When choosing a charcoal grill, there are two primary requisites: hot and large. In other words, buy a grill that generates the maximum amount of heat and that is as big as you have room for in your yard, on your fire escape, or wherever you do your grilling. The reasons for this are pretty simple: The interaction of food and high heat is what creates that ineffable grilling flavor, and the more room you have on the grill, the more opportunity you'll have to move food around to areas of different heat levels. This last is particularly important as you'll usually want to build a dual-level fire, with about two-thirds of the coals on one side of the grill bed and one-third on the other. That way, you can get a really good, strong sear on the outside of the meat over the big blaze, then finish cooking it through over the cooler fire.

We are not huge fans of gas grills, since even the best of them cannot get as hot as a charcoal or wood fire. But we do recognize their extreme convenience. So if you choose to go with a gas grill, try to get one that really puts out some heat; the inexpensive, low-BTU types are simply not going to give you the heat you need for, say, getting a good, hard sear on that big porterhouse steak.

The Weber Performer ($399; www.weber.com) combines some of the best qualities of gas and charcoal models: It uses a gas flame to light the fire, but uses charcoal or wood as the fuel, so it starts quickly and easily but still gives you the high heat and smoky flavor of a live fire. - and C.S.

WARM UP THE CROWD