Memorial Day is almost here, and you're at the point of no return -- the sun is out, blue sky glows above you, fresh green grass is under your feet. You've made your decision about

gas or charcoal grilling.

You've got the chicken, steak, burgers and dogs ready to go. Now it's time to prepare the field. So crack your knuckles, smear some barbecue sauce underneath your eyes and get your game face on -- the time is here!

Sound too dramatic?

Well, getting ready to grill is serious stuff. Without the right preparation, grilling becomes a giant hassle. Everything sticks, nothing gets that beautiful char and you turn into a big grilling loser.

So, here's your essential guide on grill preparation. No tricks, just the facts -- what to do first, what to do the minute you slap that beautifully marinated steak on the grill and what to have handy throughout the process.

Get Ready, Get Set

The first step? Clean that grill like you've never cleaned it before.

It's crucial to remove any residue from the last grilling session to ensure your food not only tastes good, but also cooks properly. Charred substances -- which are essentially carbonized organic matter -- will stick to your food and make it taste like what you grilled

last

Memorial Day.

And if your food is making contact with last year's carbon instead of the hot steel of the grill, it won't char and cook without sticking.

So clean that grill. Do it! It's fun. Get your brush, heat up the grill till it's very hot and scrub, scrub, scrub those nasty bits away. Use a heavy wire brush and get "Mommy Dearest" on that thing.

When you're done cleaning, get the grill hot again -- you really can't have too hot a surface. The minute you throw the food on, it cools the metal down, and you are no longer taking advantage of the high heat.

Just before you place food on the grill, prepare the surface by wiping the grates with a thick cotton dish towel that has been dipped in a little bit of vegetable oil. (Don't use aerosol sprays like Pam unless you want to become a fire-eater!)

Use just enough oil for a light coating and rub it into the surface of the grill -- this will go a long way to prevent sticking. If the grill is too hot, use a pair of long metal tongs to hold the towel.

All Fired Up

So now your grill is clean, hot and calling out to you. But before you begin to cook, there are a few important things to keep in mind: temperature, seasoning and storing.

You control temperature by adjusting the distance, either by moving the food away from the heat, or the heat away from the food.

You can use a grill basket or the height adjustments that most grills have to move food away from the heat, and thereby slow down the cooking process.

To move heat away from the food, just create two heat zones by moving the coals to one side of the grill, thus producing a cool spot and a hot spot (with a gas grill, it's a simple turn of the dial). Cook larger, thicker items more slowly in the cool zone and thinner, smaller items more rapidly in the hot zone.

Most grilled food is marinated, brined, rubbed or slathered with BBQ sauce. In any case, make sure your food is wiped clean and well dried before grilling -- you should actually scrape off excess seasonings and dry your food by patting it down with a paper towel. Sauces and marinades flame up and can give grilled food an unpleasant gasoline-like flavor.

Plus, the water in those seasonings would cool down the grill and prevent browning and charring. And no char, no flavor!

After the food is patted dry, always season generously with salt and pepper. Season the side of the food to touch the grill first just before it goes on the heat, because salt extracts moisture and, again, water cools down the grill.

When you are ready to flip the food, season the top and then flip immediately.

How to tell when it's done? A good guideline is that the food will be firm, but still springy, to the touch. Feel free to cut it open if you're unsure (I won't tell).

But the safest method is to use an instant-read thermometer: for meat, look for 110 to 120 degrees for rare to medium-rare, 120 to 140 degrees for medium to medium-well and 140 to 160 degrees for well-done and completely free of any blood.

Once your food is perfectly grilled, you usually need to keep it warm -- unless you have the timing of Gene Krupa.

The best way to store and hold your cooked food is to remove it from the grill and let it rest on a rack in a sheet pan, tented with tinfoil to maintain warmth. And be sure it's all placed within easy reaching distance of the grill.

Don't Be a Tool

Now that you know what to do, do you have all the right tools? Oh yes, there are tools for your grill -- and I don't mean that set you got in your Christmas stocking with the leather string hanging from the handle.

If you don't have them already, here's a quick sum-up of the essentials:

  • A heavy wire brush, for cleaning
  • A pair of long metal tongs, for grabbing and turning
  • A grill basket or two for fish, thin cuts of meat and vegetables
  • Heavy-duty, thick cotton dish towels
  • A spray bottle filled with water, to put out flare-ups
  • Vegetable oil in a shallow bowl, for preparing the grill surface

That's all you need!

With these guidelines and a little patience, you'll be ready to grill whatever your family or friends throw at you this Memorial Day weekend -- or try a delicious new recipe, like mine below.

You have the knowledge, the tools, the time and the grill. Now strike up a match and smoke 'em out!

Indian Mango Curry Skewered Shrimp With Garlic and White Bean Glaze

Serves: 4

Indian Mango Curry

Seasoned Skewers; or regular wooden skewers, soaked in white wine for 30 minutes

1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined

Salt and black pepper, to taste

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 14-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup Mikee Garlic Rib Sauce, or other rib sauce of choice

1 large bunch scallions, thinly sliced

1. Preheat grill. Skewer the shrimp, about three per skewer.

2. In a food processor, blend together the beans, garlic and the rib sauce. Brush shrimp with 3 tablespoons of the mixture. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Grill 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side or until shrimp are just done. Scatter scallions on the shrimp skewers and serve.

Note

: Rocco is shooting his new TV show, and he's looking for people with a dramatic situation in their lives involving food. Worried about that engagement dinner with your picky mother-in-law? Trying to win back that ex-girlfriend who's still mad at you for cheating on her? Trying to bury the hatchet with that outcast uncle at your family reunion cookout? Rocco wants to help you! Please

email with your problem and we will contact you!

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Rocco DiSpirito was born and raised in Jamaica, Queens. His culinary experience and love of "the good life" through cooking and dining began at age 11 in his mother Nicolina's kitchen. By the age of 16, DiSpirito entered the Culinary Institute of America, graduating with honors in 1986. DiSpirito's career highlights include opening Union Pacific in New York City's Gramercy Park as chef and owner in 1997, being awarded three stars from the New York Times in a 1998 review, and three more in 2002 from the New York Observer. DiSpirito was also named Food & Wine's Best New Chef in 1999, and "America's Most Exciting Young Chef" by Gourmet magazine in 2000; his show "The Restaurant" first aired on NBC in 2003. DiSpirito is the author of three cookbooks: Flavor, Rocco's Italian American, and

Rocco's 5 Minute Flavor.