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The barbecue is where a lot of Canadians gather around during July 1 festivities.RossHelen/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

It’s Canada Day weekend, and, like many, my family’s tradition is to have a barbecue. Before the pandemic, it was an elaborate affair, but life is much simpler now, and so is the food we prepare. Here are 12 hacks and hints to make your barbecue less stressful and just as delicious.

  1. If your meat is frozen, speed up the defrosting process by laying the meat, chicken or fish on a stainless-steel sheet. It defrosts in less than half the time.
  2. If your grill is dirty, and you don’t have a brush, clean it with aluminum foil scrunched into a ball.
  3. Have two spray bottles on hand – one filled with water to douse flare-ups; the other with oil so you can spray the top of your ingredients before turning. Always remember to oil everything before it goes on the grill to prevent sticking.
  4. Practise good food safety: Bring your meat out on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or foil. Once the meat is on the grill, reverse the paper so that you can lay the cooked meat back on.
  5. Use a thermometer to check the internal temperature. The finger touch method is great, but only if you know what the various levels of doneness feel like.
  6. If you are making kebabs, use two parallel skewers for each piece of protein or veggie, to keep them from flipping around. Remember to soak wooden skewers in water so they don’t burn.
  7. If you want to grill tougher cuts of meat such as a brisket or spareribs, slow cook them the day before (three hours for ribs, six for brisket). Then, 30 minutes before serving, blast them with medium-high heat, brush with sauce, then slice into serving portions. If the sauce has sugar, use about 10 minutes before removing, because sugar burns.
  8. The best cut of chicken for the grill is skinless, boneless thighs or breasts. A whole chicken is fantastic, but it’s easier – and faster – to barbecue if it’s spatchcocked. Remove the backbone and breastbone so that the chicken lies flat on the grill. (Not all butchers remove the breastbone, so ask). Grill skin side up.
  9. Fish works like a charm, if it’s on the bone. The bones help it cook quickly and not fall apart when turned.
  10. For boneless fillets, a fish basket allows the fish to be turned easily. Leave the skin on, and remove after cooking, if desired. If you don’t have a fish basket, line up slices of fennel, lemon or onion on the grill – make sure they are the same size or bigger than the fillet – and lay the fish on top. You can discard the vegetables after grilling or serve them on the side.
  11. All vegetables can be grilled, even ones you may not have considered. Little Gem lettuce is a winner on the barbecue, and can be tossed before serving with parmesan, a Caesar-like dressing and anchovies. Sturdy greens such as rapini or broccolini are excellent simply brushed with a little olive oil and seasoning. Watch them carefully – they only take about four minutes on a hot grill turned several times.
  12. Desserts also have a place on the barbecue. One sure hit is a grilled peanut butter and jam sandwich. Use your favourite banana bread recipe or make it even easier with a store-bought loaf.

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Grilled Peanut Butter and Jam Sandwiches

1 loaf banana bread

½ cup peanut butter, other nut butter or tahini

½ cup mascarpone or thick yogurt

¼ cup soft butter

Slice banana bread into eight thick slices. Combine peanut butter and mascarpone. The mixture should be spreadable but not runny. Adjust as needed. Divide peanut butter mixture between four slices of bread and spread evenly. Top with remaining sliced bread, and butter the outside. Grill about two minutes per side on a medium heat. Cut into two triangles, and serve with ice cream. Serves four or eight.

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