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As a senior sous chef in Chicago, Blake Noland is a bit biased on where to find the best BBQ (hint: Chi-town), but he certainly knows the ins and outs of entertaining. We grilled him on everything from his favorite spices to the best dishes for a cookout. 

Best cities for BBQ…
CHICAGO of course!!!!!! Pittsburgh and Kansas City, too.

Post-work beverage…
Tanqueray Martini up bleu cheese olives. Yum.

Favorite spices…
Smoked paprika, cumin, and anything Cajun blend.

One song from your BBQ playlist
Anyway by Duck Sauce.

The best cooking smell…
My favorite is seared meat any way, any how.

The worst cooking smell…
I’ve never been a big fan of steamed cauliflower or broccoli. It reminds me of flatulence! Love the taste though.

A must-have dish at any cookout…
Good side dishes: Fresh greens, red cabbage coleslaw, or grilled sweet potatoes.

Entertaining splurge…
Booze…but seriously if you’re having fun preparing something for your guests, it will always be a hit. If not, make new friends!

You might also like…
Marinated Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Recipe
Q&A: Curtis Stone
8 Grilling Tools for the Perfect BBQ

What’s your entertaining splurge?

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Marinated Skirt Steak with Chimichurri
From the kitchen of Blake L. Noland

½ cup Parsley, chopped
½ cup Green onions, chopped; white bottoms reserved
¼ cup Oregano, chopped
½ cup Olive oil
¼ cup Fresh lime juice
1 tsp. Red pepper flake or Tonguespank
1 Clove garlic, chopped
2 6 oz. Skirt steaks

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add additional Tonguespank to taste.

Rub 1-2 tablespoons of chimichurri sauce on steaks and let marinate for 1 hour or overnight. For added flavor, lightly dust steaks with Tonguespank before adding sauce.

Grill steaks to desired temp.

Grill the whites of the green onions whole to use as a garnish.

Serve chimichurri and grilled onions alongside steak.

You Might Also Like…
The Lowdown on Indirect Grilling
BBQ Q&A with Chef George Duran
8 Grilling Tools for the Perfect BBQ

What’s your favorite spice?

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Hello grilling season! It’s time to pull your dusty grill out and do more than roast veggies and brown hot dogs. Grills are versatile, especially when you get to cooking indirectly. This method is a hybrid of grilling —  which is quick — and true barbecue — which is slow — perfected in the 1950s, when the Weber grill hit the market. Ditch the oven and kick off your first summer BBQ by grilling in a different way. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

A word on direct grilling
Direct grilling is as simple as it sounds. Throw some chicken, steak or other small meat on the grill, flip it once, and your done. Of course, you should check the temperature of the food by using a grill safe meat thermometer. And when cooking fish, use Cookina’s reusable grilling sheet (recommended by Chef George Duran) instead of foil, for easy clean up.

Indirect grilling is for Texas-sized meat
When temperatures reach in the 90s, turning on the oven isn’t an option. That’s where indirect grilling comes in allowing you to use your grill like an oven. This method is best for larger foods, including whole chickens, or tougher cuts, like brisket. The beauty of indirect grilling is you get the wonderful flavor of barbecue with the tenderizing effect of roasting.

How to set up a grill for indirect cooking:

  • For gas grills. Turn on both burners and preheat the grill to high. When you’re ready to cook, turn off the burners on one side and place food on the grate that’s still lit. Most gas grills have built-in drip pans; if yours doesn’t, place a drip pan under the grate.
  • For charcoal grills.Heat the coals until they’re almost ready for cooking. Using tongs, separate the coals into two piles on either side of the grill. When the coals are ready, place a drip pan between the two piles. Place the food on the grate over the drip pan and cover the grill. Add 10 to 12 briquettes to each side every hour to maintain heat.

You Might Also Like…
BBQ Q&A with Curtis Stone
Vegetarian Recipes for BBQing 
8 Awesome Grilling Gadgets

Would you cook a whole chicken on the grill? 

Whether you’re entertaining a crowd or just trying to get dinner on the table, grilling is hard work. Rewarding, yes; but a chore just the same. To make your life easier, we set out to find a few fun, time-saving grilling tools and accessories. From set-up to clean-up, we’ve got you covered.

1. Sanitary prep — Grilling prep is hard work, especially when you’ve got veggies and meats on the menu. With the bamboo Flipper Cutting Board from Curtis Stone's new line of Kitchen Solutions, you can safely avoid cross contamination by flipping the board. ($79.99 at Williams-Sonoma)

2. Kabobs made easy — Let’s face it, kabobs are delicious. They’re also a pain to get off the skewer! Thanks to their slotted design, the Mastrad BBQ Skewers disperse heat keeping the handles cool. Even better, you can use the notched handle on one skewer to remove food from another. ($19.99 for a set of 6 at ShopMastrad.com)

3. Innovative grill marks — Ah, the cherished grilling marks — if only they weren’t so tricky. We found the answer: The Cookina Barbecue Reusable Grilling Sheet is a non-stick solution that allows you to grill without oil or foil mess, and with very little cleanup. Most importantly, you can still achieve impressive grill marks on all your BBQ fare. (From $8.00 at HomeDepot.com)

4. Connected cooking — Introducing the latest innovation in meat thermometers: the iGrillmini. This Bluetooth enabled device allows you to track your cooking progress with the corresponding (free) iDevices Connected app. Just probe your meat, leave the iGrill by the side of your grill, tell the app what you’re grilling, then get back to entertaining. The app will notify you when your food is ready; no babysitting required. ($39.99 at iDevices.com)

5. Simple smoking — The “low and slow” smoker-style cooking is hard to beat. But some of us don’t have the outdoor space to house a smoker. Thankfully, there’s a simple solution: the Good Cooking Smoker Bag is an easy-to-use foil pouch that contains wood chips to provide that delicious smokey flavor. It’s safe to use in an oven, on the grill, or over a campfire. (From $12.95 for a set of 3 at Amazon.com)

6. Fanfare flipping — Raise your hand if you believe grilling is a group sport! Now that we’re all in agreement, here’s the next accessory to add to your growing collection of sports paraphernalia and grilling tools. The Sportula is a three-fer: Show your team spirit, open some bottles, and flip those burgers — maybe not all at once. ($24.99 at Sportula.com)

7. Eat it while it’s hot — We know you’re dying to try the grilled corn with chipotle-lime butter recipe we shared, but of course you need to dig out those pesky corn holders that always get lost in the bottomless-pit-of-a-kitchen-junk-drawer. It’s time to upgrade to the Oxo Interlocking Corn Holders. The interlocking design keeps pairs nested together, so you can eat your corn hot off the grill, and not worry about losing the corn holders for next time. ($9.99 for a set of 4 at Oxo.com)

8. Hands-free cleanup — Entertaining in the summer just isn’t the same unless you’re grilling. But why is it that the grill-master always gets stuck with cleaning up the grease and grime left behind? With the help of the Grillbot, you can enjoy your meal and your company. Equipped with three motors, dishwasher-safe wire brushes, and a smart brain, the Grillbot will do all the scrubbing for you with the push of a button. ($129.95 at GrillBots.com)

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The Best Gas Grills 

Small Appliances for Grilling Prep

Grilling Q+A: Chef George Duran

10 Veggie Grilling Recipes

What grilling gadget can’t you live without?

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Curtis Stone has a very simple cooking philosophy: cook, create, and celebrate food from natural ingredients. The man who became famous as the Take Home Chef and host of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters also has some killer music suggestions and a few BBQ tips, too. 

Best cities for BBQ…
Kansas City, MO, Austin, Dallas, and Raleigh to name a few.

Gas or charcoal grill…
Charcoal. The flavour is so much more interesting.

Favorite spice…
Sumac because of its brick-red hue and its tart, lemony flavor.

One artist from your BBQ playlist…
Anything by Jack Johnson. Or the Killers.

The best cooking smell…
Whole chicken roasting in the oven – it reminds me of my mum cooking when I was a kid.

The worst cooking smell…
Stilton cheese. I don’t know how something can smell so bad but taste so good!

A must-have dish at any cookout…
My German potato salad goes well with so many things. And, better yet, it can be made the day before!

Entertaining splurge…
A well stocked bar, a good sound system to blast the beats, and nice lighting to create the perfect ambiance.

You Might Also Like…

Gas vs. Charcoal

Q&A: Chef George Duran

A BBQ Survival Guide for Vegetarians

Feeling inspired? Share your favorite grilling tricks with us.

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Tablets, laptops, and smartphones: Most high school and college grads already have at least one of each (or two or three). This makes buying the perfect gift for your perfect grad a bit challenging. So what’s the next best thing to get a grad who’s either going away to college or shacking-up in her first big girl apartment? A gadget that helps her get even more out of her gear – better sound, protection, and more power – plus, something that gives you (mom, dad or auntie) peace of mind. Not up on what’s new and cool? That’s where we come in with five gifts that are not only nifty, but functional. Dive in!

1. Super case — Life happens, and LifeProof’s Frē and Nüüd phone and tablet cases help you better withstand it. Both are dirt proof, snow proof, waterproof (for more than six hours), and shockproof (withstanding drops of up to six feet). LifeProof Frē includes a screen protector, Nüüd does not. Android users, don’t fret, compatible phone and tablet cases are coming soon! (From $79.99 at LifeProof.com)

2. Cellphone booster — Having a smartphone to stay connected is great … unless you can’t stay connected. The zBoost TRIO CONNECT maximizes data transfer speeds and minimizes dropped calls by increasing cell phone signals. No external antenna is required, so it’s perfect for small apartments, lofts and dorm rooms. Versions for Verizon and AT&T will be available by the end of May. ($349.99 at zBoost.com)

3. Power to go — Mobile devices have one thing in common — batteries that have the bad habit of petering out at the most inconvenient time. Cobra JumPack looks like a standard external battery pack, but has enough juice to start a car in an emergency! Add in the built-in LED flashlight, and the JumPack looks like it could be a lifesaver, literally. ($129.95 at Cobra.com)

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4. Look ma, no passwords — Forget about remembering complex passwords, the eyeLock Myris — a portable iris scanner — will do that for you. The USB connected, Myris works with most computers (Windows, Mac, Chrome) and tablets. It’s still in production, but in the meantime you can get your favorite grad on the wait list at eyeLock’s website. (TBA at eyeLock.com)

5. Big sound, small speaker — Now for something grads really want! The UE MINI BOOM from Logitech’s Ultimate Ears line, is a perfect match for mobile devices. This small Bluetooth speaker is great for listening to tunes at home or, with its 10-hour battery life, kicking back on the campus lawn. With five color options, it’s sure to befit any grad’s style. ($99.99 at UltimateEars.com)

You Might Also Like…

Top-Rated Wireless Speakers

Testing 1,2,3: Earbuds 

Charging on the Go

Get Smart, Get a Smartwatch

 So, what are you going to get your favorite grad?

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(Grilled corn and portobello burger)

Just because you’re a vegetarian doesn’t mean you have to fill up on salads and sides at barbecues this summer. There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan friendly options out there – you just have to know where to look. To help you survive National Barbecue Month and grilling season, we’ve hand selected 10 absolutely delicious vegetarian recipes – from burgers to kebabs to grilled pizza, and yes, even, salad.  

1. Grilled portobello & peach burgers — This recipe combines some of our favorite summer produce — tomatoes, peaches and avocadoes — to create a fun take on a veggie burger. The burger in this case is a marinated portobello mushroom, and toppings include guacamole. Get the recipe at GreenKitchenStories.com.

2. Grilled veggie banh mi sandwiches — The banh mi sandwich is usually all about meat – but it doesn’t have to be. To fit in with the barbecue theme, this sammie features grilled veggies, including purple (!) bell peppers among other “exotic” veggies. Get the recipe at OhMyVeggies.com.

3. Tofu and sweet pepper shish kebabs — Who doesn’t love shish kebabs? Or any food on a stick, for that matter. We love that these tofu kebabs can be grilled or baked so you can enjoy them all year round. Plus, there’s also a recipe here for homemade BBQ sauce. Get the recipe at PBS.org.

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(Avocado tacos and grilled tomatoes)

4. Grilled tomatoes with basil vinaigrette — This yummy recipe was featured in a few roundups around the web, and we couldn’t resist including it in ours. Red and yellow tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and thrown on the grill? Yum! Get the recipe at MyRecipes.com.

5. Grilled corn with chipotle-lime butter — The great thing about corn on the cob is that it’s already vegetarian, but this recipe adds a flavorful flair by combining adobo and chipotle peppers to the butter topping. We’ll take two! Get the recipe at Delish.com.

6. Grilled avocado tacos — Why should barbecues be limited to hamburgers and hotdogs? We think tacos are a great addition; and grilled tacos with avocado and queso fresco are even better. Get the recipe at OhSweetBasil.com.

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(Long weekend salad and herb garden pizza)

7. Grilled herb garden pizza — Pizza on the grill sounds enticing –  topping it with fresh tomatoes and herbs is even more delectable. You can make your own dough or buy it prepared and add all the toppings your heart desires. Get the recipe at LoveandLemons.com.

8. Grilled potatoes — Potato chips are a staple at any BBQ, and these grilled spuds from SkinnyTaste are both delicious and healthy. Even better, they take about 10 minutes to make — that gets our stamp of approval. Get the recipe at SkinnyTaste.com.

9. Tomatoes stuffed with cannellini and couscous — Ok, there are a lot of tomatoes on this list – but there’s so much you can do with them. In this case, grilled tomatoes are stuffed with cannellini beans and roasted garlic couscous. But you know what? You can stuff ‘em with whatever you want! Get the recipe at Recipes.Rodale.com.

10. Long weekend grilled salad — Summer is all about long weekends, right? This unconventional salad features grilled corn, zucchini, and peppers, mixed up with beans, a tasty dressing and more. I think we could eat this every day. Get the recipe at OhSheGlows.com.

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National BBQ Month Q&A: Chef George Duran

The Best Gas and Charcoal Grills

What We’re Doing for National BBQ Month

What are your favorite vegetarian and vegan BBQ recipes?

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You know him from the Food Network’s Ham on the Street and TLC’s Ultimate Cake Off. And we love him for his exuberant personality and inventive take on grilling. We learned all the essentials about Chef George Duran like his cookout must-haves and party tricks.

Best cities for BBQ…
Memphis, Nashville, St. Louis, Dallas, and Austin have the absolute best.

Gas or charcoal grill…
How can you not love gas? You can switch it on right away, you can extend your cooking, and it’s so much healthier. Sorry charcoal, I’ve run out of time!

Favorite spice…
Coffee rub. With bold flavors and sweet brown sugar to balance it out…life doesn’t get any better!

The worst cooking smell…
Cooking fish indoors. My secret weapon: a non-stick grilling matt called Cookina. I lay it on my grill and can grill any fish right on top of it (grill marks and all!) and it never sticks or stinks! ($9.88 at HomeDepot.com)

A must-have dish at any cookout…
You gotta have pulled meat of some sort. Chicken, beef or pork…you load with a bold barbecue sauce and let guests build there own sliders at their own leisure.

If I were a kitchen gadget I’d be…
The pickle picker. Don’t ask…

Entertaining splurge…
Hiring a DJ to get the tunes going can really make a party a big hit! That and a giant chocolate fountain, of course.

You Might Also be Interested In… 

Gas vs. Charcoal 

Top-Rated Smokers

Best Insect Repellent

Tell us, what’s your grilling must-have?

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If you’re a fish person, chances are you like to keep things low key. Fish are self-sufficient — give them a little food and a clean tank and they’re happy as a clam. Whether you’re raising a low or high maintenance fish, we found the coolest little homes — some requiring little to no maintenance — for your pet. Check out our anything-but-boring fish tank favorites.

1. Cup holder upgrade — Bring a little joy to your desk with this all-in-one fish tank powered by a USB drive.  An undergravel filtration system facilitates biological filtering which keeps the tank clean and your fish happy. Plus, the fishquarium doubles as a pencil holder, clock, and lamp. ($39.99 at ThinkGeek.com)

2. Fancy fish — Crazy about your fish? If money isn’t a factor, buy him a state-of-the-art 8-gallon tank  from biOrb — manitaining it requires very little work on your part. Undergravel filtration cleans the tank and an LED intelligent light keeps your fish on a natural light schedule. Fishy is worth it! ($359.99 at Petco.com)

3. Wall décor — Fish tanks for home décor? Brilliant! KAZE Home’s bubble fish tank gets pinned to the wall taking up zero space on tables and mantels. Add an LED light in red, blue, or white to light up his — and your — home.  ($24.95 at Amazon.com)  

4. No cleaning required — Using the laws of physics –  yes, that class you took in high school — this aquarium is self-cleaning! The copper spigot flushes out dirty water when a  clean cup of water is poured through the top. There’s no need to ever remove your fish from his new home and filters are obsolete.  ($70 at Uncommongoods.com

5. Mountain climber — Can fish climb mountains? If he lives in this modern, handmade glass bowl, yes! Unlike any fish bowl out there, this one is artistic and adds a touch of intrigue to your home. ($97.00 at Uncommongoods.com)

6. Economical Bettas — Betta fish don’t need an extravagant tank, they enjoy small spaces. Complete with a plastic, mountable aquarium, gravel, and all the essentials for a happy betta home, the Hagen Marina aquarium is a great addition to your home’s décor. ($19.99 at Amazon.com)

Is your fish high-maintenance? 

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Selfie — NOUN (plural selfies): A photograph that one has taken of oneself.*

Selfies are trending. And any enthusiast knows, getting the perfect self-portrait isn’t always easy. Yes, you can take a selfie anywhere – literally, at the top of the World Trade Center construction site, in the bathroom (but why would you want to?), and at work – but reaching that shutter button can be a real challenge. Now that graduation season is upon us, selfies are a must, but there’s certainly no time for mishaps. The solution? Selfie gadgets. Yes they exist and yes they are awesome. We found three for getting a pro-like shot in a flash.

1. The button – The HISY (pronounced High-See) connects to your iPhone (or other Apple products) via Bluetooth and triggers your phone’s camera with the touch of a button. This way you can snap pics without holding your phone in front of your face. ($25 at Hisypix.com)

2. The arm – How about adding an additional 3-feet to your arm? With this Sharper Image arm you can! Here are the facts: 1. Your picture will look more natural when using the arm. 2. You will risk looking a little goofy with this device extended in front of you. 3. Someone should definitely gift this gadget to Ellen for next year’s Oscars. ($49.99 at SharperImage.com)

3. The tripod – This Kickstarter project is a two for one deal: mini tripod and selfie stick. The Pop Scope goes on sale via Kickstarter later this month. Be the first in line. (Price unavailable at Kickstarter.com)

*Last year, Oxford Dictionaries officially added the term to its online dictionary after naming it their international Word of the Year 2013.

Are you an avid selfie taker?