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"New gourmet barbecues use wood pellets, flavored charcoal, corn, gas"

Click here to see a descriptive illustration of several designs of the unique barbecue grills.

Dear Jim: I want an efficient barbecue grill so I can cook outdoors more often. Even though I air-condition, the kitchen gets uncomfortable when I cook a big meal. What are my options for serious outdoor cooking? - Jean F.

A: No matter what barbecue you select, using it should lower your utility bills. Cooking not only warms your kitchen, but it emits tremendous amounts of humidity into the indoor air. This makes your air conditioner run longer and often forces you to set its thermostat lower to feel comfortable.

More people are doing serious outdoor cooking on elaborate barbecue systems, often referred to as outdoor kitchens. If your budget is unlimited, some of these system cost more than $10,000 and include just about everything a gourmet kitchen has.

For the rest of us on a budget, there are many reasonably priced barbecue grills which have many convenience, high-tech and efficiency features. Gas or electric barbecues are still most popular, but wood pellet and corn models give the foods unique flavors and use earth-friendly natural and recycled fuel.

Wood pellet and corn grills are convenient to use and include an automatic fire starter. Pour a bag of pellets or corn into grill hopper. When the fire starts, a small auger slowly feeds pellets or corn into the fire at any rate you select. This provides precise control over the heat. There are also portable small pellet models that are ideal for tailgating or camping.

By purchasing different types of wood pellets (mesquite, cherry, hickory, alder), you can enhance the natural flavors of the food. If you like to bake or roast other foods while you grill meat, some designs include a built-in oven cabinet. The hot air circulates for quick convection baking.

For a variety of cooking at a reasonable price, consider a modular gas barbecue. By replacing interchangeable cooking components, these models can be used as a standard gas grill, a charcoal grill, a charcoal smoker, a water smoker, or a deep fryer. Stainless steel models resist corrosion best.

If you primarily grill meats, consider a gas grill with an electronic temperature probe. A sensor in the probe alerts you when the meat is done depending on its type and your selection of rare, medium or well-done. You might also try adding some of the gourmet flavored and natural woods. Some wood is available in small pull-ring cans for simple use with a gas grill.

Flat-top grilling is becoming more popular. These barbecue grills have a circular heavy solid steel surface over double circular gas burners (for even heating). They can be used for many types of outdoor cooking. Other models allow you to interchange a wok, cooking pot, or griddle with the cooking top.

Instant Download Update Bulletin No. 672 - buyer's guide of 14 unique gourmet barbecue grill manufacturers listing the maximum heat outputs, type of flue used, cooking surface sizes, special features, prices, listing of seven suppliers of gourmet natural flavored wood/charcoal and a description of the various gourmet woods and charcoals.

Dear Jim: I have a through-the-wall kitchen vent fan with an outdoor flapper. It leaks air year-round and I can feel the draft near it. What can I do to make it seal better when it is not running? - Teresa Y.

A: The first thing to do is clean and lubricate the outdoor flapper hinges and spring (some don't have a spring and rely on the weight of the flapper to close it). Make sure it swings freely.

If you still have an air leak after cleaning it, stick some adhesive-backed foam weatherstripping around the door edge. You may have to use two different thicknesses so it seals all the way around the flapper.

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