Cooking out today? Here are some tips to make you king of the grill

Food cooking on a gas barbecue. Sausages, turkey burgers and corn. (Photo by: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

Traditionally the final cookout holiday of the summer, Labor Day could be your last chance to fire up the grill.

If that’s the case, let’s make sure you go out like a champ.

Here are some grilling tips from that can help make your Labor Day cookout great again.

GAS VS. CHARCOAL: WHICH DO YOU PREFER?

We’re not going to try to change your mind if you have a preference. According to Eatingwell.com, each choice has its own advantages. Team Gas Grill says propane burns cleaner and takes less time to heat, cutting down on your prep time. Team Charcoal counters that the little bit of extra time and effort it takes to get the coals burning is worth it when it comes to that bold, smoky flavor charcoal grilling provides.

If you DO go with charcoal, here’s another tip, free of charge: Instead of dousing the coals with lighter fluid — which can leave a lingering chemical taste on the food — invest in a chimney starter, which doesn’t require kindling of fluid to get the charcoal burning. Just place crumpled newspaper at the bottom, light it up, and in 20 minutes or so, the coals with be nice and hot.

Chimney starters are available at Lowes, Home Depot or similar retailers for about $15. If you’re a charcoal fan, it’s worth the investment.

GIVE YOUR GRILL TIME TO HEAT UP

EatingWell.com recommends preheating the grill for 15-20 minutes before cooking to make sure it reaches the right temperature (and to kill any bacteria). Your grill should be 400-450°F for high, 350-400°F for medium-high, 300-350°F for medium and 250-300°F for low heat.

A properly heated grill sears foods on contact, keeps the insides moist and helps prevent sticking. While searing doesn’t “seal in” the juices (contrary to popular belief ), it does create improved flavors through caramelization.

DIRTY GRILL? DON’T BE THAT GUY

Some people think leaving the remnants of the last meal you grilled on the grate adds flavor. Don’t be like those people. Once your grill is hot, take a minute to scrape the grate and keep it clean. Use a long-handled wire grill brush on your grill rack to clean off charred debris from prior meals. Scrape again immediately after use.

GRILL BASKETS ARE A SLAM DUNK

You don’t want half of your meal to slip through the grate and wind up in the fire, do you? If you’re cooking vegetables or other small items that can fall through the grate, get yourself a grill basket. In addition to keeping your food above the flames, grill baskets make it easy to flip items that are too cumbersome to turn over one at a time.

SAFETY FIRST

Food safety is important; you don’t want bacteria from raw meats making it into the finished product, do you? Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards, utensils and platters for raw and cooked foods. Make sure you refrigerate your food while marinating, and don’t baste your food on the grill with the marinating liquid. Instead, make extra marinade just for basting, or boil your marinating liquid first. To make sure your food is cooked at the proper temperature, get yourself an instant-read food thermometer — and use it.

And when you’re grilling, make sure you have a squirt-bottle of water nearby to handle any flare-ups.

GRILLING BURGERS: FAT IS YOUR FRIEND

First of all, avoid those pre-made patties that look like squashed hockey pucks. Get some ground beef and mix up your own patties, season them yourself, and watch your guests come running back for more. According to Allrecipes.com, round beef with a higher fat content adds more flavor, but you need to be careful: Your patties will shrink quite a bit during cooking, and the extra grease dripping on the flames adds potential for flareups.

And when the burgers are cooking, remember: Only turn the burgers once, and don’t flatten them with a spatula. That squeezes out all those flavorful juices.

GRILLING STEAK: DON’T BE SHY WITH THE SEASONINGS

According to ExpertGriller.com (the grilling tips website for Longhorn Steakhouse), the No. 1 secret to great grilled steak is to be bold when it comes to seasonings. ExpertGriller recommends using the Big Four: salt, pepper, granulated garlic powder and granulated onion powder.

Using plenty of seasoning is important when it comes to grilling steak, because a lot of your seasoning will fall off during the cooking process.

GRILLING CHICKEN: STAY AWAY FROM HIGH HEAT

TheKitchn.com has several pointers for grilling chicken. First, you’ve got to decide on the right cut. Whole chickens or bone-in chicken breasts take longer to cook, so if you’re pressed for time, going with boneless breasts is probably a better call. Take a couple extra minutes to pound the breasts flat; that will ensure the meat is cooked evenly and will also cut down on cooking time.

When you’re cooking, keep the meat off direct heat — and avoid high temperatures. If you’re using charcoal, pile the coals on one half of the grill, and cook the meat on the other half. If you’re going with gas, go with medium temperature instead of high.

To add some flavor, a good dry rub applied before you cook is a can’t miss option. If you’re adding sauce while the meat is cooking, baste the chicken often — and be sure to brush on some sauce at the end.

GET SOME RECIPES

From ExpertGriller.com: 7-pepper Crusted Striploin

From AllRecipes.com: Tex-Mex Burger with Cajun Mayo

From EatingWell.com: Beer-Barbecued Chicken