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Whether you fire up the grill regularly or have dust collecting on your grilling tongs, here are some tips to help you brush up on your grilling skills.

Gas vs. charcoal.

For many, it’s a matter of preference. Gas is often easier and faster to get going, while charcoal produces a smokier taste that many people prefer.

Use a chimney starter with charcoal.

This will make starting a charcoal fire a breeze. Just place crumpled paper in the bottom of the chimney, then fill it with charcoal and light the paper. In about 20 minutes, the coals will be ready to spread evenly in the bottom of the grill — no kindling, lighter fluid or perfect pyramid required.

Get it hot.

Preheat your grill 15 to 25 minutes before you start cooking to make sure it reaches the right temperature (and to kill any bacteria). Your grill should be 400 to 450 F for high, 350 to 400 F for medium-high, 300-to 350 F for medium and 250 to 300 F for low heat. A properly heated grill sears food on contact. While searing doesn’t “seal in” the juices (contrary to popular belief), it does create improved flavors through caramelization.

Try the hand test.

To gauge the temperature of a grill without a thermometer, place your open palm about 5 inches above the grill rack; the heat is high if you have to move your hand in 2 seconds, medium if you have to move your hand in 5 seconds and low if you have to move your hand in 10 seconds.

Brush it off.

It’s easier to remove debris when the grill is hot, so after preheating, use a long-handled wire grill brush to remove charred debris from your grill rack. Even on a clean grill, lean foods may stick when placed directly on the rack. Reduce sticking by greasing your hot grill rack with a vegetable oil-soaked paper towel held with tongs. (Do not use cooking spray on a hot grill.) Scrape again immediately after use.

Stay safe.

Food safety is a top priority, so keep these simple rules in mind: Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards, utensils and platters for raw and cooked foods; refrigerate foods while marinating; and never baste with the marinating liquid. (Make extra marinade just for basting or boil your marinating liquid first.)

Make use of a grill basket.

If you’re cooking foods that might fall through the grill rack or are too cumbersome to turn over one by one (such as vegetables, fish, tofu and fruit), place them in a grill basket set on top of the grill rack. Simply pick up the whole basket when foods are done.

Tame the flames.

Flare-ups happen when fat drips onto the heat source and catches fire. This causes carcinogenic PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) to form and accumulate on your food. Meat licked by flames also tastes “off,” and flames may char the outside of food before the inside has thoroughly cooked. To reduce flare-ups, select lean cuts of meat, trim excess fat and remove poultry skin. Keep a squirt bottle of water near the grill to quickly douse any unexpected flare-ups.

Give it a rest.

Before carving, let finished meats rest for about 10 minutes on a clean platter, tented with foil, so juices can redistribute evenly.

(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)

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