Park City Home: 10 Steps to a Sensational Summer Barbecue
Author of “Grill Nation,” host of the Travel Channel’s “American Grilled,” and owner of the Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Virginia, David Guas was practically born with a pair of tongs in his hand. The New Orleans-raised chef inherited his knack for outdoor cooking from his Cuban dad, and is a passionate practitioner. “I hope people do not hesitate for a minute more and start grilling! I want home cooks and first-time grillers to understand how easy and rewarding it can be to grill at home. And, we have got to get rid of the misconception that grilling is a seasonal thing — I grill out in the snow!” Here’s how he does it.
1 Get it hot, hot, hot
Whether you’re using a gas grill (the easiest type to fire up and use) or a charcoal model (a more work-intensive method that allows you to alter flavors with the type of wood or coal), you’ve got to get it hot. That takes 10 – 15 minutes for a gas grill; for charcoal, average time is about 25 – 30 minutes before cooking. And once you get it hot, says Guas, “Don’t be afraid of the flames. It’s okay to have some fire! It brings char and big flavor.”
2 Understand your protein
Guas says there are two basic grilling methods. One uses direct heat, in which food has direct contact with the heat source and is flipped once during cooking. These are foods that need 30 minutes or less on the grill: burgers, fish, and most types of steak. The other uses indirect heat, in which the food is placed on the cooler side of the grill and doesn’t require turning. This is optimal for foods that take longer than 30 minutes, such as whole birds, ribs, and roasts.
According to Guas, “Every protein should be treated differently on the grill in order to achieve the best flavor. For example, pork tenderloin as well as other broad and wide cuts of meat with a large surface area need the direct heat to get the right color. Then move it to indirect heat to smoke it and fully finish the cooking process.”
3 Give your chicken some love
Guas says excellent grilled chicken depends on two things: heat source and basting. And here, he’s all about the kettle grill. “Wood chips are essential for flavor — oak, cherry, or hickory — and must burn way down on the coals before anything is put on the grates. Once the grill is prepared then place the thighs, wings, and breasts right on the heat, alternating basting and rearranging the birds on the grill. My father’s theory is when the juices are dripping down on the coals, the bird is thirsty, so keep giving it moisture.”
4 Consider your marinade or rub
“Herbs and spice mixtures in the form of dry rubs and olive oil-based pastes not only flavor the food, but help form a savory, caramelized crust that holds in the juices and keeps it tender,” says Guas. However, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all rub or marinade. “The flavor profile, cut of meat, and type of protein can all help inform what will best complement the protein. Roasted cacao nibs finely ground in a food processor make a chocolaty steak rub. I prefer a bright sorghum syrup to a heavy, one-dimensional molasses as a complex glaze for beef ribs. And a fruit jam lends a rich, dark, wine-like flavor to a sauce for pork tenderloin.”
5 Master the burger
Guas has some hard-and-fast rules for his hamburgers.
• Keep meat cold prior to forming the burger patties.
• Avoid too much handling, as it can affect the texture of the meat.
• Keep the patties uniform in size by using the same measurement tool as a benchmark, such as an ice cream scoop. To form patties, use a burger press (available at most kitchen supply stores) or 2 pieces of plastic wrap to cover the burger, then slowly flatten with a small pot or pan. 4- to 5-oz. burgers (pressed thin and flat, approximately 1/2 inch thick) are an ideal size and shape, allowing the meat to caramelize in its own fat and cook quickly.
• Season just before putting the patties on the grill. Use kosher salt, and add a little more than you normally would to bring out the flavor of the beef.
6 Simplify your veg prep
The secret to great grilled veggies? The prep. “For me, it has less to do with the vegetable and more to do with the preparation and process! For as long as I’ve been grilling, I have a simple method that can be applied to almost any vegetable you have on hand.” (Sizeable veggies, such as leeks, zucchini, and red onion, work best.) “Cut them in half, toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and grill them until they are soft, and slightly charred. A bonus step is to cut them into meaty chunks and toss them with balsamic vinegar or fresh herbs like parsley and rosemary.”
7 But forego most fruit
For many cooks, and particularly amateurs, Guas recommends thinking twice before putting fruit like peaches and pineapples on a grill. “It can be more trouble than it’s worth. Depending on the ripeness, the fruit can disintegrate. The grill also needs to be thoroughly cleaned beforehand so that the fruit doesn’t take on the flavor of whatever meat or fish was cooked before. And then you have to do another major grill cleanup when you’re done.”
8 Remember these secret ingredients
“No matter what protein, slightly charred citrus and some fresh herbs always brighten any grilled items.” Guas is particularly fervent about honey. “A few tablespoons of honey add an essential balance to whatever I might be grilling up. The acidity of other ingredients in a marinade needs toning down, and honey is the ideal mellowing agent. Honey seals in the meat’s own juices that begin to seep when the temperature’s high. Honey is also one hell of a binder and thickener when it comes to amping-up or sweetening sauces, marinades, dips, and dressings. My beef marinade recipe calls for a healthy dose of it, along with soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, fresh rosemary, green onions, and Dijon mustard. The soy sauce adds plenty of salt to season the meat, and the honey softens the intensity, giving it a balance with some sweetness.”
9 Get back to basics
It may not be a cutting-edge culinary darling, but Guas’s go-to make-ahead appetizer is pasta salad. “Pasta salad is always a tried-and-true crowd pleaser. Tortellini is versatile and pairs well with any variety of fresh vegetables. I like to finish it with a lemon shallot vinaigrette featuring lemon juice, minced shallot, olive oil, parsley, honey, and whole grain mustard.”
10 Give dessert a Latin spin
“Summer is hot enough, so keep the oven off and the kitchen cool with cheesecake cups. I turn to my Cuban roots to bring extra flavor and my own personal twist to this non-bake dish by adding cajeta, a type of dulce de leche, a rich caramel sauce made from goat’s milk. Cajeta is often jarred and can be found at many Latin markets. Drizzle directly over the cheesecake after it has fully set — rich and gooey, just a tablespoon (or two) is plenty!”
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