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Published: Tuesday, 5/23/2006

New tools for backyard cooking

If you're ready to fire up your backyard grill, there's new equipment to make outdoor cooking easier, cleaner, and more creative.

My patio gas grill complete with lava rocks that evenly spread the heat is 7 years old. This season, the new grills in area stores that have caught my eye have not had any lava rocks.

"Lava rocks or wood flavored briquettes were used to help distribute the heat evenly across the grilling surface," says Thom Ward, Char-Broil's marketing director. "Over time, these would collect food drippings and would require replacement. If they were not replaced by the consumer, a grease fire could develop. At Char-Broil we have engineered our burners and covers to evenly distribute the heat, eliminating the need for lava rocks or briquettes."

Lou Manfredini, Ace Hardware's spokesman, advises replacing lava rocks once every season and more often to prevent that grease build-up. When starting the grilling season, thoroughly inspect the burner and gas supply of the gas grill for blockages like spider webs, grease, and rust. Check gas hoses for worn or frayed rubber, and replace if necessary. Spend some time scouring the grill now, if necessary.

Another trend in gas grills is that most do not come with propane cylinders. The cylinders once were standard with the purchase of any new grill. Today, though, consumers often are required to buy the cylinders separately. A number of options are available, according to DHM marketing group. The Lite Cylinder is a composite version with translucent walls so you can see how much propane is in the tank. It is about 30 percent lighter than the standard steel cylinder. The Sureflame from Manchester Tank has a gauge built into the tank that tells when it needs to be refilled.

Kamado ceramic cookers like the Big Green Egg are among the fastest-growing segments of the barbecue industry. The EGG is a grill, a smoker, and an oven. The ceramic exterior is cooler than metal. It lights and is ready for cooking in about 10 minutes. The manufacturer says that the EGG bakes better than a brick oven.

Once you've got your equipment in working order, the next issue is grilling utensils. Among the three peskiest problems for outdoor grillers is burnt food caused by flare-ups, foods like asparagus or shrimp falling through grill grates, and delicate foods like fish and vegetables sticking to grates.

To address these issues, the Analon Outdoor BBQ Pan was invented. Its solid and vented grooves form a peak at the center and channel fats away to the edge of the pan. The fats don't fall on hot coals or grates, so flare-ups are eliminated.

Reynolds Wrap Release Non-Stick Foil is another way to avoid food falling through the grates or sticking to grill grates. The nonstick foil is designed to line grill grates.

Barbecue expert Steven Raichlen grills for his PBS-TV show Barbecue University, for classes he teaches, and for books he writes. The Steven Raichlen Best of Barbecue tools, fuels, flavors, and accessories can be purchased through the 2006 Product Catalogue (available at www.bestofbarbecue.com), which includes hand items such as Grill Rings to barbecue apples and onions; a Panini Bread Griller for trendy sandwiches, and a Cast Iron Grill Press, which has three pounds of heat-conducting cast iron for grilling the ultimate boneless chicken under a brick.

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