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Become a grill master: 5 tips for better BBQ

Win Labor Day weekend with the finest grilled meats.

Matt Elliott/CNET

I grill all year round, including in the dead of winter in New England. After shoveling out my driveway after a snowstorm, I shovel my back patio to keep my Weber grill accessible. I understand, however, that grilling for most is merely a summertime pursuit. If Labor Day weekend in the US might be your last cookout of the year, use these tips to do it up right this weekend (And of course, these tips are applicable wherever and whenever in the world you may be cooking up something tasty).

1. Clean your grill

Before you grill, it's a good idea to clean your grill. Your grilled meats will taste better, and your grill will last longer. Plus, you'll be less likely to lose your eyebrows the next time you fire up your grill. Those nasty bits stuck to your grill grate can cause flare-ups that are not only dangerous but can also give an off flavor to your food. Let Brian Bennett be your guide to give your grill a thorough cleaning.

2. Check propane levels

I'm a charcoal-grill man, myself, but if a gas grill is your tool of choice, then you need to make sure that you've got enough gas in the tank to get you through your next cookout. Taylor Martin knows three ways to check how much propane you have left.

For charcoal grills, I cannot recommend a charcoal chimney highly enough as your fire starter. Put away the lighter fluid and pick yourself up a chimney starter. It gets your coals ready on the quick, and your food won't hit your plate with a faint taste of gasoline.

charcoal-chimeny

A good grill = tasty dinner!

Weber

3. Non-stick trick

There are few things more frustrating when grilling than attempting to get some nice grill marks seared into your food and then having your food stick. You lose that crisp crust, and your food comes off the grill looking like it lost a fight. Thankfully, there's a quick and easy way to make your grill a non-stick surface.

4. Direct vs. indirect heat

Whether you are cooking with gas or charcoal, you can create separate zones where you have direct and indirect heat. For larger pieces of meat, using indirect heat lets you fully cook it without burning it to a crisp.

two-zone-fire

Finish cooking chicken wings over indirect heat after getting the skin good and crispy over the coals.

Matt Elliott/CNET

On a charcoal grill when your coals are ready, pour them out of your charcoal chimney onto one side of your grill. Now, you've got yourself a two-zone fire. You can sear your food over the coals and move it to the other side to cook more slowly. Or if you want to throw some asparagus or veggie kabobs on after grilling your protein, you can move it to the indirect side to keep it warm while your veggies cook. Make sure you move your meat off the coals a little before it's done because it'll continue to cook on the indirect-heat side of the grill.

On a gas grill, you can create a two-zone fire by turning on only half of your grill. As a charcoal-grill evangelist, however, I must tell you that you'll get better results if you ditch the propane-powered grill for a charcoal grill, a chimney starter and a bag of Kingsford briquettes.

5. Turn your grill into a smoker

Indirect heat is also great for smoking meat. When cooking ribs, a pork shoulder, brisket or chicken, I like to add some wood chunks -- hickory or apple wood -- to the coals to turn my Weber grill into a smoker. For a big pork shoulder or a beef brisket, I bank the coals on either side of the grill and put an aluminum pan in the middle to catch the drippings in order to keep my grill clean. The middle of your grill is then the spot for indirect heat. 

pork-butt

Smoking a pork shoulder for pulled-pork sandwiches.

Matt Elliott/CNET

For a big piece of meat that will be smoking for hours, you don't need direct heat at all to get a good sear -- especially if you use a dry rub that includes a little brown sugar. Just bank your coals, add some wood chunks, place your meat in the middle over the pan, cover your grill with the vents on the hood opened slightly and wait -- delicious smoked meat is only a few hours away.

Happy grilling!