|In Season: GRILLING
By Linda Brandt Tanner
A glowing cook fire acts as a magnet, pulling us forward to savor its
warmth and liveliness, and summer is the quintessential season to enjoy this oldest form
Call it grilling or call it barbecuing, cooking over hot coals creates
finger-licking-good summer meals. Whether you opt for an ordinary wiener stuck on the end
of a stick, sumptuously thick chateaubriand, or plump, marinated game hens sizzling in all
their glory, grilling is a fragrant, happy way to cook.
Ever since my son-in-law installed a cast iron wood-burning stove in our
garden, the entire family has enjoyed hours sitting in quiet contemplation, mesmerized by
the flames lighting up late summer nights. Weve watched many a pot of chili or
fragrant apple butter simmer to a soft, mellow consistency. Ive often risen before 6
a.m. to light a fire using the hot coals from the previous night and keep my morning mug
of steaming coffee warm on the stovetop. A grid for the stove will let us cook meat and
veggies right over the smoldering coals, but for now we accomplish this by lighting up our
trusty outdoor Weber, with great results.
Although many of us have enjoyed meals produced by the traditional
prolonged slow cooking of barbecue, what Im talking about here is the instant
gratification of grilling. Meats, seafood, and vegetables quickly sear on the outside and
take in the fragrance of the fire to entice many a sleepy summer appetite.
Grilling is easily the most festive way to entertain outdoors. Most of
the meal can be prepared ahead of time, so you have a chance to be a guest at your own
party. Most of the mess stays outside, and guests can enjoy cool beverages and
before-supper snacks while they take in the smoky aromas and sizzling sounds from the
Use good charcoal briquettes or
hardwood briquettes. Mesquite wood is my favorite. Although it may seem pricey, charred
mesquite wood burns hot and long and produces a subtle fragrance. Try adding some dampened
fruit wood clippings or shavings to the hot fire: cherry, apple, hickory, and grapevine
cuttings all exude a sweet, spicy aroma that permeates the meat.
As for starters, ignore lighter fuels. Lighter fluid is not only
extremely flammable, but it produces a chemical odor and taste.
I use a metal chimney to start my coals. Weber makes a large model. The
one I use is made by Ace Hardware. Another popular brand is Charcoal Companion. Look for
starter chimneys at your local supermarket or hardware store. To use, place a couple of
pieces of crumpled newspaper in the bottom, fill the top section with briquettes or
mesquite, light the newsprint, and in ten to fifteen minutes youll have a chimney of
fully ignited coals. Dump the hot coals out cautiously and wait until nearly all of them
are fully covered in white ash and the centers are a softly glowing red. Spread them out
in a layer, and place the grill on top so that it will begin heating. You want the grill
clean and very hot before you begin to cook. You may also want to lightly oil the grill by
rubbing it with a piece of paper toweling moistened with some cooking oil.
Dont hurry the fire. Allow enough time for the coals to become
fully ignited and blazing hot before you begin to grill. Until I became comfortable with
the process, I cant tell you how many times we would finish our meal, only to find a
mass of vibrant coals still glowing.
Enjoy the last of the fire. Kids and adults love to linger over the
coals. Have a few (or many!) marshmallows handy for toasting. I often lay some kindling
and an oak log on the hot coals after removing the grill from our Weber so that we can
enjoy a small bonfire in the lengthening shadows of evening.
and Basting Sauces
Marinades are used to
flavor or tenderize meats and poultry. They usually consist of such aromatics as garlic,
onions, herbs or citrus zest, along with something to carry those flavors, such as oil,
vinegar, beer, wine, citrus juice, or even buttermilk. I usually marinate seafood or fish
fillets for no more than half an hour because of their delicate flesh. Feel free to
marinate meat and poultry much longer if you have time. Anywhere from one to four hours is
effective, or even leave your meat to marinate in the refrigerator overnight. If I am
using lemon juice as part of my marinade, I also squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the
meat or chops just before Im about to remove them from the grill. This produces a
lively and fresh finish that is especially tasty on chicken and lamb. If you are using a
marinade, when the grill is hot and ready, pat the food gently with a paper towel just to
remove excess moisture, and brush on a tiny amount of oil before placing it on the hot
Basting sauces add flavor by creating more caramelization
on the meats surface. Basting sauces usually contain both a sweetener and peppery
spices to add fire and kick. Sugar burns easily, so apply sugar-based sauces during the
last quarter of the cooking process. Before the food is fully cooked, begin basting to
develop the thick caramelization we find so desirablethat sticky-finger effect we
all love! My dad loved to barbecue ribs, but he didnt know about waiting until the
ribs were nearly done to baste them. Basting too early results in "petrified
ribs"meat so charred by the sauce it is difficult to separate from the bone.
The ribs we love today are slow cooked and sweetly sloppy to eat. Follow my suggestion and
youll have great success.
The first rule is to serve hot
foods hot and cold foods cold. When the meal is over, refrigerate leftover cooked food.
Let it cool uncovered in a shallow dish on the top shelf of the fridge and then cover it
when cool. Microorganisms develop quickly when foods are allowed to sit at room
temperature (even when they are fully cooked) for more than an hour. Even a pot of cooked
rice sitting on the stove for a couple of hours after a meal will begin to develop harmful
bacteria. "Cool, cover, and refrigerate" is a good motto to remember.
Do not put cooked food on the same plate that held it raw. The primary
concern here is that any harmful bacteria or microorganisms (E. coli, salmonella, and so
on.) that are present in uncooked meat, poultry, or seafood could easily land back on the
same food after it is cooked. To avoid such contamination, thoroughly wash your hands with
hot water and an antibacterial soap after touching raw meats, and wash all cutting
boards, utensils, dishes, and tongs used for raw meat, poultry, or seafood before handling
the cooked product.
Do not reuse marinades to baste or moisten the cooked meat. I did this
once,without knowing the danger, and ended up critically ill in the hospital. What landed
me in the hospital, close to shock, was the campylobacter bacteria (often called campy),
which is found in raw meat and poultry. An innocent act on my part preceded this terrible
adventure. After removing some beautiful citrusy chicken from the grill, I noticed some of
the marinade left in the dish. Figuring it would taste good to have more of that
garlic lemon taste on the grilled chicken, I proceeded to baste the cooked meat with the
marinade. An emergency room visit and hospital stay were the dramatic beginning of my
education in food preparation safety.
Thaw any frozen meat in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter.
There are times when I want to defrost chicken breasts or thighs in a hurry, and in
that case, I put a large pan of ice water in my kitchen sink and submerge a Ziploc bag of
chicken pieces in the icy water. I keep adding cold water every half hour or so, and the
meat defrosts within about an hour without any danger. I am wary of using the microwave to
defrost meat and chicken due to its irregularity in defrosting (the outside of the product
begins to warm and cook before the inner meat begins to thaw).
Dont use a fork. A fork
pierces the meat and allows the juices to run. You want those juices in the meat,
not dribbling onto the coals, so use tongs to shift food on the grill. Invest in good
tongs. (The ones sold in a grill accessories pack are often useless and clumsy.) You want
spring-loaded, V-shaped, tapered tongs for easy manipulation. Get a long pair, about
sixteen inches long, and a short pair. Any good cookware store has just what you need. (By
the way, these, along with a pair of mitts for a favorite outdoor cook, make dandy host
gifts.) For flipping burgers, fish fillets, or vegetables, get a sturdy wide metal
Dont cut meats as soon as they come off the grill. During cooking,
the meat juices are drawn toward the outer surface, toward the heat source. If you cut the
meat immediately, those juices will cover your cutting board, and the meat will turn a
dull gray color. Let the meat rest, to give its juices time to redistribute themselves
back into the center of the meat. Five to fifteen minutes, depending on the cut, should do
it. For more tender slices, hold your knife at a slight angle, and cut the meat across the
grain, on the diagonal.
Long ago, as a young newlywed, the
only marinade I knew came from my mothers recipe box. It was a simple combination of
soy sauce and Milanis 1890 French dressing. When I remembered this recently, I went
looking for a bottle of Milanis 1890 French dressing, and was told its been
out of production for ages. The closest I could come to approximating Moms marinade
today is to use Kraft Catalina style dressing and soy sauce in equal amounts. In the old
days, we used this exclusively for marinating a chuck roast. I laugh now at the fact that
I didnt think to try it on anything else, nor did I expand my barbecue sights beyond
that chuck roast! Im telling you, it was succulent, if full of sodium. But today
Id use a low-salt soy sauce to create this marinade for chicken.
My all-time-favorite marinade is made by combining fresh minced herbs,
such as thyme, rosemary, basil, or cilantro, with chopped garlic, kosher salt, and pepper.
I add the juice and zest of a lemon or two, some red pepper flakes, and a bit of oil. This
seems to enhance anything I grill, from meat to seafood to vegetables. Try some of the
many ready-made marinades on the market, too. Some delightful Asian ones are full of
ginger, sesame oil, and soy, which work especially well with pork and seafood.
Ive had great response to a marinade I shared with you several
years ago. I developed it for thick swordfish steaks, and I have also used it for shrimp,
salmon, boned trout, and chicken. I combine two cloves chopped garlic, two teaspoons
minced fresh ginger root, one-fourth cup chopped cilantro or basil, one minced
jalapeno or serrano chili, salt, pepper, the juice of two lemons (or limes), and four
tablespoons oil. I put this into a plastic Ziploc bag with the items to be grilled, gently
massage this marinade into the flesh, and marinate for twenty minutes to thirty minutes.
Remove the fish from the bag, and gently pat away excess moisture before grilling over a
In the 1950s, I never thought of adding vegetables to my grilling
repertoire. Vegetables make a colorful and succulent addition to the menu and provide many
options for those of us who are eating less meat. The heat from the grill transforms the
natural sugars contained in vegetables into a caramelized sweetness that is a perfect
counterpoint to spicy hot marinades.
To prepare vegetables for grilling, just wash them. Dont peel
them, as their colorful skins add to their appeal. Gather several colors of bell peppers,
remove the seeds, and slice or quarter them. Cut a large globe eggplant into
one-fourth-inch slices, or slice small, thin Italian or Japanese eggplants in half. Cut
golden or green zucchini and red or white sweet onions into one-fourth-inch slices (do the
same with the huge Portobello mushrooms when they are in season). Leave white or brown
regular-sized mushrooms whole. I lightly brush all these vegetables with a bit of marinade
or olive oil and then sprinkle them with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Place the vegetables on the hot grill to sear the surface, and leave
them long enough so that they begin to soften and moisture appears on their surface.
Peppers, onions, and eggplants take the longest; mushrooms take the least time to cook. As
they grill, the vegetables cellular structures begin to soften, releasing some of
their moisture, and their sugars begin to caramelize and brown. Flip the veggies over and
grill for a few minutes longer. Remove to a platter and serve as is, sprinkle with
balsamic vinegar, or use your favorite dipping sauces. I make up a sauce that varies with
my mood or what Im cooking. The base is half yogurt, half nonfat sour cream, a spoon
or two of mayonnaise, some minced garlic, herbs, cayenne pepper, minced scallions, a dash
of vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Use the grill to explore vegetables you may not have thought of before.
If you are one who hates the thought of eggplant, please give it another try: cut into
one-fourth-inch slices, lightly oiled and grilled, eggplant becomes softly sweet and
mellow, a taste that just might surprise you.
While you are in the vegetable bin, dont overlook the potatoes.
Choose small, red new potatoes, leave them whole or cut in half, and steam them until just
barely tender when pierced with a fork. Dry off the steamed potatoes and baste them
lightly with olive oil. Add a sprinkling of salt and pepper or some minced fresh herbs.
Place them on the grill, and keep them moving until they become golden brown and crispy.
Id recommend the same process for grilling yams. Cut them into two- or
three-inch-thick "coins" after steaming, and then place these on the grill.
These are good with ribs and slaw.
Some of the more exotic vegetables we previously may not have considered
suitable for the grill are now making an appearance. Try radicchio, asparagus, fennel,
leeks, and scallions. Blanch them quickly in boiling water (two or three minutes), and run
them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Pat dry, oil lightly, and place them on
the hot grill and grill until crispy tender.
from the Grill
Put a fine and unexpected finish to
your meal by grilling your dessert. How about fresh, perfectly ripe fruit? Ive
grilled slices of pineapple, apples, halved ripe peaches, thick slices of Bosc pear, and
even halved fresh figs. I "baste" the cut surface of the fruit with a bit of
honey mixed with lemon juice before grilling. Clean your grill with a wire brush before
cooking fruit to avoid confusing the delicate taste of the fruit with residual flavors of
food grilled before. In grilling fruit, the point is not necessarily to cook it, but to
give it a caramelized surface and warm it through. Grilled fruit is marvelous served
alone, or with a creamy blue cheese, a fine aged Stilton, some salty toasted almonds or
hazelnuts, and crispy crackers. Add a fine piece of bittersweet chocolate to munch along
with it, and youve got dessert with a European flair.
I hope these ideas will encourage you to gather round the fire this
summer, and, whether your meal is grand or simple, to enjoy the conviviality of sharing a
grilled supper. (Dont forget the marshmallows!) Happy summer. ©
LINDA BRANDT TANNER is one of a committee of passionate people
currently working on The Edible Schoolyard, a pilot project at Martin Luther King Jr.
Middle School in Berkeley, California, which began in response to school lunchrooms
closing down across the country. Their goal is to teach youngsters respect for the planet
and for one another through on-site, hands-on experience in gardening and food preparation
in a program that will become part of the California schools curriculum.