To usher in the summer grilling season, Sean Brasel, chef-owner of Meat Market in Miami Beach, put together this guide that covers everything from marinated mushrooms to skin-on salmon steaks:
Summer is barbecue season, and as you gear up for pool parties, beach days and July 4th fireworks, try some of my essential tips for making your next cookout a hit.
Know your grill
• Gas/propane: Gas grills can produce a higher heat, enabling a better sear and char flavor. To avoid flame-ups, make sure grease doesn’t accumulate. Use lids judiciously to avoid over-smoking and burning your food.
• Charcoal: Charcoal grills produce the best overall flavor, provided you allow coals time to burn off any residual lighter fluid. Otherwise, you’ll detect a gassy flavor to your food. Use the grill cover to create smoky favors. And experiment with different coals, like mesquite and hickory.
• Not frozen: Avoid preformed frozen patties; they’ll always be somewhat tough.
• Fat: Look for 70/30 beef-to-fat when buying ground beef; any leaner will result in a drier burger.
• By hand: When forming burgers, avoid overworking the meat. Burgers shrink on the grill, so form ones that are slightly larger than their buns.
• Don’t smash: Resist the temptation to smash burgers on the grill; they’ll lose their precious juices.
• Special grinds: Buffalo, lamb and venison make great burgers, but they’re lean and tend to dry out easily. Try forming thicker patties to attain a nice medium-rare.
• Salt: The most important ingredient when grilling, salt should be applied liberally before placing steaks on the grill. Substitutes like amino acid sprays or soy sauce are acceptable.
• High, then low: Porterhouses or bone-in rib eyes require high heat during the initial cooking and lower heat once a char has been achieved, with the lid down. Allow the steak to rest 15 minutes, then place back on grill for a rapid warm-up. Slice and serve.
• Thin theory: Thin cuts like flank and skirt are the most commonly over-cooked meats. Keep them cold until cooking them to limit over-cooking while achieving maximum flavor. Sweet marinades also work well.
• Blanch: Briefly boil corn and asparagus in salted water before grilling to prevent overcooking.
• Marinate: Mushrooms, eggplant and squash are amazing if bathed in balsamic vinegar or other marinades for a few hours before grilling.
• In foil: Wrap asparagus or other hearty vegetables in foil with a little salted water or herbed olive oil and place on top rack of grill.
• Direct heat: A fun technique is to put vegetables like onions, bell peppers or potatoes right on hot coals of the BBQ and letting them char on the outside.
• Brine: Simple salt-and-sugar solutions, brines are great for whole chickens to ensure moisture during cooking. Root beer and dark lager make great brine ingredients.
• Marinades: A bit bolder than brines, marinades are thicker and add a caramelizing effect to grilled chicken cuts. Start marinated thighs, legs and breasts on high heat to create a sear, then turn down the grill with the lid down.
• Rubs and cures: Marinades without liquid, rubs and cures are based on salt, sugar and spices and will end in deep flavors. Avoid too much sugar as it will burn easily.
• Filet: Use high heat and a good fish spatula. Fish filets are best with a spice rub and a basting of seasoned olive oil or butter.
• Steak: Salmon, swordfish and tuna are ideal. Olive oil-based marinades work best. Try adding lemon zest and garlic.
• Whole: Snapper and other small- to medium-size fish are simply amazing when cooked whole. The skin should be scaled, scored and rubbed with salt. Stuff the cavity with lemon, herbs and/or seasoned butter to season it from the inside.
• Wrapped: Cooking fish in foil or banana leaves is a great technique. Try smothering mahi filets in charred salsa and butter and wrapping them with banana leaves before cooking on a grill. If using foil, add a few tablespoons of water, wine or butter to promote steam and minimize burning.
Sausages and dogs
• Beer bath: Sausages are best if precooked in beer or salted water before grilling.
• Slice, then grill: Slice precooked sausages in half lengthwise before grilling for a crispy-all-over effect.
• Hot dogs, duh: Hot dogs are almost foolproof on a grill; medium to high heat for maximum flavor.
• Don’t crowd: Smashing ingredients together will overcook the outside items and leave the center ones raw.
• Same size : Keep all skewered items similar in size; huge chunks of meat and little vegetables won’t cook at the same speed.
• Marinate: All meats should be marinated up to 24 hours before grilling for juiciest results.
• Metal works: Wood skewers can burn if not soaked in water before grilling. You don’t have to worry about burning metal skewers, which also can be reused. Bamboo sticks and sugar cane also can be skewers; soak first.
• Long-handled tongs and spatula: Don’t get burned.
• Squirt bottle: For saucing.
• Grill brush: A clean grill produces clean food, without off-flavors.