From a Chef’s Perspective: It’s grilling season!
It’s here. Summer in FULL effect. Which means swimming, sunsets, riding my bicycle around town and GRILLING. I LOVE cooking and eating outside – it’s probably my favorite activity of the year. You can get away with being a little messier, clean-up is way easier and my house doesn’t smell like meat! Add the abundance of North Fork farm-fresh vegetables and local responsibly-raised meats and you have the perfect equation for seriously putting your grill to work all season.
First things first, gas or charcoal? (Known as the “grate debate” by some cheeky grilling pros.) People seem pretty divided on whether gas or charcoal is the “best” for grilling. My take on this is that they both have their place, and it’s a personal preference. For frequent grilling that is fuss-free and efficient, I’m into gas grilling. You turn the knob, wait 10 minutes, then get going – I like that life for myself. The thing that you’re missing with a gas grill is the flavor profile that charcoal imparts on food, that smoky, charry edge. This comes from a charcoal grill’s ability to get a lot hotter than a gas grill. Getting a charcoal grill going is a bit more a process though, and cleaning it out is kind of a mess. You have to be a really dedicated charcoal-nerd to want to go through all that every time you want a burger. If, however, you’re looking to smoke & slow-cook a giant hunk of something, charcoal is a must.
For this post, I’ll be covering foods I make on a regular basis on a gas grill.
Grilled greens are the best greens. I’m admittedly terrible at meeting my dietary vegetable requirement. I really don’t care for salad, and unless they are fried or in some delicious thick sauce, vegetables tend to elude me. However, once a vegetable is lightly dressed in olive oil, salt and pepper and grilled, all of a sudden I’m a BIG fan. One of my favorite things to grill are leafy greens and cabbages. Examples: Romaine hearts, bok choy, Belgian endive, raddiccio and whole kale leaves. Prep: Super easy. Invest in a nice kitchen brush and some premium extra virgin olive oil. For the whole hearts, slice them in half so they are all around the same size. Brush both the interior and exterior with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Before grilling make sure you shake a little of that extra oil off so you don’t end up with some wild flames. Grill over medium heat (resist handling them too much) until you have some nice grill marks on both sides and they still have some of their firmness. I do these before I start cooking my meats because they can kind of hang out on a plate. If you want to really up the flavor, squeeze some lemon on them before serving or sprinkle with some grated parmesan cheese.
Is there such a thing as a bad burger? I mean, yes. But the nice thing about having a barbeque is the casual nature of the gathering means no one is really going to be fussy about their burgers. If I am having a small group of friends over for a special dinner I may shell out some extra dough for local ground beef and make the patties myself. There are some butcher shops that will make a custom blend for you also. Wayside in Southold has a pretty great burger meat selection. For non-locals, Whole Foods is damn good too. If I’m hosting more than 6 people and can’t afford to give everyone fancy burgers, I find fresh patties at the grocery store that are at the very least made from responsibly-raised meat. Prep: Salt and pepper, nothing else! Cooked medium-rare unless someone requests a hockey puck. I always use potato buns (warmed on the grill), deli American cheese slices, a thick slab of in-season tomato and butter lettuce (aka Boston or Bibb), spicy mustard and ketchup. Done. (For turkey burgers, do yourself a favor and invest in a good thermometer to cook them to 165F and you will never eat a dry turkey burger again.)
Pro tip: If tomatoes are not in season, don’t even bother. Nothing kills a great burger like a hard, tasteless slice of hot house tomato. Try a teaspoon of tomato paste stirred into your ketchup if you crave that extra tomato flavor.
The bombest grilled chicken. Step 1: Accept the fact that chicken breasts aren’t going to be nearly as delicious as thighs and legs. Once you have accepted this truth, you can move into grilled chicken enlightenment. The reason for this is chicken breasts have to be cooked to 165F and NOT A HAIR over in order to retain their juices. Thighs and legs have a slightly higher fat content, so they can be slightly overcooked and still be delicious. When I see people putting skinless chicken breasts on a grill, a wave of sadness falls over me. Cooking on a grill means a lot less control than a stove/oven, so I always recommend using thighs and legs because even if you forget (because you are hittin’ that rosé box too hard, it’ll still be ok! I always recommend buying a quality barbeque sauce too, a few dollars more means a whole world of a difference. Leave the generic brand behind. Now is not the time to save $2.00. Prep: I will defer to Sam Sifton as his method has proved to be excellent every time: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017545-barbecued-chicken
I love barbeques because they aren’t fancy. Paper plates, plastic cups, giant bags of chips, potato salad…man it’s the BEST. Don’t overthink it. The joy of hosting a bbq is in having your friends over to eat (and maybe drink) a little too much in the amazing weather we spent months anticipating. Consume responsibly (and stay over if you don’t), recycle and don’t forget to stock up on Bridge Lane box wine – a MUST for barbeques! Shop here: http://shop.liebcellars.com/store