Barbecue: some planning makes it easy and elegant

If you enjoy giving dinner parties but want to minimize the work of entertaining, an outdoor barbecue - now more fashionably called grilling - can be the answer.

The two are part of a trend toward a simplification of cooking and the cooking of foods in an American way, extending the grilled foods list way beyond the usual hotdogs and hamburgers.

Alice Waters says the aroma of food cooking on the grill attracted customers when she first used it in her restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, Calif.

Mark Miller uses only mesquite charcoal at his Fourth Street Grillin San Francisco and likes grilling, he says, because it lends itself to informality and demands greater honesty and simplicity.

One spinoff of the restaurant trend may be the serving of more imaginative foods at backyard cookouts. Certainly, with advance planning, it is possible to create an evening that's both easy and elegant.

Start with a simple menu for entertaining, but choose one dish that is special even if it requires more attention. It can be as unusual as paella, as exotic as kebabs, or as economical as Charcoal Grilled Chicken Wings With Lemon and Pepper.

Honey, apple cider, soy sauce, lemon and other citrus juices, or one of your favorite fruit preserves make good basting sauces for many foods, and herbs sprinkled on the coals just before cooking will add an unusual, subtle flavor.

Prepare as much as you can ahead of time. Wash and freshen salad greens the night before. Keep dessert simple, perhaps fruit or berries in season. Save money with economical meats that can be tenderized all day in a homemade marinade.

The basic secrets to all hassle-free grilling are organization, planning, and simplicity.

Be sure you follow the basic rules for working with an outdoor grill. Your grill should be clean and ready. Clean out the old ashes after every use and line the firebox with fresh, heavy-duty foil, shiny side up.

Make sure the grid is free of grease and food particles. To make future cleanup easier, always spray with a nonstick coating.

Keep your barbecue equipment handy. For quick and easy on-a-stick meals invest in a long set of skewers. Long, heavy, wooden-handle ones are best for kebabs, smaller and lighter ones for hors d'oeuvres.

Keep the skewers in a portable caddy along with other supplies. A wide-mouth jar of vegetable oil, a basting brush, tongs, a spatula, padded mitts, aluminum foil, wooden matches, and a grill scraper are basic.

To cut down on fire-preparation time use an instant-lighting charcoal. Some are ready to cook in half the time of regular charcoal.

If you can find one, an old milk can makes an unusual charcoal container, and its tight-fitting lid will keep briquettes fresh and dry no matter what the weather.

Keep an eye on the weather and remember that you'll need to allow more time if the day is damp, windy, or cool.

If you're planning to grill more than one food, make sure you know how long each will take on the grill and plan accordingly.

Advance preparation always makes the actual cooking easier. Cut large portions of meat into smaller same-size pieces and they'll cook faster.

If you're cooking kebabs, parboil or blanch the vegetables first so that when you grill meat and vegetables they'll both take the same cooking time.

An inexpensive meat will seem festive when it's grilled, and it's a good way to stretch a small amount of meat, fish, or poultry.

As you make up your own skewer sticks, remember to group together foods that take about the same time to cook. Remember, too, the closer they are packed on the skewer, the longer the cooking time that will be needed.

Here are some ideas for putting together kebabs and some tips for the basic procedure:

* Fish such as halibut combine well with shrimp, zucchini squash, bell peppers, and onions.

* Chunks of turkey breast are moist and full of flavor when skewered with fresh pineapple cubes and grilled.

* Ground meats cook quickly and allow for interesting flavor combinations when alternated on a skewer with rounds of corn on the cob.

* Pounded boneless pork will become tender when pounded and threaded ripple fashion on skewers by themselves and quickly grilled.

This swordfish recipe is from Julie Dannenbaum's new cookbook ''More Fast & Fresh'' (Harper & Row, $14.95). Any other firm fish can be used in this recipe. She suggests salmon, halibut, monkfish, lobster, shrimp, or scallops. Swordfish and Cucumber Kebabs 2 1/2 pounds swordfish, in 1-inch cubes 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, in 1-inch pieces Salt and freshly ground pepper 1/2 cup olive oil Juice of 1/2 lemon 1 bay leaf, crushed

Thread fish and cucumbers alternately on each of 6 skewers. Season with salt and pepper. Mix together the oil, lemon juice, and bay leaf. Brush each serving with the mixture. Broil kebabs 4 inches from heating unit or charcoal 5 or 10 minutes, turning skewers and basting frequently. Serves 6.

This recipe is from the ''Chez-Panisse Cookbook'' by Alice Waters (Random House, $16.95). Charcoal-Grilled Chicken Wings With Lemon and Pepper 3 lemons 6 to 8 cloves garlic 1 tablespoon black peppercorns 18 chicken wings 1/2 cup virgin olive oil Salt

Thinly slice lemons and slightly flatten the garlic. Using a mortar and pestle, crack about 1 tablespoon of the black peppercorns.

Toss chicken wings with olive oil in shallow dish and mix in lemon slices, salt, and pepper. Marinate the wings at cool room temperature 4 to 5 hours, turning 5 or 6 times.

Prepare a medium-hot wood-charcoal fire. With a sharp paring knife, make a small horizontal cut in the skin of the large muscle of each wing about halfway between the joints.

Work the tip of each small part of the wings firmly toward the incisions. Pat the wings free of excess marinade and salt lightly.

Place on the grill, cut sides up, and baste lightly with marinade. Grill 4 minutes, then turn cut side up and baste again. Grill 3 to 4 minutes and check to see if wings are done by pressing the fleshy part with a finger. They are done when flesh is firm yet springy. Remove to a rack to cool. Serves 6.

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