All fired up

Red-hot tips for getting your barbecue going

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Get ready for another season of smoky delights. Whether you use charcoal or gas, it’s best to do a safety check and brush up on good grilling tips before firing up the barbie.

We often use the words barbecue and grill interchangeably, but the two techniques are different. Traditionally, barbecuing is slow cooking using low temperatures from either wood or charcoal fires. Food is set at a distance from the coals and takes on a rich, smoky flavour. Charcoal is the fuel of choice for backyard barbecuing. Buy hardwood lump charcoal – available at most supermarkets and hardware stores. It burns hot and clean, and is easier to control than briquettes.

Grilling on gas barbecues uses high temperatures for fast cooking. It’s ideal for steaks, burgers, fillets and chops. Today, most gas barbecues have low settings for larger pieces of meat that require longer cooking times, such as whole chickens, big roasts and even turkeys. You can add smoker tubes to a gas grill, but food won’t take on that smoky, fire-roasted taste you get from barbecuing with charcoal. Gas grills, however, are convenient. They heat instantly, which helps time-pressed cooks meet the demand for fast meals.

You can choose from two gas grills – propane and natural gas. A propane gas barbecue has a reusable tank that opens and closes manually to release the propane for cooking. It’s best to open the valve slowly to control the flow. A natural gas barbecue is similar in function and appearance, but has no gas tank because it’s hooked directly to the natural gas line of your home. Because of this, once the barbecue is in place, it can’t be moved around. You can’t hook it up yourself; it must be installed by a certified gas fitter.

While gas grills are designed to start at the flick of a switch, charcoal barbecuing requires a bit more work. Begin by opening the lid and airing the vents. Dump out any old ashes in the catch pan underneath. The easiest way to get the fire going is to use a chimney starter (a wide metal tube with vent holes in the side and a grate in the bottom). Place it in the barbecue, then add some fire starter cubes or crumpled paper underneath the grate. Pour the charcoal into the tube. Ignite the cubes or paper. Once the fire has burned down and coals start to glow and turn white, pour them into the barbecue and spread out evenly. Remove the chimney starter. (For more barbecue information, call the Weber Grill Line at 1/800/474-5568 or visit www.weber.com.)

Every barbecue chef needs a wide metal spatula, a long-handled fork, a pair of long or short tongs and a wire or bristle scrub brush for cleaning the grate.

You will also need brushes for basting. Silicone heat-resistant varieties are very popular – or use paintbrushes reserved solely for cooking purposes. Make your own brush by tying together bunches of fresh herbs, such as thyme, sage and rosemary.

Also handy to have is an instant-read thermometer (good for large roasts), a timer (for that perfect steak), a spray water bottle (for those fiery flare-ups) and, most important, a matching apron-and-oven mitts set that says, “Kiss the cook!”

All barbecues, whether gas or charcoal, need more than a casual dusting before use.

Propane barbecue
• Clean burner tubes. Insects often build nests inside, causing blockages and ignition problems. To clean, turn gas off and remove control panel, then pull out tubes. Insert a pipe cleaner or a piece of stiff wire to clean. Reassemble.
• Replace propane hose if there are any cracks, nicks or holes in it.
Both propane and gas barbecues
• Clean or replace catch pan liner under the barbecue.
• Scrub smoke stains from lid and grease from warming rack with hot, soapy water. Rinse well.
• Remove bottom tray from the barbecue. Scrape and discard gunk, then wash. Do not line with foil, as grease can get trapped in creases and become a fire hazard.
• Never use oven cleaner. Its heavy-duty chemicals may remove paint and leave odours in food.
Charcoal barbecue
• Discard ashes from bottom of kettle. This prevents airflow difficulties when starting a fire.
• Clean often as ash collects moisture, which can cause rust.
• Scrub food grate with a wire brush. Wash inside and outside of kettle with soapy water. Rinse.
• Wash ash catcher. It’s the small circular tray just below the kettle.