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The Art of the Grill Fire

Answers to your burning questions about barbecue

Summer barbecue season is in full swing but occasionally the grill cook rests the spatula and ponders the art and science of the grill fire, asking such deep questions as: gas or charcoal? What's the optimum temperature for "sure-fire" grilling results?

There's no one answer to these questions, according to The Washington Post. But one immutable fact is that most barbecue grills are crude tools compared to the "smart technology" in today's kitchen, especially when it comes to temperature control. The charcoal griller resorts to shuffling food between hotter or cooler spots on the rack, while the gas griller has the advantage of being able to adjust the flame.

Back to the gas vs. charcoal debate. First, you have to know that charcoal is a different fuel from charcoal briquettes. Charcoal is chunks of hardwood that have been super-heated in a rarified, oxygen-free environment to obtain a pure carbon fuel that burns slowly, quietly and cleanly. Manufactured from sawdust, wood scraps and coal dust, briquettes on the other hand are a cheaper, slightly smokier alternative to charcoal that can affect the taste of food.

There are some tricks to avoiding that funky fuel aftertaste in your food. If you use lighter fluid to start your charcoal, wait about a minute after applying before lighting. This will allow most of the fumes to be absorbed. Actually, the best grill- starting methods from an environmental or taste standpoint are the chimney starters and electric loop starters which allow you to avoid fuelish fumes altogether.

Gas is at the cleanest end of the fuel spectrum, ie., propane or natural gas. Gas fuels produce essentially nothing but carbon dioxide and water during burning, which allows for the taste of what you're grilling to come through.

One last reminder: ALWAYS avoid carbon monoxide poisoning by NEVER grilling indoors or in enclosed spaces.