Summer is the king of all cooking seasons. Markets are flooded with juicy fruits, new ice cream flavors are stashed in the freezer and, most importantly, grilling season is here, meaning a fire-licked steak, barbecue chicken (see the recipe) or whole fish is never far away.
We asked some seriously seasoned grillers for their tips on which grills to buy, how to rest grilled meat, how to make sure everything hits the table hot and what to do if you accidentally burn that piece of meat. Bring on the heat.
Heavy Metal: Gas vs. Charcoal
Ask dedicated grillers which type of grill they use, and you'll typically get an emphatic response. But most of the experts are down with both gas and charcoal at home. Joe Carroll, who owns Fette Sau and authored Feeding the Fire, says, "I think too many people get caught up on equipment. . . . You need to think about it, but it's not top priority."
If you're in the market for something new, Texan chef and TV personality Tim Love says to look for a PK Grill or a Hasty-Bake, both of which double as grills and smokers. "You get what you pay for with gas grills," L.A.-based master griller Ben Ford says. Try a Fire Magic grill if you can splurge, and if you're not ready to make the investment, stick with a classic; "The Weber Kettle Grill is still the hottest-selling grill out there for good reason—get the 22-inch model."
Accessorize, with Care
"Accessories almost take the common sense out of grilling," Melissa Cookston, author of Smokin' Hot in the South: New Grilling Recipes from the Winningest Woman in Barbecue, says. Only a few things are truly necessary to get started: tongs (go for the ones with a spring in the back), a couple of spatulas for flipping, a large fork or hook, and a cheap spray bottle to keep those flames in check.
A meat thermometer is also key, Carroll says. "When I was young, I was cocky, and I was like, 'I can sense when it's done.' That's just not true."
For those cooking on a gas grill who want some of that smoky flavor charcoal offers, Ford suggests picking up grilling logs. Put them on one side of the grill over high heat, close your grill top and presto: smoky flavors.
Ready, Get Set, Grill
The general rule of thumb for serious grilling requires cooks to divide up the grill into zones for high, medium and low heat, which offers different temperatures to cook with. But if you're working with something small, two temperatures—one very hot and one lower—will do, Love says. Just make sure you don't crowd the grill: "You need twice the amount as what you're grilling," Love adds. When you go to flip your meat, "you want to move to an open area that's hot."
No matter what you're grilling, seasoning is key. When in doubt, stick with salt and pepper, Love says, and "season twice as much as you think you should." But if you want to keep a rub on hand that goes with almost everything, Cookston suggests throwing kosher salt, granulated garlic, crushed pepper, coriander, dried onion and thyme into a bottle or a resealable bag. When you have a bit more time, Ford says a fresh rub is the way to go: "I love to make pastes out of onions, garlic, paprika, cayenne, cumin, cardamom and coriander." And if you like it a little wetter, our bourbon-chile barbecue sauce is hard to beat (see the recipe).
Time After Time
Getting everything to the table hot requires some planning. Love offers this trick for chicken and vegetables: "Grill the meat two-thirds of the way through, pull it off and let it rest." (Resting part of the way through grilling helps the meat relax and hold onto its juices.) Then start cooking the vegetables, and when they're almost done, add the chicken back to the grill. Another option: If you're cooking for lots of people, Carroll says, "grill off the vegetables and keep them warm in the oven."
F*cked Up? Make Tacos
Disasters happen. If one side of the meat gets burned, just flip it and cook it so it's not raw, then "shave it and turn it into some badass tacos," Love says. The char will benefit you here, leaving you crispy, chewy bites balanced with juicier meat.
Ford offers one last piece of wisdom: "If you enjoy the process, you'll probably end up with something good." So crack some beers, light the grill and get fired up.
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