Tips for Meat, Heat Tasty Summer Treats
You know the smell. It’s intoxicating. Crisp, gray charcoal burns on the grill as the sweet scent of marinated, sizzling chicken wafts through the evening air. Warm, inviting smoke rises through the sky like a balloon. You’re wrapped up in the vapors like a blanket. In the background you can smell fresh cut grass, kids lathered in sunscreen, and perhaps a cocktail with a burst of lemon. The aroma of a summer grill can leave many of us practically drooling for that first bite.
With school out and summer in full swing (and because we keep smelling your grills) we spoke to two local experts who uncovered their best kept secrets for creating culinary masterpieces on a hot grill. Ryan Knuth, Executive Chef of Barrington of West Chester and owner of Mortar & Pestle Rubs and Seasonings, along with Melanie Cedargren, owner of The Spicy Olive, shared their expertise and special recipes with us. We’ve boiled their secrets down to a few tips and tricks that can inspire anyone—whether you’re a novice or an expert—to fire up that grill and craft a meal that will leave your whole neighborhood drooling for more.
First Things First—The Grill
How much should a grill cost? Don’t go into debt because of a grill. No matter how much you spend on a grill, you have to take care of it. Ryan suggests you keep the grates oiled and cleaned, and clear out anything that falls underneath after each use. Cast iron is great because it holds the heat in, but it can rust, so be sure to keep it cleaned and oiled.
The easiest way to clean a grill is to turn it on and let it preheat. After preheating, take a grill brush and give it a good brush. When your grates are clean, you get the nice, beautiful grill marks.
Always have a backup propane tank. You never want to have a party and realize you’re out of propane!
Before you throw them on the grill, let your steaks sit out for a half hour so they’re at room temperature. They’ll loosen up faster and cook more evenly.
When cooking chicken breasts, be sure to tenderize them (pound them out) so they’re the same thickness throughout. It cooks more evenly so the thin side doesn’t dry out.
Instead of tossing your fish directly on the grill, purchase a cedar plank (untreated) at your hardware store or any place that sells lumber. Soak the wood for a minimum of an hour in water so when you put it on your grill, it will smolder and season the fish (chicken works, too) with a smoky taste. You can wash and reuse the planks a few times. Try grilling salmon, mahi, grouper or tilapia on a cedar plank—you’re guaranteed to love it.
When possible, buy grass-fed beef for a naturally less fatty cut and beefier taste. Ryan gets his beef at Grassland Graze, where the cows live in the same neighborhood we do—they are a local cattle producer located in Liberty Township.
If you have a three or four burner grill, leave one of your burners off while the rest are on, and utilize the non-lit burner(s) to provide indirect heat. This is a great place to let your meat rest. You want to let your meats rest, especially steaks and burgers, so that the liquid redistributes throughout the meat.
Instant Read Thermometer
A simple purchase at a grocery store can save you from having to guess when your meats are done. Stick an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of your meat for 15-20 seconds. On average, internal temperatures should hit:
Chicken and turkey: 165 degrees
Pork: 135-140 degrees
Burgers: Well done is 155-160 degrees; medium is 135-140 degrees
Fish: 140 degrees
Steak: Well done is 165-170 degrees; medium is 155-160 degrees; medium rare is 140-145 degrees
The Grill is Not Just For Meat Eaters
Keep your veggies as large as possible when grilling. For zucchini, yellow squash and peppers, cut them in half, season up with salt and pepper, herbed olive oil or soy sauce, and then put them on the grill. Cook the veggies on both sides and cut them down to your desired size after they grill. For added flavor, toss with parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar after grilling.
Yes, you can grill your fruit! Try large pieces of pineapples, peaches, plums and nectarines. Use a hot grill and grill them quickly, chop them up and serve over vanilla ice cream. Fruits have so much natural sugar that they’ll caramelize. For the daring, a dash of chili powder can bring out the sweetness of fruits.
Rubs, Spices and Marinades: Seasoning Tips
Don’t marinade with alcohol. Although it’s tempting to flavor with beer or wine, the alcohol will dry out your meats. Coke or any kind of cola product is an excellent, easy marinade. Its sugars and acids will break down your meats and give it a really interesting flavor.
Olive Oil & Balsamic
For a lot of flavor and moistness, add olive oil and balsamic vinegar to your meats and veggies before tossing them on the grill. Oils from The Spicy Olive are ultra-premium grade, which is the highest quality—even better than extra virgin!
Use The Spicy Olive’s Tuscan Herb Olive Oil and Neapolitan Herb Balsamic Vinegar to marinate a steak, then sprinkle it with Mortar & Pestle’s Burger and Steak blend before you grill.
At the end of the day, grilling can be fun and adventurous. Do what we did and ask the people around you how they grill. Go to a farmer’s market and ask the vendors what they do. Don’t be afraid to try something new or unfamiliar—you just might like it!