Even though Labor Day has come and gone, winter is still a long way off … probably. That means there is still plenty of time for grilling. The main thing I hear is that when we grill, we get into a rut and often grill the same thing. That is pretty normal since we know that recipe well and know that we can make it consistently good, so why chance ending up with a bad meal?
Changing recipes for grilling isn’t really that hard once you stop and think about it. Start by thinking of maybe just the first two ingredients that come to mind for a specific style of cooking or flavor.
For example, when I think of Asian, I think soy sauce and ginger. It won’t always be the same two ingredients, but I think that people will choose at least one thing the same and there will be a lot of overlapping ingredients. I don’t include things that are in almost every type of cooking like salt, pepper and garlic. What about Cajun cuisine? Cayenne is definitely the first and then I think oregano or some other dry herb. When it comes to Mexican or even Southwestern dishes, jalapenos and cumin are at the top of the list.
Once you get that, simply add a few other ingredients you might associate with that type of food along with the normal garlic, salt and pepper. So, for Asian dishes, I might add the five spice blend, Hoisin sauce and some type of sweetener like brown sugar, sugar and/or honey, and rice vinegar, and for me personally, pineapple. For Cajun, I always think of as a dry rub, I’d go with dried herbs like onion powder, thyme, paprika and maybe some brown sugar. As for Mexican, there is garlic, cilantro, lime and chili powder.
Now that you have your dish picked out, you need to set up your grill accordingly. Nine times out of 10, people will just turn on the gas to high or fill the bottom of the grill with charcoal and get it all hot, or go the other way and put just enough charcoal in to barely do the job. I do like a nice, hot fire, but I also like having areas with no coal for indirect cooking. Also, although you might be able to cook your piece of meat over just 10 pieces of coal, the heat won’t be really hot enough to sear it and it will be dryer than normal.
Cooking only directly over a hot flame increases chances of burning as opposed to caramelizing your dinner, so once seared, move it off the flame. Rub the grill with a rag moistened with some oil, and when you place your meat on the grill, slide it back and forth about half an inch in each direction so it won’t stick and leave it alone for a few minutes. Let the meat sear directly over the flame at a height where the drippings aren’t causing any flare-ups to reach and char the meat. If you are shooting for those nice cross grill marks, turn the meat 180 degrees and leave it alone again. Then flip your meat and go to indirect heat to finish.
Dry rubs can be blackened during the initial searing process for that charred flavor, but once blackened, shift the meat to finish it with indirect heat so as not to really burn it. When applying marinades as a basting or sauces to your meat, again, sear the meat first and then do the basting and sauce applications using indirect heat. This will keep the sugars from burning. If you happened to notice, almost every recipe has some type of sugar in it, as do most premixed rubs and marinades, and burnt sugar is not a good taste. Remember, you can always put it directly over the flame for a few minutes at the end just to darken or crisp up the outside, but you can’t get rid of that burnt taste once it gets into your dish.
Here is a teriyaki sauce that can be used for chicken, beef, pork or just about anything. I like to keep some of the sauce aside before thickening to use as a marinade before cooking and then apply the sauce fairly often using indirect heat while cooking.
½ C soy sauce
¼ C pineapple juice (can use water)
2 T rice vinegar
2 T brown sugar
2 T honey
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ T ginger, minced
1 T cornstarch
2 T cold water
Mix all the ingredients except the cornstarch and water in a pot and bring just to a low boil to dissolve the sugar. Take half away to let cool and marinade the meat from 3 hours to overnight. Mix the cornstarch and water together and add to the rest of the sauce and keep at a low boil just until it thickens some. Brush often onto meat while grilling using indirect heat.
Trained under Master Chef Anton Flory at Top Notch Resort in Stowe, Vt., Smitty is a personal chef specializing in dinner parties, cooking classes and special events. For more information and archived copies of Stir it Up, visit chefsmitty.com. Smitty welcomes your questions and comments at [email protected] or (530) 412-3598.