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posted: 6/23/2010 12:01 AM

Whether beginner or pro, it's time for a grilling refresher course

Lean and Lovin' It

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The granddaddy of all cookout holidays is rapidly approaching, so whether you're a seasoned pro or a newbie, a refresher course in Grilling 101 will help ensure success.

Let's begin with the difference between barbecue and grilling.

Barbecue cooks low (heat) and slow (long time) with rubs, injected marinades, mops (thin, but big-flavored vinegar-based liquid), smoke and sauces play important roles. Generally, barbecue uses large pieces of meat like full slabs of beef ribs, whole turkeys and hogs. Patience is a virtue and time is your friend.

Grilling, on the other hand, goes hot and fast. Searing (browning) first over higher heat then finishing over lower heat to cook the interior. Searing does not seal-in the juices. You want to keep meat juicy? Let it rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Before we talk about what to grill, let's talk equipment.

I've used both gas grills and charcoal models and while I appreciate gas for its of ease, I favor charcoal for its flavor-enhancing qualities.

Don't be tempted by bargain grills. Their light weight makes them easy to transport, but that also makes them hard to cook on. They might have flimsy grates, they don't retain heat evenly, they can tip over too easily.

If you're on budget, buy a small Weber Smokey Joe. You won't be able to cook for a backyard full of guests on the small surface, but what you learn on this sturdy grill will apply when you graduate to a full-size version. If you find you really like grilling, upgrade when grills go on sale at the end of the season.

I've owned kettle-style grills for over two decades: they're well-made, sturdy and easily adapt for direct or indirect grilling. The only thing I don't like is the fixed distance between coals and grill rack.

Charcoal grills also require a little work before you're ready to cook. If you don't want to wait an hour for the coals to glow, I suggest buying a chimney starter. I've tried all kinds of charcoal starters and have found a charcoal chimney (a steel tube with holes at the bottom) to be fast and earth-friendly - no petroleum-based lighter fluid needed, just newspaper.

Gas grills, admittedly, are easier to fire up: simply light the burners, set them to High, close the cover and in 10 minutes it's hot and ready to cook. For gas grill recommendations, head to Consumer Reports for its 2010 ratings.

Your trusty kitchen tongs or a spatula can work for grilling, but their handles are usually too short to keep your arms and hands safely away from the heat and flames. Look for long-handled tools and extra long oven mitts for optimum protection.

Here are three more tools to add to your grill station: a fire extinguisher, an instant-read digital thermometer and a grill brush. The first will help you put out an accidental fire, the second will reliably tell you when to take food off your grill and the third will keep your grill grate clean.

And let's not forget to always keep pets and children away from your grill area as the body of the grill can reach nearly 500 degrees. Place your grill well away - at least 10 feet - from anything flammable, including wooden decking and patio furniture. If its an especially windy day, consider not grilling; no one wants sparks flying around and the wind can make it difficult to control the flames.

Finally, buy a grilling book written for beginners. Temperature charts, along with loads of tips and helpful tricks will quickly escalate your grilling skills. Save those fancy grilling "bibles" for when you're ready to graduate to grill master.

Try this recipe: Pork tenderloin is a lean cut that when cooked right (read not overcooked) produces tender, juicy results. Marinating adds the perfect flavor notes.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at don@theleanwizard.com.

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