Michael Symon's Ultimate Barbecue And Grilling Tips - Exclusive Interview

The man, the myth, the barbecue legend: Michael Symon, known for his television appearances in "BBQ USA," "Iron Chef America," "Symon's Dinners Cooking Out," and more, has been branded a barbecue and burger connoisseur throughout his time on Food Network. The cookbook author's most recent creation, "Fix It with Food," focuses on inflammation and autoimmune disorders, and he often takes to social media to post new recipes, such as his avocado salsa and fried eggs dish. 

In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table at the Sun Wine and Food Fest, Symon gave us his best cooking tips for budget meat cuts, advice for grilling vegetables, and the key to the perfect smash burger. The celebrity chef even named his go-to seasonings for chicken, which could be as simple as salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of paprika. But perhaps the most important thing we learned from our conversation is his feelings about barbecue (spoiler alert: it's a technique, not a sauce).

The secret to crispy fried eggs

You recently posted an avocado salsa and fried eggs recipe. What is the secret to a crispy fried egg?

A good pan helps. I always do it in a carbon steel pan, which holds heat very well and distributes heat very well. Get the pan hot first. You need to put a little bit more olive oil in than you think, because it's got to crisp, and then manage the heat a little bit. [Use] a good pan, olive oil, medium-high heat, and let it do its thing.

You're well-known for barbecue as well — you were on "BBQ Brawl" with Bobby Flay and all those good things. What do you think is the biggest myth about barbecue?

That people think barbecue is a sauce and not a technique.

That makes perfect sense — it's something you cook. What are your go-to barbecue seasonings for chicken or pork?

I love the style of Texas with barbecue. Most of the time, their seasoning is just salt and pepper, and they get all the flavor from the smoke. I like to keep them pretty simple — salt, pepper, maybe a little bit of an aleppo pepper or a smoky paprika. I always sneak a little celery seed in because I like it.

Freshly ground pepper?

Yes — freshly ground pepper, coarse.

The budget cut of meat you should grab

What would you say is your favorite cheap or budget cut of meat to grill?

I love beef cheeks. They're hard to find for the normal person. When we opened Lola 27 years ago, our first signage of this was the beef pierogi, so I'm a little partial to those. But a good chuck roast is great. I used to say skirt steak, but it's not cheap anymore.

No. I had it the other night, actually. It's not cheap.

It's delicious, but it's not cheap. It used to be so cheap, and now it's not cheap.

Same with everything, right? I'm going to switch gears here to vegetables. It's easy to overcook or char vegetables on the grill. What is your number one tip for grilling vegetables?

Make sure your grill's hot. Also, have it set up so one side's hot and the other side's basically off, so you have a place to get them to as they're cooking. Then if they're thicker, you can get them off the heat and close the lid to finish them, which makes it easier.

For vegetables, too, a great cheat is a grilling basket. They make the baskets that you could — if it's asparagus — put them in the basket and clamp them down. Then you're flipping a whole basket as opposed to 20 pieces of asparagus. It allows you to be more consistent.

It's such a pain in the neck to do.

It's a total pain in the neck, of course.

You should start grilling cabbage

What do you think is the most underrated vegetable to grill and why?

All root vegetables tend to be a little bit underrated. I love grilling celery root, beets, things like that. They play very nicely to the grill. It's becoming a little more common now, but I also love grilling cabbage. A whole head of cabbage cut into quarters and [charred] on the grill is fantastic.

My friend's dad grilled lettuce. I know that can be common, but you don't think about it.

They grill a lot of the hardier greens in Europe, but cabbage works great because it holds up to it. Even if you wanted to make a wedge salad with a wedge of grilled cabbage, it's great.

I'll have to try that. What do you think is the biggest mistake people make when grilling steak?

They under-season the meat. Steaks are usually thick. They don't put enough salt on the outside. Then, when they put it on the grill, they move it too much. Let it char, then flip it. You don't have to move that thing all over the damn place. Wait — be patient.

You're well-known for your burger recipes as well. What do you think is the most overrated ingredient to put on a burger and why?

Ketchup. I hate ketchup.

I don't like ketchup either. I hate it.

I love that you hate it ... Mustard and mayonnaise [are] so delicious. If ketchup comes in, it ruins everything.

It does, because it's all sugar.

[It's] too sweet.

It's all about the smash burgers

What do you think is the key to cooking a perfect smash burger? Those are pretty popular.

They are. I love a smash burger. One, you have to smash it more than you think ... You could get aggressive. Also, I always have a smasher, but no matter what you're smashing, you could put a piece of oiled butcher paper in between the smasher and the meat so it doesn't stick. Then you just peel it off. Also, make sure if you want to melt cheese and all that stuff, you have it ready, so as soon as you flip it, you can put it on and go.

What's your favorite non-beef burger to prepare?

I love chorizo. That's still red meat. It's pork. I like the sausage burger. My wife was a vegetarian for 25 years, and I'm not into veggie burgers. Not that I ... I love vegetables. Even though I'm a carnivore, I eat a lot of vegetables. The veggie burgers — I just don't. I've never had one that I love, texturally. Not flavor-wise; I like the flavor. But texturally, I don't love them. There are some good vegetable versions of it that work.

Do you have any exciting upcoming projects coming up that you're willing to share?

A new cookbook comes out in the fall, "Sunday Suppers," which we're excited about. We're filming Season 2 of "BBQ USA" for Food Network. We just filmed Season 5 of "Symon's Dinners Cooking Out" for Food Network. Those will both be out in spring, summer. Then, I'm working on a mustard line, which is fun.

When do you think that'll come out?

Soon — probably in the next six months or so. It's all very coarse. We're calling it Cleveland Caviar because it pops in your mouth when you eat it.

For more information about the Sun Wine and Food Fest, visit Mohegan Sun's website. Keep up with Michael Symon's latest projects on his Instagram page.

This interview has been edited for clarity.