Grilling 101

With a few helpful hints and a little practice, you'll perfect cooking on the barbie.

Wash hands thoroughly with hot soapy water before and after handling raw seafood, meat, and poultry.

For charcoal grills, use chimney-type starters to help coals heat quickly with a match and a few pieces of newspaper. Or use an electric charcoal lighter with a heating element.

Start cooking with a clean, hot surface. Preheat the grill before adding food to ensure even cooking and to reduce sticking.

Add salt after the food has been cooked; otherwise, it will dry the meat.

Cook whole fish, fish steaks, or fillets in a grill basket to ease turning. Coat the hinged wire basket with cooking spray before placing the seafood inside. If a grill basket isn't available, place seafood pieces on aluminum foil or directly on the grill rack perpendicular to the grill bars to minimize sticking. Overcooking seafood makes it dry and tasteless, so check the fish often for doneness.

Kebabs anyone? Grill small pieces of seafood, beef, veggies, and chicken on wooden skewers. To prevent burning the skewers, soak them in water for at least 30 minutes before preparing.

Test for doneness. Instant-read and digital thermometers with forklike prongs are available at kitchen and home-supply stores. Best used on cuts at least 1 inch thick, they should be inserted into the thickest portion. Chicken breasts should be cooked to 170 degrees, thighs to 180 degrees, and beef to 160 degrees (medium). Fish should flake at its thickest part, chicken should have no pink areas, and beef juices should run clear.

Pastry or basting brushes made of natural bristles (rather than nylon) are handy for dabbing on marinades and sauces.

Long-handled tongs and spatulas are wonderful for turning hot foods.

Grilling in the dark? Use a flashlight instead of a brighter outdoor fixture to cut down on bugs near the grill.

Keep a spray bottle filled with water nearby to control flare-ups or stray sparks. Be careful not to douse the fire.

Clean the grate with a wire brush after every use. A hot grate is easier to scrape than a cold one.

For questions about meat and poultry, call the USDA at 800/535-4555.

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