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Welcome, summer! The summer solstice arrives on Sunday, June 21st, right around conjunction-junction time for the planets Venus and Mars. And you don't have to remember much Greek mythology to know that when the sensual goddess of love swings close to the butched-out, rough n' tough god of war, sparks will fly!
Between the sun worship of the solstice (since the solstice marks the longest day and shortest night of the whole year) and the fiery energies of Mars and Venus, this weekend means you're going to be a hot child in the city, wherever you happen to live. And what does that mean in the kitchen? Get grilling, honey!
Now is the perfect time to grab the charcoal, throw some cold ones in a cooler, and get those flames ignited. So, a few grilling tips for all you grillmasters out there:
Start early. Getting a good, solid bed of charcoal up to grilling temperature can take a good 45 minutes or so. (You want your coals glowing red under a good coating of white ash, without visible flames.) So why do most folks wait until the hummus bowl has been sucked dry and guests are starting to gnaw on their own arms before finally lighting a match? Pasta salad and celery sticks are perfectly nice, but your friends came over for the grilling. Don't make them wait til halfway through the party to finally get a piece of chicken.
Taste the food, not the lighter fluid. Steak, hamburger, tofu skewers, shrimp kababs: all these things taste yummy, yummy, yummy. You know what doesn't taste good? Lighter fluid! And yet, too many people splash that stuff around like it's gravy and the coals are mashed potatoes. You can avoid it altogether by starting your coals in a chimney, basically a tall metal cylinder. Stuff newspaper in the bottom, pour coals on top. Light the paper, and the coals will get burning in no time. Once they're hot, pour in your grill and they'll get the rest of the coals smoking fast. Quick, easy, and best of all, no toxic flammable liquids needed.
Don't mix the raw and the cooked. That plate you brought out, full of raw chicken? It's covered in raw-chicken ooze. Send it right back to the kitchen to get washed in hot soapy water. Never put cooked food (especially meat, poultry, or fish) back onto the same plate or cutting board as raw. Discard any marinade that raw food has been soaking in, too. If you're marinating, save a portion of the marinade in a separate bowl before you pour the rest over your raw chicken. Use this reserved portion to brush over the meat as it cooks.