The July 4 holiday is made for grilling. Here's how to make the most of it:
1. Keep the grill clean and oiled. It's easiest to clean when it's hot. Just before you put on the food, scrape down the grate with a grill brush. Then moisten a balled-up paper towel with vegetable oil and use long tongs to oil the grate.
2. Leave the food alone. The No. 1 cause of food sticking to the grill is moving it too soon. Unless you are dealing with a very thin steak or delicate vegetable, don't touch it for at least 5 minutes.
3. Pick the right fish. Use firm, meaty fish such as tuna, swordfish and mahi-mahi. Make sure pieces are no thinner than 1 inch, and use steaks rather than fillets.
4. Grill fish over direct heat. Only use indirect heat if you are grilling a whole fish.
5. Fish is done when the flesh just turns from translucent to opaque. Exceptions: Salmon is best just before it turns opaque, tuna when it's essentially raw in the center.
6. Get the form right. Keep the mixture loose and make regular, equal-sized patties so they cook evenly. Use your thumb to make a shallow impression in the center of the patty (both sides); this will prevent "grill bulge." Keep patties under 1 inch thick unless you like them rare.
7. Use the right cut. The classic burger cut is chuck, which has great depth of flavor and good percentage of fat, from 15 to 20. A leaner mix such as sirloin may become dry if a burger is cooked beyond medium-rare.
8. Grill over high heat. Otherwise, you'll never get a good crust. If you get a good crust on the burgers but they're still not done enough in the center, take them off grill, cover tightly with aluminum foil and leave for 5 minutes. They will continue to cook.
9. Cheese. Apply cheese about a minute before burgers are done and cover the grill to melt it.
10. Use moderate, indirect heat. Build a bilevel fire by piling the coals on one side of the grill; on a gas grill, achieve the same result by turning half the burners to high, the others to low. Lay chicken pieces on cool side, skin side down, and leave for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, rotate 45 degrees for pretty grill marks. Only after 20 minutes have elapsed should you think about turning them over. Breasts should be done in about 40 minutes. If, when the chicken is cooked through, it isn't brown enough, move it directly over the hot coals or high burners, and give it a few minutes longer.
11. To cook a whole chicken, butterfly it. Lay bird so legs face down and back is facing you. With shears, cut on either side of the backbone and remove it. Place chicken on cutting board, turn legs so they are knock-kneed not bowlegged. Press down to break breastbone and to flatten. Grill, starting skin side down, over indirect heat.
12. Hold off on the sweet sauce. Sugar burns, so if your barbecue sauce contains sugar (or molasses or honey or agave syrup), brush it on only at the very end.
13. Use the grill cover. The goal is to try to approximate your oven, to 350 to 400 degrees. You can pick up a grill thermometer for about $10.
14. Use big pieces. The larger the slices, the less likely they'll fall through the grates.
15. Cut them evenly. Shoot for slices about ª-inch thick.
16. Leafy or layered vegetables. For fennel or radicchio, cut in half (or quarters or eighths) always through the core, which will prevent it from falling apart.
17. Zucchini and eggplant. Buy smallish eggplant, medium zucchini, about 6 inches long. Cut off stem ends, then slice lengthwise.
18. Peppers. Cut off bottom and top so you have a box. Make one slit lengthwise and lay opened pepper on flat surface. Remove seeds and pith, cut pepper into large pieces where there are natural creases so it will lie flat.
19. Onions. Cut root and stem end off large onions and peel. Cut each onion into wide rings. Thread each slice with two thin metal skewers about an inch apart. Or just grill scallions: Barely trim off roots and trim tops to get rid of any bruised leaves, then lay perpendicular to grates.
20. Don't overlook fruit. Peaches, pineapple, even bananas are delicious when grilled.