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Grilling for beginners

MILES PARKS, HOST:

No long holiday weekend is complete without a feast - ideally, one that's grilled and charred over an open flame. Hamburgers, hot dogs and corn on the cob all signal that it's time to relax. But if grilling itself is not relaxing for you, Ruth Tam from NPR's Life Kit has some tips for you.

RUTH TAM, BYLINE: For those of us who are used to cooking indoors, the idea of grilling can feel intimidating - chaotic, even. But don't worry. If you're new, start by choosing a grill. Generally, you have a choice of gas or charcoal. Here's food writer Jess Larson. She's the founder of Plays Well With Butter.

JESS LARSON: A gas grill will pre-heat really quickly, and the beauty of a gas grill is that the machine kind of takes care of a lot of the guesswork for you. You just set the dials to whatever your recipe calls for, and it manages the temperatures. And that's why I think that for many beginner grillers, gas is a great place to start.

TAM: Keep in mind, gas grills can be pricey. Charcoal grills, on the other hand, are cheaper. And not only that, they impart a lot of the classic charcoal flavor associated with grilling into your food. But they can take a little while to get used to.

LARSON: Managing a charcoal flame requires just a little bit of experience. There's just a little bit of a steeper learning curve associated with it.

TAM: If you're using a charcoal grill, how do you make up for the lack of easy temperature control? Jess says the key to managing heat on a charcoal grill is to create temperature zones.

LARSON: Based on how you arrange the charcoal in the bottom of your grill, you can create a super high, hot zone of temperature if you kind of, like, stack all of the charcoal on top of each other off to the side. And then whatever area of the grill grate isn't over that or is further away from that stack of charcoal then becomes a cooler temperature zone.

TAM: Moving food around these temperature zones will mimic the experience of lowering the flame on a stovetop. Jess says you don't have to do everything the hard way. There are a number of shortcuts you can use to take the stress out of learning to grill.

LARSON: There are some types of charcoal that are, like, a quick-light charcoal that you don't need to use lighter fluid with because that's how the charcoal is designed to ignite easily. And I think that's a great place to start for a beginner.

TAM: Wherever you are in your mission to grill, safety first. Read your owner's manual.

LARSON: It's always a good idea to have a fire extinguisher on hand and just the knowledge that, you know, air feeds flames. And when in doubt, close the lid, and let the fire die out on its own.

TAM: Now for the fun part - figuring out what to make.

LARSON: At my house, you'll often find me grilling up sweet potatoes, grilling up cauliflower steaks, grilling up mushrooms and making things like a veggie board for entertaining or, like, tacos for just, like, a weeknight dinner. Something else that's really fun to grill during the summer months is stone fruit just because it's so beautiful and it's so in season. But you'll want to look for a slightly less ripe peach, for example, or nectarine, and just give it a quick kiss over really high heat, and the sugars begin to caramelize.

TAM: Above all, grilling is about getting outside and making food you enjoy with people you love. Have fun with it. For more from NPR's Life Kit, go to npr.org/lifekit. For NPR News, I'm Ruth Tam.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAR-B-Q")

WENDY RENE: (Singing) I smell something in the air. You know it smells like barbecue. If I had some, I wouldn't care because I like barbecue. Well, I like barbecue. You like barbecue. We like barbecue. You know I sure like barbecue. Sister's out back sitting in the swing... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.