The Grilling Playbook: What You Need for a Successful Cookout

As the days get longer, and the temperatures get warmer, we are seized by the urge to light up the grill and host a cookout.

Grilling and eating outdoors - with a group of your favorite people, of course - just makes food taste better. The sweet-and-smoky flavors of this grilled chicken recipe are more intense, for example.

Whether you have a fully equipped outdoor kitchen, or a freestanding grill on the porch, cookouts are a great way to bring a little spring into your life. And this guide helps you make the most of grilling season.

" ... make the most of grilling season."

Do You Use Charcoal or Gas? Both charcoal and gas have their advantages. Charcoal grills burn hotter than gas grills and are easier to use for smoking. However, charcoal grills require more preparation time because you have to heat the coals before you begin the cooking. Gas grills light instantly and offer steady, adjustable heat. For a quick meal, gas is best. If you have the time, charcoal gives a little more "grilled" flavor to the food.

In general, gas grills take approximately 10 minutes to preheat, whereas charcoal grills take about 20 minutes. Build that into cooking time for dishes such as this grilled pork chop recipe, which takes 10 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to cook.

Do You Have the Right Tools? A grilling fork, basting brush, meat thermometer and spatula are essential. Don't forget the tongs to help flip the meat in this marinated steak recipe. An oven mitt and drip pan - for soaking wood chips or as a "tent" for food that should be covered when it's on the grill - are also useful.

Do You Cook Over Direct or Indirect Heat? To achieve grilling success, it's important to understand the difference between cooking with direct or indirect heat. When you use direct heat, you place the food on the grill right over the fire. It's an ideal way to cook burgers, steaks, hot dogs and skewered meats such as this chicken kebob recipe. This method is relatively quick and leaves its signature grill marks on the food.

When you use indirect heat, you place the food away from the fire. It's a slower method that's ideal for cooking large or tough pieces of meat. It takes approximately 30 minutes to cook the food. You must also leave the grill covered when using indirect heat.

Do You Know Basic Grilling Safety? Set the grill on level ground and position it at least 10 feet away from any structure. Always have a dry chemical fire extinguisher on hand and know how to use it. Once you've fueled the flames, pay close attention to where children and pets are; keep them away and never leave the grill unattended.

Celebrate these warm, sunny months with family and friends! Whether at the park or a backyard barbecue, enjoy the deliciously unique taste of grilled food.

Meet Sandy Coughlin

View all articles by this author