Every man with a grill likes to think of himself as a grillmaster, but you'd be surprised how many guys think that all the need to know to host a 'cue is which end of the tongs to pick up.
Before you throw that end-of-summer bash on that brand-new Weber, make sure you're familiar with these principles:
Barbecue and grilling aren't the same thing: Most people use the words "barbecue" and "grilling" interchangeably, but they're actually two quite different cooking techniques. Barbecue, strictly speaking, refers to a method of cooking using indirect, low heat over a long period of time -- i.e., "low and slow." Think pulled pork, smoked ribs, fork-tender beef brisket. Grilling, on the other hand, uses high and direct heat for a much shorter period. You're talking steaks, hamburgers, and hot dogs. A grill is what you do your barbecuing or grilling on.
First, do no harm: The physician's cardinal rule applies to cooking on a grill, too. For most recipes, you want to handle the ingredients as little as possible. Hamburger meat, for example, becomes dense and rubbery if you mash it up too much as you form the patties. And sticking a fork in the steak to turn it over is going to leave you with a hole-filled slab of meat with all those precious juices leaking out.
Know if you're going gas or grill: Charcoal grills burn hotter and impart a particular flavor many prize, but they also have to be fed regularly to maintain heat. Gas grills are more consistent in their heat, but don't get as hot as charcoal grills. Cooking on gas can require different methods and timing than on a charcoal grill, so study your recipe carefully beforehand, lest you serve your guests a salmonella salad.
Have the right tools: Forget the fancy pepper-popper trays, patty-shapers, and the cast-iron brand that burns your initials into your sausages You need at least two pairs of tongs (one for raw meat, one for cooked), heat-resistant mitts, a clean tray to put your food on when it's ready, a roll of aluminum foil, and a kitchen thermometer to make sure meats like chicken and pork have been heated enough to be safe. Once you've got those down, then you can think about the fancy gadgets.
Don't peek: When you're barbecuing, maintaining the heat in the grill is all-important. Every time you crack open the lid to see how the meat is doing, the temperature drops and has to take time to regain its heat. Doing less is doing more in barbecue.
Don't drown everything in barbecue sauce: For God's sake, if you're going to have all your dishes swimming in that bottle of hickory-flavored corn syrup you bought at the supermarket, you might as well just have microwaved it all.