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Americans are spending a lot of time at home this year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. For those of us lucky enough to have them, grills have been a huge help in getting through the summer. From socially distant backyard barbecues to a welcome escape from the heat of the kitchen (and the inside of your house, let’s be honest), grills are great.

Grilling is one of the joys of the outdoors, and it can help decrease your home’s energy consumption.

As we come up on the long Labor Day weekend, here are some tips to help all you grillmasters conserve energy, protect the environment, and savor some new food cooked outdoors.

#1. Invest in a gas grill

Grilling purists may never settle the long-held debate over charcoal or gas grilling, but gas grills are far more efficient and release fewer pollutants into the air. According to NPR, the carbon footprint of a gas grill is about a third of the footprint of a charcoal grill.

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#2. Don’t waste time overheating

Your gas grill only needs about 10-15 minutes to adequately heat up. Charcoal grills take longer; briquettes can take upward of a half-hour to heat up and catch fire. And you don’t want to overheat a grill — that can result in overcooked or burnt food. Keep in mind a few consistent temperatures and use a meat thermometer to know when your food is ready to serve. Generally, there are three temperature ranges to keep in mind: 400-450°F for high-temperature cooking, 300-400°F for medium heat, and 300°F or less for low and slow cooking.

#3. Experiment with the food you cook

Don’t be afraid to try new types of food and grilling techniques to make your meals even tastier. For instance, kebab skewers work great for grilling whole vegetables, like mushrooms, peppers, and zucchini. Meanwhile, softer fruits such as peaches, tomatoes, and pineapples require less heat to cook and can retain some of their juice if wrapped partially in aluminum foil. And fish, like salmon or sea bass, cook best on a cedar plank or in a fry basket, applied directly on top of the grill. And remember to add grill marinades, sauces, and seasonings as part of your prep work. They’ll help to inject flavor and keep whatever you’re cooking nice and juicy.

#4. Take a moment to clean

After grilling, don’t forget to put a little effort into cleaning up. A clean grill not only operates at its peak performance, but it’s also a proven way to avoid food-borne illness, bacteria, and other harmful contaminants that can build up in between uses.

To clean your grill easily, take a paper towel, dampen it with some olive oil, then wipe away any excess food and gunk build-up. After you’ve wiped down the grill, make sure to heat it quickly on high heat for five minutes. Once it’s cool again, cover the grill to protect it from the elements.

Follow these four steps, and you’ll enjoy grilling that will last you all season long. It’s one of the joys of the outdoors, and it can help decrease your home’s energy consumption — saving you and your family some money in the process.

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Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a contributing writer for the Washington Post, Thrillist, Eater, and Matador Networks. Follow him on Twitter: @TimEbner.

Washington, DC