After months indoors, it’s warm enough to straggle out of the kitchen and open up summer’s second stovetop: the grill.

Some of us try to barbecue straight through the winter since it’s such a yummy—not to mention macho—style of cooking. For those who’ve been on hiatus or are just starting out, here are a few tips that will keep you in the slow burn.

Before you start, get domestic and clean the grate with a stiff wire brush. Also, spray the grate with oil or—what’s really a secret trick—rub it with a piece of fatty bacon, beef fat or chicken skin.

Prep saves time and helps in the long run. So, have everything necessary on hand before you start grilling. It’s never a joyful assistant who is sent out to the store at the last minute.

Start with good ingredients, and make your own marinades. These can make or break the entire meal. Remember, a sugary marinade will burn faster than one made with oil-and-vinegar, citrus and yogurt. These condiments can be brushed on the meat throughout the cooking time, too.

Make sure you have enough gas or charcoal. If you are using charcoal, light a small bed early. The rule of thumb is to form a bed three times larger than the size of the food being cooked. Let it burn until covered with a thin coat of gray ash.

Grilling on a gas grill, fondly called in some spots a “wimp grill” (Editor’s note: No judgement here), is a high heat cooking method. You can add flavor to gas-grilled food by introducing wood chips, such as mesquite, maple, cherry or alder, to the inside of the grill or in a foil packet on top. To get those appetizing sear marks, grill at around 500 degrees. For indirect grilling, aim for 350 degrees.

Larger cuts of meat such as a leg of lamb require a more indirect method of grilling. But don’t lift the lid: Peeking can add five to 10 minutes to the cooking time.

The experts say the proper way to turn meat on a grill is with tongs or a spatula, rather than stabbing. Stabbing can drain away all those yummy juices.

Grilled food tastes better if it stands for a few minutes before serving. This way, the all-important juices, assuming you haven’t—gasp—overcooked, can disperse through the meat and return to the surface.

Big point here: Once something is sizzling on the grill, hang around. Let someone else fix the drinks.

To try something different this year, grill Italian style. Essentially, the Italians build a nice fire, then cook over the smoldering wood, or charcoals. No flame touches the food. It’s a slow cooking style but intensely flavorful—just make sure it’s allowed under local fire restrictions first.

Also, never return meat—poultry especially—to the marinade. If you want to have a sauce for the cooked meal, make a new one, or save some aside from the original marinade before putting it on the meat.

So there you go. Now, get outside. Experiment. Make the meal your own. And, most importantly, happy grilling.

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