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

By Lacey N. Howard

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

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

Start cooking with a clean, hot surface. Preheat the grillbefore adding food to ensure even cooking and to reducesticking.

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

Cook whole fish, fish steaks, or fillets in a grill basket toease turning. Coat the hinged wire basket with cooking spray beforeplacing the seafood inside. If a grill basket isn't available,place seafood pieces on aluminum foil or directly on the grill rackperpendicular to the grill bars to minimize sticking. Overcookingseafood makes it dry and tasteless, so check the fish often fordoneness.

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

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

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

Long-handled tongs and spatulas are wonderful for turning hotfoods.

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

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

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

For questions about meat and poultry, call the USDA at800/535-4555.

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