Experience is the key to fantastic grilling. All cooking times are suggestions because every grill is different. It would be a good idea to test recipes before rolling them out for a crowd. Here's Jim's basic rules for grilling excellent food.

I was at Lowe’s, watching a guy spend $485 for a stainless steel patio grill. That’s a lot of scratch for steaks and burgers.

Welcome to 2011. The grill no longer is a picnic oddity; it’s a cooking appliance, almost like a stove. But unlike a stove, it takes some rethinking of recipes.

Experience is the key to fantastic grilling. All cooking times are suggestions because every grill is different. It would be a good idea to test recipes before rolling them out for a crowd.

Some new grills offer both gas and charcoal fuels, a confirmation that charcoal is preferred. Nothing beats the flavor of wood smoke.

Jim’s grilling tips

Clean grill rack thoroughly with a wire brush. Then oil and preheat it to avoid sticking. How hot is hot? Hold your hand five inches above the grate. The fire is “hot” if you must remove it in two seconds. The best seafood and meat cuts for grilling are at least an inch thick. Your food will turn out more moist and tender. Piercing the meat will allow juices to escape. Use tongs instead of forks. Turn the meat only once to preserve juices. Grill fruits and vegetables with the lid off. Otherwise, they will overcook and become sooty. BBQ sauces should be applied near the end of the cooking to avoid blackened food.

Your grilling toolbox

Tools: Don’t use kitchen utensils. Buy special tools with long, insulated handles. Basic sets include tongs, a spatula and fork, about $10. Or get an 18-piece stainless set, which may run about $49.99.

Gloves: Save your hands with fireproof gloves that insulate against the searing heat. Look for long cuffs to protect arms. Jim Beam Long Leather Grilling Gloves are top-rated.

Griddle it: If you want to toast sandwiches or grill soft items that might fall into the fire, a griddle works well. The Lodge Pro cast iron expands your grill’s versatility. It has ribbed and smooth sides.

Grill baskets: These flat, wire containers are for grilling large amounts of meat. You’ll only need to turn it once.

Charcoal chimney: It is the easy way to start a fire without liquid starter. Load charcoal. Place a ball of newsprint under the chimney and light it. Depending on the wind, it takes about 15 minutes to start coals.

Wood chips: Favorite flavors are hickory, apple and cherry. Be careful with mesquite because it can overpower foods. Soak chips for two hours to produce more smoke. The chips will smoke for about 10 minutes. Use them early in the cooking for best smoke-flavor penetration.

Seafood needs special gear

Your grill is not so great for seafood. Opt for a stainless seafood rack to keep your food out of the fire. The racks keep shrimp and scallops from falling into the fire and fish fillets from breaking apart. Oil before using. A metal grill skillet looks like a flat basket with holes. It allows smoke penetration of smaller foods that would fall through the grill. Look for ones with fireproof handles. The Outset is copper with a removable handle for covered cooking. Another trick is to use skewers. The metal ones are reusable. Wooden ones probably will char. These items may be difficult to find. Try a store specializing in grills or search for them on the Internet. Seafood must be monitored closely to avoid over cooking. Shrimp and scallops are done when they turn white, about three minutes. Fish fillets take about six minutes, depending on type.

Grilling sweet corn

Remove outer husks. Turn back inner husks, and remove silk. Then wash the ear, spread with butter and salt and pull the inner husks back over the ear. Tightly secure the open ends with wire. You need this to help steam the corn.

Grill about three inches from the heat source, turning often, about 20 to 30 minutes. If the husks begin to char, brush them with water.

Grilled pizza

Roll out raw pizza dough into a circle, and brush with olive oil. Do not pinch the edge because it will brown too fast. Place dough on a grill, cover and cook for two minutes. Remove the lid, and keep grilling until dough is light brown on both sides.

Remove crust and spread on the tomato sauce, vegetables, meat and cheese. Important: Go light on the toppings to avoid soggy pizza. Close the lid and cook pizza for 2-3 minutes. It’s done when the exposed dough begins to char and the sauce and cheese are bubbly.

Grilled eggplant

 2 large eggplants  1 lemon, juiced  1 cup water  1⁄4 cup butter  1⁄2 cup jack cheese, shredded  Dash of nutmeg  Salt

Grill whole eggplants in covered barbecue for 20-30 minutes. Add lemon to water in shallow dish. Place eggplants in water, turn to coat thoroughly, and let stand until cool.

Slice eggplants into rounds, about 1⁄2 inch thick. Brush the tops with butter. Divide cheese on the slices, garnish with nutmeg. Place slices on grill, cover and cook until cheese melts, about 5 minutes.

Grilled Teriyaki Swordfish

4 swordfish steaks 1⁄2 cup soy sauce 1⁄4 cup pineapple juice 1⁄4 cup dry sherry 1 tablespoon brown sugar 1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 1 clove garlic, minced

Combine the soy sauce, pineapple juice, sherry, brown sugar, ginger and lemon juice. Place in plastic food bag with swordfish steaks and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, turning bag occasionally.

Remove swordfish from bag, and grill over high heat, 4-5 minutes on each side, turning once. Fish is done when flesh is opaque and flakes easily with fork. Serve with lightly grilled slices of pineapple and baked sweet potatoes.

Note: Cut fish into chunks, and alternate with fresh pineapple on skewers.

Note: RecipeSource.com offers a searchable database of 625 grilling recipes. Search for “grilling” on the home page.