Perhaps it’s a nod to our ancestral ways, or simply the tastiest way to make a meal on a hot summer night, but grilled foods can turn what an oven or stovetop would render ordinary into an adventure for taste buds. Two local food gurus – a barbecue champ and a chef – offer pointers for the next time you fire up the grill. Whether gas or charcoal, technique and attention to detail is key.
Terall Blalock, of Papa Terall’s BBQ, says avoid overcooking and pay attention to what you’re doing. “You can always put something back on to cook it a little more, but if you burn it, you’re done.”
Onyx Restaurant owner and head chef Mario Chavez says to think outside the box, beyond burgers and hot dogs. Try grilling different fish, vegetables or fruit and get creative with marinades and seasoning.
When grilling meats, watch internal temperatures. For chicken, Blalock says to heat just one side of the grill then move the chicken from side to side, cooking center of chicken to 165 degrees (but no hotter or it’ll dry out).
“The biggest mistake with chicken is the heat is usually too high. Chicken is one of the more difficult things to cook on the grill because there’s lots of fat,” he says.
“It helps to move the chicken back and forth between the two sides, so you don’t have the chicken constantly in the flames. The other thing you can do is cook the chicken in the oven for a bit. Warm it clear through so a bunch of the fat drips out, then put it on the grill and you won’t have as many flames.”
For beef, get the grill as hot as possible. With steaks or burgers, as soon as the juices gather on top of the meat, it’s time to flip.
Fish and shrimp are a refreshing alternative to heavy cuts of meat and don’t have to be bland. Experiment with interesting flavors, Chavez says, such as herbs and marinades. Grill surface should be hot and extra clean for seafood. Fish is the easiest meat to destroy on a grill so don’t be afraid to use a foil packet to prevent losing the meat.
A fun way to keep fish from becoming dry is to slather it in mayonnaise then drizzle in citrus, lemon and orange then sprinkle with dill and parsley.
“It’s one of the easiest ways to prepare it and it’s delicious,” says Chavez.
“And remember that salmon only needs 8 to 10 minutes to cook. Any more and it’ll dry out!”
For any type of meat, leave oil out of marinades.
“You don’t need oil or fat in a marinade,” says Chavez.
“People will say, ‘Let’s use a whole bottle of balsamic vinaigrette, then they put it on the grill and it starts to flame all to heck. Skip the oil.”
The best side for grilled meats is quick-roasted veggies like zucchini or portobello mushrooms and they need only a light oil coating and seasoning – Blalock suggests olive oil. Just be ready to flip veggies as soon as they start to cook.
Don’t forget fruit! A favorite for Blalock is to sprinkle kosher salt and crushed red peppers on thick, round slices of pineapple and toss over the flames.
Chavez’s summer must have, Mexican street corn on the grill. “Our favorite is to do mayonnaise then cotija dry cheese and the (Tajin seasoning) lime and chili powder. Then add some chopped cilantro for color.”
He adds, “Whatever you’re making, just get creative. Throw pieces of watermelon or hearts of romaine on the grill. There are no rules.”