving your grill about, which comes in handy if you have limited outdoor space, want to store the grill indoors, or need to escape the rain (or snow!) while grilling. Not all grills come with wheels, so compare your options. Look for sturdy wheels. Compare weights of grills.

Shelves & Workstations.
Always a favorite option of grillers, shelves and workstations will make grilling even more convenient and easy. You will have many choices, so look for the arrangement that best suits your needs. Some advice: if you have room outdoor, buy big side shelves. Shelves that are too small
aren't useful and get in the way.

Considerations for Charcoal Grill Purchasers.
These grills cook using the heat produced from charcoal, so investigate options that let you control the amount of heat and flame produced. You want to control air flow, so check and see if the grill has adjustable vents both in the lid above the cooking surface and in the charcoal pit? After cooking, how easily can you remove the ashes? If you find yourself in
the middle of cooking and realize that you need more charcoal, what can you do? Some grills have a hinged cooking surface to permit you to refuel in mid-grill.

Considerations for Gas Grill Purchasers. The popularity of gas grills presents you with many options. These grill by using propane or natural gas to heat burners that lie under the cooking surface of the grill. You want an even distribution of heat to cook large objects or several objects at once, so we recommend that you purchase a grill with two or more burners. Also, manufacturers will provide you with information on the amount of BTUs (British Thermal Units) generated by the grill, so you can get a rough estimate of the heat output, but remember that burner quality matters more than the raw amount of BTUs. You'll find deflection devices over the burners to ensure an even distribution of heat. Many grills have side burners for preparation of side courses and smaller dishes. Investigate the type of ignition system for the grill. Perhaps you start the gas and light a match, but many grills have quick-start systems that light the grill with a twist of a dial or push of a button. Some grills have glass windows in the lid so you can spy on your food, but this is a matter of preference rather than necessity.

Other Considerations. Don't forget to ask about the amount of assembly required. Some grills have built-in thermometers, and it's always a good idea to purchase a meat thermometer.