A girl's guide to grilling

Intimidated by the grill? I was: Visions of burnt burgers or, worse, a burnt-down house danced through my head. Then I read these awesome grilling tips for women from Elizabeth Karmel, founder of GirlsattheGrill.com and GrillFriends.com, author of Soaked, Slathered, and Seasoned: A Complete Guide to Flavoring Food for the Grill, and executive chef at New York's Hill Country barbecue restaurant. Use these seven tips for everything from lighting the grill to figuring out when the burgers are good and ready:

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1. Charcoal versus Gas

There are two kinds of grills: charcoal and gas. If you're looking to buy a grill, here's how to decide which type you want:

Charcoal. If you like the hands-on experience of building a fire and can wait 30 minutes for the coals to be ready, charcoal is for you.

* Requires building, starting, and maintaining the fire

* Requires disposing of ashes and cleaning the grill

* Portable

* Costs less initially, but charcoal has to be purchased for each cookout

Gas. If you like being able to push a button and be ready to grill in 15 minutes, gas is for you.

* Preheats in 15 minutes

* Low-maintenance fire

* Easy to light and control cooking temperature

* Easy to operate and clean

* Costs more initially but is inexpensive to maintain

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2. Your Shopping List

Charcoal. For charcoal grill owners, this is essential. You can find it packaged at your local supermarket, home goods store, or drugstore.

Skewers. Skewering makes it simple to cook shrimp, vegetables, chunks of meat, and other small items. We recommend using inexpensive bamboo skewers; just soak them in water for 30 minutes to keep them from burning.

Tongs. Use two pairs. Mark one pair with red tape (red = stop) and reserve it for handling raw food. Mark the other with green tape (green = go) and use it for cooked food. This will help prevent cross-contamination.

Food. Get whatever grub you want to grill!

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3. How to Light the Fire

Lighting the fire is the first, most basic step in outdoor cooking, yet many people are confused by it. Here's a step-by-step guide:


* Remove the lid, and open all air vents.

* Mound 50 to 60 charcoal briquettes into a pyramid-shaped pile.

* Place either nontoxic fire starters or crumbled newspaper under the briquettes and light.

* When the briquettes are covered with a white-gray ash (usually 20 to 30 minutes), arrange them in a single layer.


* Open the lid. Check that all burner control knobs are turned off and your LP tank is not empty.

* Turn the LP gas tank on.

* Light the grill according to the manufacturer's instructions, using either the igniter or a match, if necessary. Generally, only one burner should be turned on for ignition. Once the fire has started, other burners can be turned on.

* Close the lid and preheat all burners on high until the thermometer reaches the maximum heat-more than 500°F to 550°F. This will take 10 to 20 minutes. Before cooking, adjust burner controls and lower the heat as the recipe directs.

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4. Key Ingredients

Meet the Grilling Trilogy: olive oil, salt, and pepper. This simple trio will flavor just about anything you can grill. Use it with the best-quality raw ingredients, and everything that you grill will be delicious. Remember, in most cases-in life and in cooking-less is more; the Grilling Trilogy is the epitome of that.

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5. Is It Done Yet?

Besides lighting the grill, figuring out when the food is done, much less perfectly prepared, makes many cooks quiver in their flip-flops. Not to worry; arm yourself with these two tools (both are inexpensive!):

A timer. Set it for the number of minutes you think the food will need before turning. Base this estimate on your recipe or past experience.

An instant-read thermometer. Use it to check the internal temperature to see if your timing is correct. Remember, grilling is much more of an art than a science, and cooking times will vary slightly based on many factors, including wind, thickness of food, starting temperature of food (refrigerator cold versus room temperature), grill preheating time, and fire temperature. Once you get the hang of it, you'll realize that the mystery is part of the game and what makes grilling so much fun!

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6. Grilling Dos and Don'ts


* Keep the air vents open, or else the fire will go out.

* Make sure charcoal briquettes are gray-ashed before cooking.

* Control flare-ups with a closed lid, not a spray bottle filled with water.

* Use an instant-read thermometer, the only fail-safe way to test for doneness. The thermometer reads the internal temperature of meat and poultry in a matter of seconds.


* Peek under the lid; every time you lift the lid, heat escapes and cooking time increases.

* Add volatile fuel to the fire; this means no lighter fluid. Use either crumbled newspaper or fire starter cubes.

* Flip food more than once unless a recipe specifies it.

* Pierce meat with a fork; this lets all the precious juices and flavor escape.

7. How to Tame the Flame

The quickest way to extinguish flare-ups is to put the lid on the grill. The lid will reduce the amount of oxygen that feeds the fire, thus limiting or snuffing out any flare-ups. Don't be tempted to use a water bottle to extinguish flare-up flames. When the water hits the hot cooking grates and the flames, it can splatter, burning you and/or cracking the grill's porcelain enamel finish.

Excerpt from Soaked, Slathered, and Seasoned: A Complete Guide to Flavoring Food for the Grill by Elizabeth Karmel reprinted courtesy of Wiley.

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