The options are endless but the results the same: delicious, juicy and flavorful proteins.
Originating in the Middle East, kebabs have become ubiquitous on American grills. Traditional and more creative skewers appeal to a broad range of palates. Nunzio Scordo, Chef/Owner of Driftwood Southern Kitchen & Farina Neighborhood Italian, shares a few of his favorite combinations. But first keep these tips in mind: soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes before assembling kebabs to avoid burning; keep the handles off of direct heat; and don’t push all the ingredients together in a clump, leave space so each piece can cook evenly.
Want to be the boss of the barbecue? We asked local meat masters for their tips and tricks to help you avoid common pitfalls and grill up your best summer ever.
Wild For Pork
For Chef Taion McElveen, head chef at downtown restaurant Bare Bones, the heat and smoke of the grill brings out the best in a cut of pork.
“Once you get that charcoal flavor, it transforms it into something a little bit better than just your ordinary pork,” he says.
For the ultimate grilled pork, McElveen starts with quality meat—preferably local porterhouse chops and tenderloins, with bright pink flesh and some marbling of fat. Next, he brines the pork in a salt and sugar mixture.
“It’s better if it sits overnight, but if you’re short on time, I’d say four to six hours at least,” he says. “That keeps the moisture in while you’re grilling it over a hot flame.”
He seasons the meat with a mixture of brown sugar, smoked paprika, cayenne, onion and garlic powders, then grills over moderate heat. He cautions against grilling for too long and drying out the meat, although he understands some people are afraid to undercook pork. However, the USDA has recently adjusted guidelines down, recommending an internal temperature between 145°F and 160°F, followed by a three-minute rest.
McElveen says the best sidekicks for grilled pork are Southern staples like homemade mac and cheese, potato salad and collard greens.
The most flavorful way to cook fish is also the easiest—grilled, with minimal meddling.
“If you just go with a real simple seasoning, grilling lets the flavor of the fish come through—as opposed to just putting a bunch of seasonings or toppings on it,” says Chef Joe Rohrer of 42nd St. Oyster Bar. “At the house, if you have a high dollar, fresh fish, we would recommend just kosher salt and white pepper.”
Whether shopping for snapper or purchasing perch, the key is to look for the freshest fish available.
“With a whole fish, some of the better indicators are the eyes,” he says. “You want it to look, for the most part, alive…except for the fact that it’s not. Another thing is the gills—they should be bright red still. For loins, firmness is important. You don’t want them slimy, but you don’t want them to be dry. You want them to be shiny. Obviously, a lot of places are not going to let you poke their fish, but when you touch it, you want the skin to spring back.”
The best way to grill the fish depends on if you’ve purchased a cut or a whole fish. Rohrer suggests cooking a filet over direct heat, for about 8 minutes for every inch and a quarter, and a whole fish over indirect heat, which will take longer. He warns against overcooking, which he says is the biggest mistake home grillers make.
“A lot of people want everything well-done, but with something like a salmon you wouldn’t want to go over medium, medium well at most,” he says. “An easy way to tell is that you can take a fork and pretty much all fish is going to flake when it’s cooked properly on a grill.”
For something a little different, he recommends grilling with a cedar plank, which imparts a subtle flavor as it cooks. Soak the plank, available at your local hardware store, for 30 minutes in water. Season fish with salt and pepper, then place skin side down on the plank and grill, covered.
“It’s something different to do if you’re having people over to the house—you can bring it to the table right on the cedar plank,” says Rohrer.
Where’s the Beef?
Bulkogi owner Joe Choi has become quite the grill master in the three years he has run the Korean BBQ food truck with his wife, Shinae Lee. He says the most important tip when grilling beef is to pay attention to the temperature.
“There is nothing worse than an overcooked, rubbery piece of beef,” he says. “I always keep the grill at three different temperature zones. Start at the high temperature zone, move to medium and finish it off at the low temperature zone. This helps to keep all the flavor and the meat juices inside. For that same reason, I always leave the meat to rest at least two to three minutes after cooking.”
To get the most flavor, Choi recommends buying beef on the bone, like a ribeye, t-bone or short ribs. “Cooking with bone-in gives a more intense flavor,” he says. “I also look for firm meat—the firmer, the better, as fresh beef is always firm and not soft. Look for a dark red color.”
The biggest mistake cooks make at home is puncturing the beef before or during grilling.
“Do not stab your meat!” he says. “It’s super frustrating to see all that juice flow out. Whether you’re cooking a burger or fine steak, flipping them by stabbing them just does one thing: drain all the beautiful juice. Use [tongs], a flipper or even two forks to flip them over, but do not under any circumstances stab the meat.”
Crazy for Chicken
“To grill chicken gives it a whole other dimension,” says Chef Walter Royal of the Angus Barn. “It brings out all the good, natural juices. The charcoal or wood or gas you use has another flavor to add to the flame-kissed chicken, and the fat infuses the whole chicken with taste.”
When he grills chicken, he does the whole bird and relies on the simplest seasonings (just a little salt and pepper) to let the intrinsic flavor shine. He chooses smaller chickens, no more than two or three pounds and grills them at a lower heat.
“You want to place (the chicken) skin-side up, and in doing that you are roasting from the underbone…getting those juices and the fat from the skin dripping into the meat,” he says. “You’re going to cook it nice and slow at about 300°F-325° F, closing your grill. If you were grilling steak, you would leave the grill open.”
Royal cautions against cooking the chicken over too-high heat because it both dries out the meat and poses potential danger.
“They think that they should grill it at 400° F, but cooking it at that high temperature [chars] it,” he says. “It’s not getting cooked around the bone, and we know what happens if you eat chicken that’s not thoroughly cooked. Also, you have to allow it to rest before you eat it—just for a few minutes so the juices can distribute back through the chicken.”
He says the best sides for chicken are also grilled: summer vegetables like zucchini and squash, Vidalia onions, even fruit like grilled pineapple and peaches drizzled with black pepper honey. He will throw together a quick relish and serve with cold beer, sangria, chilled white wine or classic lemonade.