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Give the man a hand
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Looking for a last-minute Father's Day gift idea? Treat him to a day off by donning the apron and tongs for some outdoor grilling.

With the right tools and a little practice, grilling a home-cooked meal can be a surprisingly simple -- and simply salivating -- way to show appreciation for dad's yearly grilling handiwork.

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Choosing the right meat

When just starting out, easy-to-cook meats like hot dogs and hamburgers are a great way to learn the basics of grill preparation and heat management.

If time is a factor Sunday, hamburgers can be grilled in only a few minutes. Look for 70-85 percent lean beef to keep burgers juicy. If the meat is too lean, the burgers can turn out tough and dry.

In addition, fully cooked hot dogs or ribs can be warmed up quickly on a grill, and are a good way to avoid the worry of accidentally serving raw meat.

For more experienced cooks, chicken, pork and steaks can be prepared in myriad ways using all manner of spices and sauces to fit dad's taste buds.

Grilling vs. BBQ

The terms are often used interchangeably, but the two cooking methods are worlds apart.

Grilling involves hot and quick cooking, usually with direct heat from either charcoal or a gas flame.

In contrast, barbecuing is a protracted affair in which meat is cooked slowly using relatively low heat. Proper barbecuing is time-intensive and highly involved, often requiring several hours of preparation and cooking.

For novice outdoor chefs, choosing the grilling route over barbecuing can help reduce frustration while getting the hang of cooking fundamentals.

Charcoal vs. gas

The debate rages on. While barbecue purists tout charcoal as the superior method for heating food, gas grills are not without benefits.

The signature smoky flavor from cooking over charcoal is loved by many, but that added flavor also can be a curse -- lighter fluid or self-igniting coals will add a chemical taste to food if the grill is not properly prepared.

Gas grills require less preparation and provide more precise and consistent heat, but convenience comes at the expense of that fresh-off-the-grill taste.

If becoming a barbecue expert is the ultimate goal, professionals advise avoiding gas grills -- nearly all BBQ competitions only allow charcoal.

Thankfully, a tool known as a chimney starter, widely available at home improvement stores for under $20, makes lighting perfect coals without chemicals a cinch.

Half-baked, half-rack ribs

Grilling homemade baby back ribs is easier than one may think. With a little pre-cooking, this uncomplicated recipe can be heated up in only a few minutes -- meaning less time hovering over the grill and more time to spend with dad.

Ingredients:

• A rack or two of baby back ribs divided in half

• Premade pork rub or your favorite seasonings

• Your favorite barbecue sauce

Directions:

Let ribs defrost if frozen and rub liberally with seasonings until coated.

Wrap each half-rack in foil and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for up to two hours until bones become loose.

Transfer to new foil and refrigerate for a day or two until needed. The longer they sit, the more the meat will absorb the seasoning.

When ready to grill, baste both sides with barbecue sauce and place them over medium-high heat.

Grill each side four to five minutes before flipping. Apply additional sauce as desired.

Carefully remove ribs from the grill and serve with your favorite sides (and plenty of napkins).

Learn from the best

If cooking is not an option this weekend, consider taking dad to the Treasure Island International BBQ Championship to get grilling tips from professional pitmasters instead.

In this inaugural event, more than 60 teams of barbecuers from around the country will converge on Treasure Island starting today to present their best recipes to sanctioned judges from the Kansas City Barbecue Society.

"Come down and visit all the cooks -- they are wide open," said Perry Vining, the event's founder. "They love talking about cooking."

Among the teams appearing at the championship is Kansas-based TRUEBUD BBQ. With seven championship wins already this year, the team is well on its way to competing in the world championship in the fall.

"These guys are just hot," Vining said.

The variety of competition at barbecue competitions can be huge, Vining added, ranging from teams using massive, $100,000 trailers to those with home-built smokers in the back of a pickup truck.

Not matter the cost of the equipment, taste is the biggest factor, Vining said. "I've seen people who have never done it before walk away with some money."

Competition is likely to be intense, but Vining said the most important goal of the event is for everyone to have fun.

"You're going to have a good time," he said. "That's the essence of the whole thing."

The International BBQ Championship runs today and tomorrow at the Pow-Wow grounds at Treasure Island Resort and Casino.

The event opens today 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and includes live music and a free chili tasting and competition at 6 p.m.

Sunday hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the championship awards presentation at 4 p.m.

The event is $5 for adults, free for under 18 and for Island Passport Club members. More information at treasureislandcasino.com.

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Michael Brun
Michael Brun is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program. He has worked for the Republican Eagle since March 2013, covering county government, health and local events. 
(651) 301-7875
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