As the weather heats up, it’s time to head outside, light up the grill -- or throw some wood into your fire pit, if you have one -- and start cooking some great food the old-fashioned way: over an open flame.

If you want your grilled meat, fish and veggies to impress your family, friends and neighbors, there are a few simple things you can do to ensure that your barbecues become world famous—or at least famous on your block.

Here are a few tips and tricks that will help you barbecue the best food you possibly can. Don’t worry—these ideas are simple, and easy to apply. Once you get the hang of cooking and grilling meat and fish outdoors, you’ll never want to move back inside to your indoor kitchen again. Just imagine yourself in a heavy parka, standing over your backyard grill come a winter snowstorm.

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    Rub First

    Mustard and other rubs, applied an hour or two before (add a couple of extra hours for thicker pieces of meat) you begin your grill or barbeque, is a great way to guarantee that you’ll get the most flavor out of your cuts of meat. Rubs that are acidic, like lemon juice or wine, help tenderize protein, safeguarding your food against drying out when set over heat.

    If you go with a dry rub, mustard (even the cheap kind) can be used to hold the dry rub ingredients in place while the meat is cooking. The mustard will also help tenderize the protein you’re grilling or smoking. If you’re not a fan of the yellow stuff, don’t worry—the mustard flavor will vanish by the time the meat is finished.

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    Watch Out for Flare-Ups

    Everyone likes to see a bit of fire spike up into the air now and then. As fun as jumping flames are to watch, it’s a terrible thing to have happen when cooking meat. First of all, it’s dangerous. This is how people get injured when barbequing and grilling. Second of all, flare-ups ruin the flavor of the food by burning it.

    If you monitor your fuel source closely, don’t add excessive fuel to get the fire burning, and trim away extra fat and skin from the meat to stop it from dripping down and exiting the flames, you should be able to minimize flare-ups, and produce an evenly cooked meal.

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    Use Mixed Wood

    If you’re planning on using wood with your summer barbeques, don’t be afraid to mix things up. Sure, hickory is great for strong flavors, but you can also mix it in with other types of wood (be bold with your combinations), like alder, cherry, maple and mesquite.

    Apple wood mixtures will give you more of a fruity taste, which can be good for fish and pork—as is alder. Oak-based wood mixtures will do wonders for your steaks. The point here is to play around, and discover a variety of flavors you can get with different types of wood, and wood chip mixtures.

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    Low & Slow Is the Way to Go

    By using indirect heat, and cooking “low and slow,” you’ll get the most out of your grilled chicken, pork or steak. You can achieve this slow burn by not building you fire up to a volcanic level, and by covering your food near the heat source—not directly over it. Also, be sure you make use of a drip pan, since you’ll be cooking for a longer period of time.

    Grilling low and slow is how you should cook larger pieces of meat. By not rushing things, you’ll be able to cook through to the insides of your cut without burning the outsides. No one likes a charred piece of flesh that’s raw on the inside. There’s a difference between rare (even bloody), and not cooked at all.

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    Simplicity for Grilled Veggies

    Grilled veggies can be quite tasty. They add a bit of a health component to your artery-clogging meat barbeque, and they’re very easy to do. Simplicity is key when grilling vegetables. Frist, select the best veggies for grilling, like asparagus, bell peppers, corn, eggplant, onions and thick tomatoes. Then coat them with oil, or butter, and some herbs.

    Next, place them on, or wrap them up in hefty foil (corn comes in its own wrapper), or cut them into chucks and slip them onto skewers (maybe with a few prawns for variety). Of course, the larger the vegetables, the more time you’ll need for grilling, but other than that, grilling veggies is a piece of cake… or a piece of tasty, grilled eggplant.

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    Stop Squashing With Your Spatula

    No matter what method you choose for grilling or barbequing your pork and steak, try and fight off the desire to crush the meat flat into the grill with your spatula or tongs.

    You’ve worked so hard to get just the right temperature, plus you’ve mixed together a killer marinade. Why press down on your masterpieces with your spatula and force all of those wonderful juices out? If you want to be sure the meat has been cooked through, use a thermometer instead.

    Save your spatula for turning things over, not mashing them into meat pudding.

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    Not All Fish Are the Same

    Grilled fish are a wonderful treat for your taste buds, but it’s important to remember that not all fish are created the same. Some are rather flaky, and easy to break apart, while others are much more solid, and can take direct eat and a little more abuse. Whole fish should usually be wrapped up in foil, while more delicate fish (flounder, trout) needs to be cooked on a heavy pan.

    Meatier fish, like albacore tuna, prawns and salmon can be set right over the flames (don’t let the fire get out of control, of course). Remember, only flip the fish once, and make sure it all stays intact for the best outcome, and flavor.

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    Always Let It Rest

    If you’re starving, you might be tempted to dig into your grilled works of art the moment they come off the grill. Don’t do that. It’s better to go hungry for a few extra minutes.

    If the piece of steak or grilled pork tenderloin isn’t too thick, four or five minutes of rest should suffice. For larger cuts of meat, you might need 10 minutes or more (while covered). Why would you want to do this? Simply, to give the savory juices time to spread out evenly through the entire cut (before you slice into it), ensuring a much better taste.

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