Add real wood-smoke flavor to foods cooked on your gas grill with a handful of green twigs from garden trees or herbs. Toss them onto the fire just before you start barbecuing. Apple, cherry, and hickory twigs work well, and rosemary, sage, tarragon, bay, and thyme clippings add a special flavor; only use plants that haven't been sprayed with insecticide.
A temporary grill — one suitable for the needs of a single family — is easily built by stacking a few cinder blocks or bricks in parallel rows 30 cm (1 ft) high and 45 cm (18 in.) apart. Simply set your grill on a pair of steel rods laid across the blocks, ignite the charcoal, and enjoy your outdoor meal!
When building a permanent grill, the choice of location is important. Don't put it so close to the house that smoke wafts in through the doors or windows. Set the grill in a quiet corner of the landscape and make it accessible to the kitchen by a level paved path that makes it easier to bring food and supplies out on a butler's table or a cart.
If you use bricks to build a barbecue, make sure they have been fired at a high temperature. A test: when hit by a hammer, well-fired bricks make a ringing sound.
Stone gives a rustic look to a barbecue. Sandstone is an excellent choice because it withstands heat well. If you want to use other stones, be aware that limestone, basalt, shale, and granite may disintegrate when exposed to heat; line the firebox with bricks to protect these vulnerable stones.
Don't be stingy when you buy a portable barbecue. For safety reasons they are kept outside, and constant exposure to the elements quickly wears down bargain sets.
Ignite charcoal without lighter fluid. Punch holes around the lower edge of a 1 kg (2 lb) coffee can, then remove both ends of the can. Set the sleeve in the center of the grill and place a layer of crumpled newspaper inside. Fill the rest of the can with charcoal and light the paper through the punched holes. The can will act as a flue to draw flame up through the charcoal. When the coals are aglow, life the sleeve with tongs, leaving the coals behind.
Coals are ready when they turn gray. To determine the medium heat you'll need for most barbecuing, place your hand about 12 cm (5 in.) above the surface of the coals and see how long you can hold it there. Five to 6 seconds means a low fire; 3 to 4 seconds means a medium fire; and 1 to 2 seconds is a sign the fire is too hot.
After cooking, it's a good idea to sprinkle the embers with salt — which will prevent the fire from flaring up again.
Smoke in your eyes is one of the least pleasant parts of a barbecue, and a fire fanned by the wind burns unevenly. Place your grill so that it is protected from the prevailing wind. A semipermeable wind-break such as a hedge is far more effective than a solid fence or wall, which actually increases air turbulence on the downwind side. Just make sure you keep the grill at a safe distance from anything flammable.
Keep the grate clean of ashes. When rain-water mixes with charcoal ashes, they form lye, a powerful iron-corroding solution.