Better Grillin’: 5 Easy Tips for Your Summer Cookouts

It’s time to light the charcoal or fire up the gas and start your grill.

Perfectly cooked outdoor food combines a subtly smoky taste with juicy succulence that you just can’t get inside. We crave it after our long winter of stews and roasts, but how to get that perfect flavor?

Dan Marguerite knows his way around a grill. He’s co-owner of The Backyard BBQ Store in Wilmette (1147 Greenleaf Ave., 847-251-2272) where they sell, teach and taste everything barbecue. Dan has some easy tips that can make your next cookout the stuff of backyard legend.

1. Buy a meat thermometer. For less than $10 (or a lot more if you want fancy, wireless and digital), you can ensure that your meat is always perfectly cooked versus burned and dry. Want medium-rare steaks? Cook to 145 degrees. Is that chicken done? If the thigh reads 180 degrees, it’s cooked all the way through.

2. Clean the grate. You want grill marks, not gunk deposits on your food. Plus, food sticks and tears on a dirty grill. For a clean cooking surface, heat the grill, then brush the grate with a wire brush until it’s free of any build up. Then, lightly oil the grate just before putting the food on.

3. Put down the sauce. Instead of slathering your chicken or steak with a sticky barbecue sauce that has a high sugar content and will end up burned, try a rub or marinade. Lots of flavor and less char. Serve the sauce at the table or put it on your food for just the last few minutes of cooking.

4. Give it a rest. The bigger the piece of meat, the longer it needs to rest once it’s off the grill. Especially beef, lamb and pork. Give the juices 10 to 15 minutes to settle and the meat will be much juicier. It won’t be screaming hot, but every chef makes that trade-off and you should, too.

5. Accessories are your friends. Try something new this season: a basket so your veggies grill without falling into the coals or a cedar plank to add smoked flavor to fish. You can find marinade injectors and smoke boxes for gas grills. Just one small tweak can give new zing to your grilling style.