The Grilling Playbook: What You Need for a Successful Cookout

As the days get longer, and the temperatures get warmer, we are seized by the urge to light up the grill and host a cookout.

Grilling and eating outdoors - with a group of your favorite people, of course - just makes food taste better. The sweet-and-smoky flavors of this grilled chicken recipe are more intense, for example.

Whether you have a fully equipped outdoor kitchen, or a freestanding grill on the porch, cookouts are a great way to bring a little spring into your life. And this guide helps you make the most of grilling season.

" ... make the most of grilling season."

Do You Use Charcoal or Gas? Both charcoal and gas have their advantages. Charcoal grills burn hotter than gas grills and are easier to use for smoking. However, charcoal grills require more preparation time because you have to heat the coals before you begin the cooking. Gas grills light instantly and offer steady, adjustable heat. For a quick meal, gas is best. If you have the time, charcoal gives a little more "grilled" flavor to the food.

In general, gas grills take approximately 10 minutes to preheat, whereas charcoal grills take about 20 minutes. Build that into cooking time for dishes such as this grilled pork chop recipe, which takes 10 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to cook.

Do You Have the Right Tools? A grilling fork, basting brush, meat thermometer and spatula are essential. Don't forget the tongs to help flip the meat in this marinated steak recipe. An oven mitt and drip pan - for soaking wood chips or as a "tent" for food that should be covered when it's on the grill - are also useful.

Do You Cook Over Direct or Indirect Heat? To achieve grilling success, it's important to understand the difference between cooking with direct or indirect heat. When you use direct heat, you place the food on the grill right over the fire. It's an ideal way to cook burgers, steaks, hot dogs and skewered meats such as this chicken kebob recipe. This method is relatively quick and leaves its signature grill marks on the food.

When you use indirect heat, you place the food away from the fire. It's a slower method that's ideal for cooking large or tough pieces of meat. It takes approximately 30 minutes to cook the food. You must also leave the grill covered when using indirect heat.

Do You Know Basic Grilling Safety? Set the grill on level ground and position it at least 10 feet away from any structure. Always have a dry chemical fire extinguisher on hand and know how to use it. Once you've fueled the flames, pay close attention to where children and pets are; keep them away and never leave the grill unattended.

Celebrate these warm, sunny months with family and friends! Whether at the park or a backyard barbecue, enjoy the deliciously unique taste of grilled food.

Meet Sandy Coughlin

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Easy Family Recipes for When You're 'In a Rut'

Many evenings, I find myself knee-deep in third-grade homework - or on the sidelines of a soccer game - at the exact time I should be preparing dinner at home. In a last-minute scramble to save the family supper, I often end up swapping my plan to try a new recipe for an old one I know by heart. It's an okay save … until it lands me in a full-fledged recipe rut. And there's nothing worse than that.

I have found that the best way to break out of the rut is to stock my kitchen for new recipes that are just as quick and easy as the old favorites. Then, I like to add a little extra challenge to keep dinner prep from feeling like a chore by seeking out fresh dinner ideas, each with a different member of my family in mind. Interesting takes on familiar ingredients that delight everyone at the table are a sure way for me to spark new kitchen inspiration.

" ... the sure way for me to spark new kitchen inspiration."

Taking that into consideration, here are my most-recent recipe finds to re-energize our everyday meals.

An Easy Skillet Recipe My Kids Love Here's one of those gems that is better for my kids than they realize. From their point of view, it's just a burrito without the wrap. From my perspective, it's a well-balanced plate of protein, carbs and veggies. I usually try to serve this simple skillet chicken recipe at the beginning of the week to help fuel the rest of it. It comes together quickly, and it's an easy sell with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of cheddar on top.

A Chicken & Pasta Recipe My Spouse Loves After 10 years of marriage, introducing this Tuscan-inspired chicken recipe into our family's dinner rotation was one of the most romantic things I ever could have done for my husband. He is a lover of cream sauces, so this savory masterpiece really lights him up. Plus, it's dotted with unexpected pearls of cannellini beans that take it to another level altogether.

I also happen to dig this quick recipe -but more for the layers of flavor and the lightness of the sauce. Milk and canned soup (not cream) make for a rich texture that is not too heavy. Plus, it combines beautifully with simply seared chicken and sliced mushrooms. Tossed into a pound of al dente fettuccini, and served with some hunks of crusty bread, it tastes like a love note from me to my husband (and kids).

An Italian Recipe I Love This meaty meal is a gift to me! By Thursday, I typically find myself surveying an open fridge, praying that something speaks to me. Simplicity is what I'm seeking, and minimal cleanup is even better. This easy one-pan recipe saves the day. The fact alone that the recipe starts with sweet Italian sausage makes my Italian heart happy.

I set the dinner table around the skillet and let everybody serve himself or herself. I eat it like a stew with crispy Texas toast for dipping, while my husband and boys eat it more like an Italian sloppy Joe on sturdy hoagie rolls - a fast favorite any way you eat it.

An Indulgent Mac & Cheese Recipe Everyone Loves Whether it is a recipe rut, or the kind that comes from a week of routine, this comforting macaroni and cheese recipe will blast through any semblance of a rut. I pull it out on Friday nights to celebrate the week that was, with bacon and melty cheese. The hardest part of the prep is boiling the pasta. (That's not hard at all.) The hardest part of the meal is deciding who gets the last scoop. (That's very hard, as it turns out).

Just like every other parent, my weeks are a whirlwind of thoughtfully scheduled projects, events, carpools and meals. And my favorite time of any day is when my family gathers around the dinner table. All the above are subject to twist and change at any moment - no matter how very deliberate I was in planning them. Delicious and effortless dinnertime recipes are key to keeping my family and me moving forward in a rut-free fashion.