Grilling Basics, 101

Okay, so now that summer has practically drawn to a close (where did it go?) and you’ve been grilling all the while, you’re asking yourself, “why is someone writing an article about grilling at the so-called-end of the grilling season?” The answer is simple: Because grilling is a year-round cooking event! (Do you only eat Chinese food in the spring–??) If it isn’t raining you can grill outdoors!

Several friends who know that I have an annual cookout involving 60 or so friends, have asked me why some thing or other didn’t turn out properly on their grills. I realized that there aren’t any books that address cooking problems simply. So, here are a few specific facts that I’ve learned over the years.

About Chicken: Folks these days are SO fat-conscious that they remove the chicken’s skin before grilling it over an open flame. BIG mistake! You see, leaving the skin on allows the chicken pieces to baste themselves — leaving behind tender, succulent pieces of meat. Anyone who doesn’t want the added calories can simply remove the skin prior to eating. I cannot remember anytime that I’ve had chicken — a breast for example — grilled without the skin, that I didn’t leave feeling as though I could have strapped the piece of meat onto my foot and walked across a dessert!

Another fact about chicken is that it is best when it has been marinated for at least 12 hours. Use your favorite salad dressing or barbecue sauce. Or a combination of oil and vinegar — for a base (aged balsamic is very good) then add a bit of catsup, garlic, basil (or oregano) salt and pepper to taste. After 12 hours in the marinade the flavor will permeate the chicken so that it isn’t only on the outside, but rather all the way through. The end result is a real crowd pleaser! An exception to that rule is when your marinade is highly acidic — like a Tandoori marinade, which includes yogurt: don’t marinate it for more than 3-4 hours because the acid will leach the moisture from the meat and you’ll be back in the leather mode.

About Beef/Venison/ Lamb: You have never experienced red meat over the grill until you’ve used Kosher Salt. Yup — that’s the ONLY seasoning you will need – – Promise. Your coals need to be hot — not flaming. Just before placing the meat on the grill, LIBERALLY sprinkle each piece on one side with kosher salt. Lay THAT side over the coals first. Before you turn the meat, do the same with the other side. Those of you who are “salt-aware” may be horrified — but the truth is that the MAJORITY of the salt cooks off of the meat leaving a tender, juicy, flavorful steak behind. Really.

About Fish: This is not exactly “straightforward”. The cooking method depends on what kind of fish you’re grilling. Is the fish firm and oily, like Swordfish? Is it a tender, flaky white fish, like Sole? The key to cooking fish on an open grill is basting. Baste with something as simple as lemon/ lime and butter, which is refreshing and delicious. If you’re cooking a flaky fish you should put down a piece of heavy aluminum foil over the grill so that pieces don’t fall through. You can also use a grilling basket, but I find that often I lose much of the juices and the fish, if I’m not careful to baste it often, may be dry. With large or whole pieces of fish, brush the cavity and exterior with olive oil or melted butter, stuff the interior with onion slivers and fresh herbs — tarragon, dill, and chives, whatever suits your fancy — salt and pepper to taste. Then seal the fish in heavy aluminum foil and grill for 6-8 minutes on each side, depending on the size of the fish. The process both steams and grills the fish infusing the flesh with the herbs you’ve chosen. Nothing quite like it!

Grilling to me is a time to have fun with cooking.. While there are a few “do’s” and “don’t” in grilling, such as those I’ve suggested above — it’s an interesting platform for foodies to experiment on. For instance, how about grilling something less obvious like fruit. Try this: In a grilling basket, over a moderate heat, place slightly under-ripe, peeled bananas which have been halved lengthwise. Baste the halves liberally and frequently with a combination of fresh lemon, rum, a smidge or two of brown sugar and melted butter. Serve over ice cream. Zowza!

Your imagination is the only limit to creating great food on the grill ALL YEAR LONG.

Holly has co-authored Chicken Dinners 1-2-3, Italian Dinners 1-2-3 (Clarkson and Potter) and several Herbs and Spice Calendars (Judd & Avalanche) with her mother, Jacqueline Heriteau. She currently resides in Sharon, CT with her three-year-old son

Leave a Reply