This spring’s been warmer than usual, which means the grilling season began around Easter this year rather than the “official” start date of Memorial Day.

Whether you opt for charcoal, gas or use one of those hobo grills that run on newspaper, here are a few things to keep in mind this spring/summer when grilling:

1.     Don’t buy cheap charcoal. It may be tempting to spring for that generic brand of briquettes for $1.50, but don’t. Cheap charcoal is made out of furniture shavings and includes all sorts of nasty binders. You’ll burn more than charcoal – you’ll be burning stain, lacquer and all sorts of solvents. None of which are good for you.

2.     Invest in some sheet pans. Stainless steel sheet pans can be had for less than $10 apiece at restaurant supply stores (open to the public) and perform like champs. They’re terrific to have on hand when you’re grilling multiple items with different cooking times. You can take the items off and place them on the sheet pan when they’re done, allowing you to focus on grilling rather than shuttling back and forth into your house to drop things off.

3.     And some tongs. Get at least two sets. Use one for meat and another for vegetables when grilling. The longer the better. That grill can get hot!

4.     Clean your grill. Invest in a grill brush and clean your grates before every grilling session. It just takes a few minutes and your food will thank you.

5.     Season your food. You don’t have to incorporate thirty eight spices to make a rub – you’ll be amazed at what just salt and pepper can do. There are approximately one million barbecue/grilling cookbooks out there as well as the internet if you’re interested in spicing things up incorporating more flavors. Move out of your comfort zone and try something new.

6.     Don’t overthink it. While overnight marinades are great, they require planning. Sometimes you just want to grill. A quick way to speed up this process is by rubbing the protein with just a dash of baking soda. Let it sit for 15 minutes, then rinse it off. Add your marinade or seasonings to your beef/chicken and let it sit for half an hour. The baking soda breaks down the proteins to allow your seasonings and/or marinade to quickly and thoroughly penetrate the meat. Just make sure you limit the meat’s exposure to the baking soda and you’ll be good. This approach works best with tough cuts of meat like flank steak as well as chicken breasts.

7.     Don’t grill cold meat. Let your steak, burgers, pork chops or chicken breasts come to room temperature before you throw them on the grill. Meat that’s right out of the fridge will seize up when it hits the hot grill and the final product won’t be as good as it could have been if you’d just had a little patience.

8.     Don’t be afraid of fish. Grilled fish is terrific but can be intimidating. One easy way around this is by cooking the fish in a pouch. Pull out a long strip of aluminum foil. Drizzle a little olive oil on it. Thinly slice a potato and place it on the foil. More olive oil, salt and pepper. Add a few thin onion slices and a sliced clove of garlic. Season your fish (start with something cheap like tilapia) then place the filets on top. Depending on what type of fish you’re using, you may be able to get two or even three filets on top of the potatoes. Just be sure to layer them horizontally so the package winds up fairly even in terms of height. If you have some herbs (thyme, chives, green onions, parsley, cilantro all work great), put them on top. Add a couple lemon slices if you have them. A little more olive oil and a dollop of butter. Wrap up the bundle (you’ll probably have to add more foil). Just before you seal it, add a glug of white wine (white vermouth also works) then wrap up the bundle and grill, flipping the package after about ten minutes, then cook for another five or so.

The cooking time will vary depending on your fish, but this one’s hard to screw up. The fish is poached in the wine and the steam helps cook the potatoes. It’s a terrific way to cook multiple items and is very forgiving for novice grillers.

Grilling doesn’t have to be a big event. With a little planning, preparation and patience, it’s a great excuse to throw a few back while you’re waiting for dinner to get done. A little planning can enable you to offer a great meal.

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