We all want to live outside this summer, so it’s time to become grilling experts.
Hooray summer! Vacations, sunshine, happy sounds of kids in the pool. We’re going to celebrate this glorious season by sipping drinks on the deck, enjoying the colors in our gardens, feeding the koi in their pond, and walking barefoot through every lawn.
So many outdoor spaces beckon. Let’s enjoy them all as we vow to maximize our time outdoors. That includes eating and cooking al fresco, and that means it’s time to brush up on our skills at the grill. Every home has one, from humble hibachis to gleaming stainless steel outdoor kitchens.
We asked our publisher, Ed Malet, to share his expertise, gained from 40 years overseeing his grill. Here’s his “Guy’s Guide to Grilling” as he takes us through the seasons and several courses.
Here’s what Ed had to say…
Needless to say, I’m a fan of grills. Actually, I don’t wait for “the season.” If it’s not raining or snowing, I’m grilling.
Thanksgiving, I’m among the hardy ones who grill their turkeys. I more or less follow the instructions for roasting at 350°. But the bird usually gets done faster than the 15 minutes per pound. I watch it and baste it: after the first two hours, I baste about every half hour or so. It’s always good. And it’s easy.
Except for that one time. When much to my embarrassment, it caught fire. Two-foot flames as I lifted the lid to show off my handiwork to hungry guests who’d traveled from Virginia! We had to pick through the char to get just a bite of edible turkey. Now I stick a foil tray under the bird. Problem solved.
This winter I couldn’t pursue my passion. Too much snow, even for a die-hard like me. But, as soon as it thawed, I was grilling steaks for my wife, son and his two large, hungry friends in from Connecticut.
I should mention that my current grill is about 20 years old, gas-fired. Before that, I had a classic Weber charcoal grill—the dome-shaped, black, iconic design originally made from a marine buoy—also for 20 years. I still prefer charcoal for the flavor, but not much else. Gas makes it easy, and we grill far more often as a result.
For the first grilling of the season, we usually celebrate with strip steaks, thick cut, brought up to room temperature well in advance of cooking time. My “secret”—a heavy dose of Montreal Steak seasoning, store bought—applied liberally. Similarly, Worcestershire sauce, also applied before grilling. Let the meat’s flavor shine through.
As for timing, I aim for 16 minutes, 8 minutes on each side. But it’s really a matter of judgment. When you lift the steak, it should, when done, be just past flaccid. I like it pink, with a hint of red. My son likes it redder. My wife, however, likes it pink throughout: she “doesn’t like to see blood.” No matter. Most steaks are usually big enough that there’s variation to satisfy us all.
Easter dinner means it’s time for grilled lamb. A butterflied leg is a favorite—a crusty flavorful charred outside that’s perfectly pink and tender inside. Lamb’s flavor calls for a hearty marinade with rosemary, lemon, garlic and oil. Some say an acidic marinade neutralizes carcinogens from the char. I’d like to believe that.
Since lamb is fatty, flare-ups on the grill can happen, so be prepared with a squirt bottle of water. I like to char the outsides by grilling at high heat—about 4 minutes a side—then cook at a lower heat until a thermometer hits the preferred temp. Make sure you get that pink interior—nothing’s sadder than overcooked lamb at your Easter table.
Chicken I grill at a somewhat lower heat. And make sure it’s well done, 165° internal temp. It should be butchered in advance—breasts, legs, thighs, wings—washed, patted dry. Any sort of advance seasoning rub or marinating is optional. My sense is that it detracts. Although I sometimes add a good barbecue sauce near the end. Just lay the pieces on the grill, turning two or three times, for 25-35 minutes for smaller piece or up to 40 minutes for a large breast. The key is the crisp skin.
Fish is trickier, mainly because you have to work fast, prevent it from sticking to the grill and do the perfect flip. I never get it perfect, but I’m improving. The grill should be very clean. You can oil it, but if you do, do it very lightly, or you’ll have flames.
Choose a fish that’s firm fleshed. You need to be really good—better than me—to do a white, flaky fish like cod or flounder on the grill. Unless you use a foil packet or grill basket, but that’s cheating. Pick salmon, mahi-mahi or swordfish. Place it diagonally on the hot grill (better grill marks and easier for flipping), skin side down and sear the outside. Depending on thickness, it takes 6 to 12 minutes to make sure it’s cooked all the way through—when the fish flakes and is opaque throughout. Flip it if it’s thick and for those professional-looking grill marks.
The next level of skill for a grill-meister involves vegetables. Often potatoes: small ones, either red or golden. I start them about 45 minutes before mealtime, earlier if they’re larger. Everyone likes the nice crisp potato skin. For more flavor, I’ll grill sweet potatoes—more or less the same treatment as other potatoes but I add jerk seasoning. Again, store bought seems to work just fine.
Of course, I do other vegetables as well—string beans, corn-on-the-cob. Either rolled up in aluminum foil or directly on the grill—good for peppers, eggplant and asparagus. Add butter and some seasoning. Grill for about 8 to 10 minutes for dense veggies, 2 to 3 minutes for more delicate ones, like asparagus.
My view is that if I’m going to fire up the grill, I want to make as much of the meal on it as possible—I even make Texas toast (grilled buttered bread). It sounds better when you call it Texas toast.
For a dessert finale, I’ll grill fruit—peaches, pears, bananas, pineapple, watermelon. Best to keep it simple—the sugars caramelize and grilling adds a smoky taste, so long as you clean off the flavor of prior hamburgers. Firm fruits are easiest but for most, I just cut them in half, spray the grill with an oil, brush them with butter or oil, adding spices if I’m in the mood (nutmeg to peaches, cinnamon to apples, and so forth).
Fruit grills fast, so keep a watchful eye. In minutes you have a healthy, delicious, impressive dessert. Which is even better served with ice cream.
So that’s your meal on a grill (okay, add a salad), through every season.
A final note and comment on barbecue: For the longest time, I referred to my grill as “the barbecue.” I was wrong. To barbecue is to cook things slowly. Very, very slowly. I learned that in Florida and Texas, they sometimes take 10 to 12 hours to barbecue a pork shoulder or beef brisket. You need a grill that will sustain a 170° heat, or less! It’s a test of patience, though it goes better with a six-pack or so. And friends.