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Great grilling

Cedar-planked salmon on a charcoal grill. photo:

In San Francisco, we often enjoy our warmest weather in September — the ideal time (though our mild climate really allows us to cook outdoors year-round) to host a backyard barbecue for friends and family. If you are in the market for a grill, you have the choice of a gas, charcoal, or ceramic grill, and each has its benefits. Choose the grill that best fits your lifestyle.


Foods can be more flavorful when cooked over natural wood smoke from wood chips (see below) or from wood charcoal. Many natural wood charcoals, such as mesquite, are prevalent in the marketplace. These wood charcoals don’t contain a lot of fillers and chemicals like some of the traditional briquettes, and they leave much less ash residue. Hot coals can be arranged to cook some foods over the hottest, direct heat, while other foods can be cooked longer over less direct heat.

Charcoal grills are generally more affordable than gas grills. A basic charcoal grill can be found for less than $30. But if you are in the market for a small grill, make sure you buy something sturdy that won’t have collapsing legs when filled with hot coals.


After a long day at work, after-school activities, and errands, turning a knob on a gas grill is quite convenient to get dinner started. It’s easy to adjust the heat by just turning the dial. Clean-up is practically nonexistent: Just close the lid — there are no messy ashes to deal with. If you will be cooking over a long time period, such as at an all-day get together, a gas grill also allows you to do so easily without having to keep replenishing charcoal.

Small gas grills start at about $50 for a travel-ready grill, which is convenient for a camping trip or an afternoon at the beach. If you have a large outdoor entertaining area, you’ll find a large selection of gas grills in all sizes. Grills can be built into cabinetry creating a beautiful outdoor kitchen, and can be hooked up to your gas line so you don’t have to deal with refilling propane tanks.


The darling of the barbecue world these days, ceramic grills have become popular due in large part to their versatility. Basically anything that you can do inside in your oven can be done on a ceramic grill: bake, grill, roast, or smoke. The technology behind these grills is not exactly new; they are based on the kamado-style ovens found for thousands of years in Japan, China, and India.

Temperature control is a great benefit for ceramic grills with a wide range of varying degrees, including up to 700 degrees or more. The ceramic bases also offer excellent heat retention. Natural lump hardwood charcoal is generally recommended for these grills, which is ideal for cooking meats.

Though these grills come in a variety of sizes, they are heavy and not easily transported. They are not inexpensive, but a ceramic grill is a great investment for a barbecue aficionado and will last for years when cared for properly.


While just about any food can be cooked on a barbecue, steaks, burgers, and chicken are probably the foods most synonymous with grilling. For a change, try cooking up a whole fish — red snapper, sea bass, and trout — or a half salmon are excellent choices. Serve on a platter over a bed of rice and lemon slices for a stunning picnic table centerpiece.

If you’re cooking the fish directly on the grill (without a basket), be sure to rub olive oil on the fish to minimize sticking. Fish cooks quickly. To test for doneness, insert a metal skewer into the thickest part of the fish. It should come out warm with no resistance.

Here are a few items to help make your fish barbecue successful:

Cedar plank: Cooking on a cedar plank gives food a sweet, spicy smokiness and can be used for both fish and vegetables. Just soak in water for 20 minutes and place on a preheated grill. Foods baste in their own juices to create a subtle smoky flavor.

Wood chip soaker: Place wood pieces in the container, replace the lid, add water, beer, or wine. Soak for two hours and then pour out the liquid, and add soaked wood pieces to coals. A soaker container for gas grills can be put directly on the grill.

Fish basket: This fish basket with a pine handle allows you to easily cook a whole fish, making flipping simple. It also eliminates any sticking to the grill.

Fish spatula: A wide spatula allows you to easily turn fish without it falling apart.

Turner tongs: The extended length and width of these tongs allow you to easily turn fish or asparagus.

Enjoy your summer grilling!


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Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator for Cole Hardware and can be reached at [email protected].