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Saving Time with Fast Grilling

To light the charcoal quickly, use a chimney starter. These tall, metal canisters with handles are inexpensive and available in cookware stores. Place the chimney starter in the center of your grilling pit. Put a piece of crumpled newspaper in the bottom and fill the rest of the chimney with charcoal. Light the newspaper. The upward draft created by the chimney will make the charcoal grill-ready within 7 to 8 minutes. Just pick up the chimney and spread the charcoal into an even layer. You can add more charcoal at this point if necessary.

To improvise a chimney starter, cut both ends off a large, empty coffee can. When the coals are ready, grasp the lip of the hot can with pliers and lift it to free the hot coals. If you do not have a chimney starter, place sheets of newspaper on the grate of your grill pit and cover with a tall pyramid of coals, layering newspaper twice through the pyramid. Light the layers of newspaper and wait until the coals are red-hot, about 20 to 30 minutes, before spreading them out.

To grill faster, give the grilled foods a head start in a microwave oven. This is especially helpful with tough or fibrous foods that required long grilling times, such as chicken, ribs, and potatoes. Also, leave at least 1 inch of space between the pieces of food on the grill. Or when grilling ingredients on a skewer, leave foods such as chicken or ribs, which require thorough cooking, brown the food on all sides over a medium-hot fire, then adjust the heat to medium-low and cover with a disposable aluminum pan or a sheet of foil to speed up the cooking. You can also baste meats with room-temperature or warm sauce. Avoid basting with cold sauce, which will slow down the grilling.

Slashing or butterflying also speeds grilling and ensures even cooking of thick pieces of meat, poultry, or fish, such as turkey breast, leg of lamb, or whole salmon. To butterfly a turkey breast or leg of lamb, remove the meat from the bone (butcher will do this for you). Make a deep cut into, but not through, the thickest part of the meat, then open it up like a book. If the thickest part is now 2 inches thick or less, it is ready to grill. If it is thicker, repeat the slash-and-open method until the thickest section is 2 inches or less. To slash a whole fish for grilling, make diagonal cuts about 2 inches apart through the thickest part of the fillet on both sides of the fish, cutting all the way to, but not through, the bone. Season and rub with oil, then grill.

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