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Summer Entertaining

Everything You Need to Know Before You Fire Up the Grill This Summer

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Sofia Vergara/Instagram

Whether you’re a barbecue pro or just learning how to light the burners, you can still up your grilling game before Memorial Day weekend.

Steven Raichlen, the author of Barbecue Sauces, Rubs and Marinades and professor of grilling at the Barbecue University, gives his best tips for perfectly cooked meats and vegetables.

1. Follow the “Grill Master’s Mantra”

“Keep it hot, keep it clean, keep it lubricated,” Raichlen tells PEOPLE in the new Summer Grilling issue, on newsstands Friday. “Start with a hot grill grate — hold your hand over it and if you can’t get to three Mississippi before you say ouch, that’s a hot fire. Clean it either with a wooden scraper, or a metal brush, and then you lubricate it with a tightly-folded paper towel dipped in oil and brushed across with a pair of tongs.”

“This should be routine,” he adds. “It’s good grill prep, and good hygiene.”

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2. Use indirect heat

Instead of building your fire in the middle of grill, keep flames to the sides, and place proteins in the cooler center. “It’s brilliant for any large piece of meat like a whole chicken, or a fatty pork shoulder,” because they’ll stay moist after a longer cooking time, Raichlen explains.

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3. Don’t overcrowd the grill

Raichlen says this is the biggest mistake people make. “You see people covering every square inch of the grill with chicken pieces. If one piece catches on fire they all do, and you have no place to move the chicken, and they burn to a crisp and the fire department gets called. Not a happy end to your barbeque!”

“Keep 25 percent of the grill food-free,” he suggest, “so you can move everything around. On a gas grill, you can leave one burner off, and on a charcoal grill you can keep the charcoal to one side.”

4. Layer the flavor

Start with a barbecue rub (Raichlen likes a mix of salt, pepper, paprika and brown sugar) before you add your meat to the grill. Once it’s on, baste the proteins with extra-virgin olive oil or a compound butter to keep it moist, and top it all with a barbecue sauce when you take it off the grill.

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5. Raft your vegetables

Avoid dropping skinny vegetables down grill grates by pinning four or five of them together with skewers or toothpicks. “It’s much easier to turn four ‘rafts’ than 20 asparagus stalks!” Raichlen says.