Fire Up the Grill  

I live in a place where the winter is long and cold. For months I look forward to the three things that tell me summer is finally coming: the sight of dandelions sneaking their way into the grass, the sound of lawn mowers and the wonderful aroma of neighbors grilling their dinner.

I have to admit that firing up the grill for the first time each spring gives me a special thrill. I know in my heart that grilling will be a big piece of my life for the next few months.

Grilling in our house is more than just a way to cook or keep the heat down in the kitchen on those extra hot days when the air conditioning is running full blast. It's enjoying the outdoors and inviting our friends and relatives over more frequently.

There was a time, in the not-too-distant past, when grilling meant burning hot dogs, hamburgers or steaks. Grills were big pans with legs that you filled with charcoal, doused with lighter fluid and stood back as you threw in a match.

Thankfully, those days are gone. I'm sure they still sell those 50's and 60's state-of-the-art barbecue centers; I see people using them at football games. But nowadays, we have quick-start charcoal products. Developed no doubt by someone who'd singed their eyebrows once too often.

The contraptions, I mean grills, that you can buy today can be more expensive and gizmo-oriented than your kitchen stove. They can also be bigger than the kitchen in your first apartment.

Most of us settle for something in the middle. I favor a two-burner gas grill with a sturdy base. Although I prefer to eat something made over a charcoal grill, such as a Weber, the effort involved in preparing the coals discourages me from using the grill when all I want to make is two hot dogs or two hamburgers.

A two-burner model allows me to slow cook items. I light one half and put the meat on the other side. It's a rough equivalent to smoking.

Meals that involve your grill can be as simple or as elegant as you want. Everyone loves brats and burgers, but don't rule out other things. Racks of lamb, ribs, fish steaks, pork chops, chicken and even vegetables grill wonderfully.

Likewise, what you serve with grilled food can also be as fancy - or as simple - as you wish. Something I often do is say, "We're grilling chicken Saturday. You're invited if you bring salad and chips for eight." The next call that I make I say, "Bring a cooler, a bag of ice and dessert." You get the idea. It works like a charm.

Victoria Day and Memorial Day are just around the corner. Pick up that phone and call a few folks you haven't seen all winter. Invite them over.

And by all means, fire up the grill.