A tasty feast

For a memorable dish: Bourbon-marinated tri-tip with grilled mixed vegetables pairs well with vodka lemon coolers. (Patricia Beck/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

Summer is just a few weeks away and it's time to get your grilling game on. We've lined up some easy recipes to ensure your season sizzles. All are easy, time-effective and sure to please.

This weekend marks the start of the unofficial grilling season, and menu includes two side dishes, two main dish options and a lemony cocktail to top it all off.

Not only can you prep them all in advance, you can grill some in advance so you can spend more time with guests. Plus, these dishes easily feed a crowd (those cooking for just a few can grill once and eat for days). Here are tips for our recipes from the Free Press Test Kitchen and Joseph Gilbert, corporate chef for HoMedics, a Commerce Township, Mich.-based manufacturer of relaxation and wellness products:

Marinated Tri-Tip: If you've never tried this cut of meat, it's well worth a try. If your local market doesn't carry it, request it at the butcher counter. It's great for a half-dozen guests -- it's about 11/2 to 21/2 pounds of solid meat cut from the bottom sirloin -- reasonably priced (average is $6-$8 a pound for a whole roast) and very lean and tender. Look for tri-tip at Hiller's Markets, Nino Salvaggio International Market Place, Costco and Trader Joe's stores.

Tips: Don't overcook it; it's best cooked medium-rare or medium.

"Marinate with a rub or a flavor that suits you and sear it over medium-high to get good marks on all sides, good color and caramelization and then cook over indirect heat," says Gilbert. "Let rest on a cutting board or serving platter for 10 minutes and cut against the grain in thin pieces."

The final internal resting temperature should be 130 degrees for medium-rare.

Chicken leg quarters: They are inexpensive -- anywhere from 39 to 59 cents a pound--and one leg quarter (about 10 to 12 ounces) is plenty for one serving. Or you can split them in half at the joint (leg and thigh). These are best marinated. Keep the skin on, score several slices through the skin and marinate overnight. Grill with the skin on and give guests the option of removing it.

Tips: Pat the chicken dry after removing it from the marinade. "Spray it with nonstick spray, giving the chicken a light glaze, and then put it on the hot grill to get char marks on both sides," says Gilbert. Turn down the heat and watch them, says Gilbert, who cautions grillers not to just shut the lid and walk away: "Don't crowd chicken pieces on the grill because the high fat content from the skin will cause flare-ups."

Grilled vegetables: Add a simple drizzle of olive oil, some kosher or sea salt and black pepper, and the veggies are ready for the grill. Serve hot off the grill or toss in mixed greens salads or pasta salads.

Tips: Cut vegetables uniformly (you can do this a day ahead) and large enough so they don't slip through the grates. Don't marinate longer than 30 minutes or they will get mushy.

"Put the vegetables on grill grates and grill to get good char marks and then remove to a cookie tray and cook another 3 to 5 minutes," says Gilbert.

You can cook vegetables before the main course, platter them and lightly cover with foil.

"I want my meat or chicken to be the center stage. The vegetables can stay out 45 minutes to an hour without a problem," he says.

Bourbon-marinated tri-tip

Preparation time: 15 minutes (plus marinating time)
Total time: 1 hour
Serves: 8

You can grill the tri-tip whole or cut the roast into individual thick steaks.