05/16/2013 05:18 EDT | Updated 07/16/2013 05:12 EDT

Fire up the grill: Top tips to master the barbecue from chef Ted Reader

TORONTO - Chef Ted Reader wants Canadians to experience the thrill of the grill.

"Bring the world of food into your backyard. Fire up the grill and cook something tasty," the barbecue guru said in his own backyard in Toronto.

And this culinary consultant and author of more than a dozen cookbooks, including the recently published "Gastro Grilling: Fired-Up Recipes to Grill Great Everyday Meals," loves spending time in his own yard year-round, rain or shine, cooking on his dozens of grills — charcoal and gas — along with various types of smokers and even a pizza oven.

In general, when grilling with high heat keep the lid open, while with low heat the lid should be closed, Reader says.

"Keep your grills hot and your beer cold and all will be good," says Reader.

Here are some other tips from the grilling expert to get the most from your barbecuing experience.

Gas versus charcoal

When purchasing a grill, determine use and budget. Costs can vary from $100 to several thousand dollars. Do research online and talk to professionals at big-box and specialty stores that focus on grills and barbecues.

"Don't just buy a cheap grill because you're going to toss it out in a year or two years and have to do it all again. And that's just a waste of money," Reader advises.

"Invest in something that you can have for 10 or 15 years. Keep it clean, keep it covered." Replace burners as necessary.

Gas, with its instant heat, is a great convenience. "But when I've got the time, the best is charcoal. Charcoal grills bring out the best in flavour. Steaks on charcoal — wicked, wicked, awesome."

"That flavour is the beginning of the recipe," Reader adds.

Briquettes burn slower and last longer and are great for smoking. Rustic and rugged, lump charcoal burns hot and fast.

No fuel is needed to start a charcoal fire. Simply fill a galvanized steel chimney with charcoal. Tuck a sheet or two of crumpled newspaper underneath and light it. In 10 or 15 minutes, the charcoal should have a coating of ash and be glowing. Dump it into the grill.

Clean the grill

"A clean grill is a healthy grill and a clean grill is also a hotter grill," Reader says.

Before firing up for the first time each season, use some elbow grease.

Charcoal grills are relatively easy to clean. Remove any old charcoal, wipe down and clean with hot soapy water.

A gas grill has more parts. Scrape down burners and the inside of fire walls. Get rid of grease residue. The top and bottom of grill grates and the sear plates that are in most gas grills also need to be scraped of rust and cleaned. Clean out venturi tubes with a narrow brush.

Clean the drip pan or catch tray that's underneath. "It should be cleaned about every 10 times you're out there cooking because that's where the grease builds up and that's when you're going to have a grease fire," Reader notes.

Season the grill

A brand-new grill needs a base seasoning. Fire it up and burn off any coating that may have been applied during manufacturing.

Turn off the barbecue and let it cool. Spray the grates liberally with non-stick cooking spray and then fire up the grill again.

"Let that bake into the grill grates, then shut it down, cool it a little bit, then I apply that non-stick again and I do that three times," says Reader. Wipe it with a clean shop rag.

Then every time you plan to cook, spray with non-stick prior to turning it on. "Never apply non-stick when the grill is going. It's extremely dangerous and the can can explode and cause a lot of damage to you and your home," he cautions.

Safety is paramount

Supervise children and pets. Reader's two youngsters have been taught to stay away from the deck area of his yard, which at any time can house between 18 and 22 devices.

Even when a grill is not in use, the summer sun can heat up the stainless steel enough to burn a child's hand, he says.

Once any grill is lit, stay with it. If you have to step away, get someone to watch it in your place.

Clear the area of clutter. Give yourself space to move freely.

Essential accessories

As a chef, Reader prefers 23-cm (9-inch) tongs. Most home cooks like longer tongs to keep hands farther from the heat. Look for a sturdy durable pair that will hold weight and not bend. Gloves can also be worn.

A spatula should be durable and feel comfortable in your hand. Along with a sharp chef's knife, you'll need a cutting board.

A thermometer will tell you the internal temperature of food so you'll know it's properly cooked. Check batteries and test occasionally to make sure it's reading correctly. Insert the probe into a pot of boiling water. It should read 100 C (212 F).

A grill brush should have some weight and a firm, long handle and teeth or bristles that are well sunk into the head of the brush so they don't fall out. Once bristles begin to fall out or are gunked up with grease, discard the brush.

"You should be going through a brush two to three times a season if you're grilling three times a week. You need to keep it clean. These little hairs can get stuck in your food and caught in your throat and that's a safety hazard," Reader says.

"When you're finished grilling and your food is resting, clean your grill with the brush, shut the burners down, close the lid. When you come out the next time the grill is ready."

Don't leave bits of food on the grill. This can attract rodents, which may build nests, or spiders, which can get into gas lines and spin a web. That may stop the gas flow and could lead to a fire.

Gastro grilling techniques

— Planking is a great way to infuse smokiness quickly without owning a smoker.

Soak untreated planks in cold water for about an hour.

Cedar is extremely aromatic. Place food on top and then put the plank on the grill. Close the lid, reduce heat and let it smoke. The plank will crackle and the edges will burn a bit.

Maple, a hardwood, has a more subtle smoke and doesn't burn as quickly.

"Put whatever you want on it. I've done things from salmon, to chicken drumsticks to bacon-wrapped chicken thighs, to all kinds of fish and scallops to baking lasagna on it," Reader says.

"You can do anything on a plank. I've baked bread and cookies. I've even baked a cake."

— Before grilling green vegetables like asparagus or rapini, soak in water for about an hour. This will give it a little extra moisture which will help steam the vegetable when placed on a hot grill. "You get steaming and grilling happening at the same time."

— For dessert, choose firm fruits such as apples, pears, peaches, nectarines and apricots.

"Bananas are phenomenal and you can roast those. And the best one of all is pineapple," Reader says.

"You can rotisserie it or you can just slice it and grill it however you want, but pineapple is a wonderful, wonderful fruit. Especially if you take that pineapple and cut it up and serve with a scoop of ice cream. It's great for the summertime."