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Selecting the Grill For You

As kids, one of our favorite family events was a backyard barbecue. To our curious eyes, there was something mysterious and fascinating about the barbecue and the process.

While we are sure that the barbecue, charcoal and lighting fluid had much to do with the success of the meal, we now know that it takes a patient and experienced chef. In our case, that was our dad. He would stand over the barbecue monitoring every aspect of the process. What we didn't know as kids was that, when it came to cooking and grilling, he had one up on most other dads. During World War II, he was a meat cutter in the U.S. Army and had had a lot of cooking experience.

Thanks to innovations in barbecue equipment, you neither need to spend time in the military or attend a culinary academy to barbecue like a pro. As a matter of fact, some of today's high-end gas grills do everything but flip the burgers for you, and some will even do that using a rotisserie.

There are more choices in outdoor cooking equipment (today's term for what were once called barbecues) than ever before. Construction material, finish, cooking area, fuel type and accessories are a few of the features that can influence the lasting quality of the grill and, more important, the tastiness of the food.

What will work for you? An inexpensive stamped steel pan with a flimsy grate might be all you need for those once-a-year cookouts on the beach. On the other hand, if you're into serious backyard entertaining, consider investing in a high-end outdoor cooking center. The beach model can usually be had for well under $50 but is considered a “disposable” model at best.

At the other end of the spectrum are the baronial outdoor cooking centers that contain everything but the kitchen option with some. These professional models range in price from $2,000 to $5,000 depending upon the size, features and accessories. Pricier models offer better construction, a stainless steel housing, heavy-gauge stainless steel burners, heavy-duty stainless steel or porcelain-coated steel grates and a more durable igniter.

Some models are designed to be built in while others are housed in an elaborate cart that makes grilling mobile. With proper care and maintenance, one of these should be the last grill you'll ever buy. If you're not at either end of the spectrum, chances are you that you will find a model somewhere in between that will suit your needs and budget.

Here's what to look for when shopping for a new grill. Start with the type of fuel that best meets your needs. Charcoal models are the most portable, the least costly and, unfortunately, the most maintenance intense. If you don't mind lugging bags of charcoal, waiting for the coals to heat or cleaning up the ash, a charcoal model might be just fine. Look for a heavy-duty model constructed of heavy gauge steel, cast iron or cast aluminum.

If, on the other hand, the notion of toting charcoal does not appeal to you, your best bet is a gas grill. There are two basic types: propane and natural gas. Which is better? All else being equal...natural gas. Natural gas is less expensive and will fuel a hotter fire. Plus, there are no propane bottles to lug around. However, natural gas units are designed to be stationary. Therefore, if you want gas and like the idea of portability, propane is for you. Though you'll trade toting charcoal for propane tanks, you'll get many more grilling sessions out of a tank of propane than you will from a bag of charcoal.

Less is not more when it comes to the number of burners on a gas grill. The more burners, the greater control of heat, the more thorough the cooking. For instance, indirect heating can be accomplished by using the gas burner on one end of the grill while placing the meat on the other. This can avoid burning that results from grease-fired flare-ups. Better models have a radiant burner that will speed rotisserie cooking. More burners usually mean more cooking area. Though you don't need to use all of the cooking area, it's nice to have it when cooking for a large group.

Ample space for food preparation and cleanup, stovetop side burners for cooking, a smoking tray for flavor enhancement, easy cleanup features, a thermometer for grilling perfection and a high-quality grill cover are features and accessories that will lend many years of enjoyment and the best that barbecuing has to offer.

Regardless of the model you choose, always follow the manufacturer's directions. Never use it in an enclosed area such as a garage or indoors. Doing so could cause deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.

Cleaning, Repairing Window Screens Can Make Home More Energy-Efficient

Newer, more energy-efficient homes don't allow for the passive exchange of air through cracks, gaps and penetrations as older homes did. Thick insulation, caulking at windows and doors and gaskets at lights and plugs are a few of the improvements that make today's homes more energy-efficient.

Unfortunately, this condition often creates stale, trapped air within the home. In addition, some of the components used in the fabrication of construction materials emit gases that cause health problems, which can range from a minor case of the sniffles to a full-blown allergic reaction. Air in the home must be continually exchanged with a fresh supply from the outside.

Think window screens aren't important? Think again.

A dirty screen doesn't "breathe" as well as a clean one. And a dirty screen is an eyesore, too.

There are many advantages to keeping screens clean. First, you'll be able to see out of your windows a whole lot easier. And remember grit and grime can hasten deterioration, thereby diminishing the life of a window screen. Dirty screens also prevent light from making its way into your home. Moreover, a gust of wind can blow dust from a screen straight into your home, aggravating allergies and increasing housekeeping chores.

Each spring, we remove our screens and scrub them down. One of the best means of cleaning window screens is to lay them flat on a smooth, cloth-covered surface, such as an old sheet on a picnic table. Scrub them gently with a soft nylon brush, rinse with a hose, and shake off excess water. They can look as new today as when they were originally installed. Pressure washing with detergent is another alternative.

Like anything, screens eventually fail. When this happens they can often be patched. Screen patch kits are available at hardware stores and home centers everywhere. They are inexpensive and easy to install (the process takes less than a minute). A small repair will work best until such time as you see fit to replace the screen. There are several good methods that can be used to repair window screens depending upon the type of screen material being repaired.

--Apply a small amount of clear nail polish to a small hole or tear in a vinyl or fiberglass screen. The polish will act as an adhesive sealing the damaged area.

--Small tears in metal or fiberglass screens can be mended with a dab of clear silicone adhesive. If necessary, dab it on in successive layers until the tear is completely filled.

--You can "darn" small holes in metal screening. Simply unravel a strand or two from a piece of scrap screening and sew the hole shut, weaving the strands through the sound fabric with a needle.

--Large holes in metal screen material are repaired with a bit more effort. Start by neatly trimming the damaged area to a ravel-free square or rectangle using tin snips. Next, cut a piece of patch screen material that measures about an inch larger (in both directions) than the damaged area. Unravel a couple of strands of material around the entire perimeter of the patch. Bend the unraveled ends at each side of the patch 90 degrees. Place the patch over the damaged area and carefully thread the bent wires through the sound fabric. Then bend the wires flat again to hold the patch in place.

--For fiberglass screening, simply cut a patch of similar material and affix it to the good material using transparent silicone glue.

If the window screen is beyond repair, re-screening is the best, most cost-efficient alternative. Re-screening is a project that most do-it-yourselfers can tackle with ease. All that is generally required is:

--New screen material.

--Screening spline (rubber piping that is used to hold the screen in place in the frame).

--A spline roller.

--An ice pick or screwdriver.

--A utility knife.

Unless the frames are bent or damaged, they can be reused. Simply remove the existing spline and the screen material can be lifted away. Wedge an ice pick or the blade of a screwdriver into the groove of the frame where the spline exists. Then, simply pull the spline out by hand. The screen will literally fall off the frame.

Next, cut a piece of screen material slightly larger than the frame and lay the screen onto the frame. Use the spline roller (looks like a pizza cutter) to force the new spline (and the screen) into the retainer groove of the frame. Cut the excess screen off by running the razor knife down the groove between the outside of the spline and the outside of the retainer groove.

That's all there is to it. Save the excess for patches.