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Do you want to master the art of the grill? Meat cooked to perfection, fish pulled off at just the right point, juicy chicken with crispy skin? Here is a primer to great grilling.

First comes the choice between gas or charcoal. Gas is convenient. You can use the indirect method (turning off one burner) to make an oven-type interior that roasts and bakes almost perfectly. Adding a tray of mesquite or other wood will provide a smoky barbecue taste. I use a Weber grill, which I have had for years without any issues. Napoleon also makes excellent grills. Buy one with three or four burners for better control over cooking, but skip things like infrared; you will likely never use it. Stainless steel or coated carbon steel are the best.

A charcoal grill creates a smokier taste and can get hotter than many gas grills. It is also easier to maintain the heat, as you build a fire the size you need. I find it gives a better seared and crusty exterior to the meat, but it needs attention and takes longer to heat up. True aficionados believe charcoal is better and I do love the taste of meat from a charcoal grill, however, I prefer the efficiency of gas.

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Cooking 101: Lucy Waverman decodes cooking techniques everyone can master

For safe and effective grilling, here are my suggestions.

  • For safety when turning off the barbecue, first turn the gas off from the tank and then from the barbecue to allow the gas to clear the lines.
  • To check whether your gas is running low, pour boiling water over the tank and run your hand down the side to feel for a cool spot. The top of the cool spot tells you the fill level of the tank.
  • For a gas barbecue, preheat the grill for 15 minutes, then give it a quick brush to remove any lingering debris. Food will have less chance of sticking.
  • Invest in gloves and tongs, using long, wooden-handled equipment to prevent burning yourself.
  • Get an excellent scraper to clean the barbecue. It’s helpful to occasionally use the foil method: Cover the grates with aluminium foil. Heat the BBQ for 10 minutes, then open and remove foil. Crumple up the foil and use it to remove the debris.
  • Always have two spray bottles handy: one with oil to lubricate the meat, another with water to douse any flames.
  • Oil the meat, not the grill. Oil before you season, or you’ll end up brushing the seasoning off. Alternatively, apply via spray bottle.
  • Grill with the lid down to keep the temperature from fluctuating. This will also help to prevent flareups and is the only way to keep some of the good smokiness.
  • Use direct heat with items that take less than 20 minutes. Use indirect heat (shutting down one burner or moving coals to one side) for anything that takes longer. Don’t crowd the grill – the more items you have to flip when you open it, the more the heat will go down.
  • Last, use a quality thermometer to check for doneness. I like the Thermapen (available online or at barbecue stores), which gives an instant read. You can also use the finger test: If the meat feels spongy it is not ready; if it is hard you have overcooked it.

I’ll have more tips in a couple of weeks.

Need some advice about kitchen life and entertaining? Send your questions to lwaverman@globeandmail.com.

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