Grilled pizza party

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One of my favorite things to do is have food inspired parties. It helps if everyone gets involved in the process and gives everyone a chance to contribute. It’s great for families and friends of all ages and culinary skill levels. Grilling pizza is a fun, albeit sometimes laborious, way to cook a crowd friendly dish. So with that being said, I’ll let you know how I grill pizza and give some tips on how to make it fun and easier for you.So let’s talk about the dough, because this will make or break the experience. The simplest way is to buy pre-made bread-like dough. An example would be Boboli or Freschetta, which can usually found in or around the bread aisle. This is best for the speed of grilling pizza because you can just make your pie and put in on the grill. Then there is fresh uncooked dough. This will add significant time to your experience, but the flavors are so fresh and delicious that it’s seriously worth the extra steps.Boboli
FreschettaThe choice is yours, but knowing how to use both can set you up to do this for any meal, anytime.

We used fresh, home made dough that was made in our bread maker. You can also get fresh pizza dough from the bakery department of almost ANY supermarket. Now it can get a little tricky grilling raw dough, so I flash it real quick in the oven. This will make it much easier to handle on the grill and give it some rigidity. No need to fully cook it; just get it to the stage where it’s easy to handle with tongs and spatula (about 6 minutes at 350) to make the whole process easier.

You can grill the raw dough on the grill, too. Once you roll it out, make sure you lubricate your grill grates and dough liberally. When grilling freshly made dough, don’t worry about shape or uniformity. You’ll need to be on the grill watching this the whole time. It’s tough to even get in a beer break during this time because it’s pretty fast. You’re going to cook one side, flip, and then add your toppings to finish.

That means the most important part of grilling pizzas is having a station ready BEFORE you even put anything on the grill. A side table with your accoutrements is essential. Things get going pretty fast, so you’ll need to have this within a few feet of your grill so you don’t burn the crust.

I also use a pizza pan on the grill and I will tell you why…the more toppings you put on your pizza, the longer it’s going to take to cook. This means you may have a perfect char on your crust and un-melted cheese. I combat this with a pizza pan which I may sneak under halfway through the process.

Another tip I’d like to share is to cook most of your toppings before putting them on. If you’re putting meat on a grilled pizza, it should be cooked, since the fast cooking time won’t allow for raw meat to be cooked before burning the crust. I like to keep fresh and raw veggies on top of the cheese because of their water content.

Here are the pies we made this last interactive pizza party:

BBQ chicken and pork pizza with a red sauce, touch of BBQ sauce topped with shredded mozzarella cheese, crispy smoked bacon and fresh cilantro

Garden fresh heirloom tomato white pizza, with three kinds of basil, peppers and onions topped with buffalo mozzarella

Ricotta cheese with garlic and lemon zest pizza with red sauce and topped with shredded mozzarella and shallots

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The most important 17 minutes:

If there is one thing that I have learned over the years that is a constant with grilling, it is that you will under-cook, burn, or even overcook something if you aren’t in harmony with your grill’s temperature or cleanliness.

I know this because I blazed up some bone-in, skin-on chicken breast the other night. Not good eats, and when I say blazed, I mean the fire kind that wicks outside the grill. Scary. Don’t worry; I was able to salvage some of the chicken, just not the skin.

I was not paying attention to my Weber gas grill, specifically the cleanliness of the drip pan. Grill blogging and taking pictures for the past couple of months, I neglected to do one of the most fundamental things in the grilling culture: CLEAN THE DAMN GRILL thoroughly, and not just the grates, either.

I am going to tell you about how I spent seventeen minutes yesterday cleaning my grill. That’s it. I know this because after torching the skin on that chicken the other night, I decided that everyone should know the importance of cleaning your grills. Whether you have a charcoal or gas grill (from the survey, most of you have gas), it is imperative that you do a quick cleaning every once in a while. Not only will you get more longevity out of your grill, your food will taste best and cook properly.

For gas grills, it can be a little more labor intensive. The first thing to do is locate the “drip” tray. This is going to be different on almost any grill. If you can’t find it, here is an easy tip for you…while your grill is off and cold, pour a tall glass of water into it and follow the water’s gravitational pull. It will come out somewhere. If it comes out into a removable container, you have found the drip tray. If water is coming out in multiple locations, I will have another blog for that…

You may even have a completely removable bottom tray; this is a good thing for several reasons. But for now, removing those two things and cleaning them is essential. This is where all the liquid deposits from grilling accumulate. Most of this is grease or fats, along with some char and all those lost shrimp and asparagus.

Pretty simple: if you do this often, your chances of burning down the place decreases exponentially. So I implore you to explore your grill’s innards and become familiar with removing and cleaning these parts.

As far as temperature, you need to know if the grill’s built in thermometer works. If you don’t have one, you can get a small on-grill thermometer so you can gauge this accurately. They are generally under ten bucks and they are used strictly for surface temperature only. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_st?keywords=grill+surface+thermometer&qid=1344520380&rh=n%3A2972638011%2Ck%3Agrill+surface+thermometer&sort=price

It took me seventeen minutes to do this last night; that is about the time it takes charcoal to get to ready. Then I promptly grilled those chicken breasts again.

-J

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Boston butt Pork shoulder

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Today’s recipe is for pork shoulder that I first smoke on the grill, then finish in a crock pot. I am making this for a friend’s party today and the crock pot helps in transportation, while it continues to cook and stay moist.

I found this at my local grocery store and was happy to pick up a rather large one for cheap, on sale for $1.49lb!

First thing I do with this humongous piece of pork with a large fat cap and bone-in, is wash it up and pat it dry with paper towels. Then I put in a glass casserole dish so I can get to work on an injection. I used ½ cup of Shealy’s vinegar pepper sauce on a 10lb Boston butt. http://www.shealysbbq.com/page.php?pageid=4  Inject into as many spots as you can, then let sit in the fridge for anywhere from a half to two hours.  You can use a disposable aluminum pan, and I use that right on the smoker.

Next I mixed a rub:

1/3 to a ½ cup brown sugar,
3 tablespoons each of paprika, garlic powder, salt.
2 tablespoons onion powder, red pepper flakes, kosher salt
several grinds of coarsely ground black pepper
1 sprigs worth of fresh thyme leaves

After that I soaked some apple wood chunks in apple juice and prepped my Weber charcoal grill for indirect heat. http://www.weber.com/explore/grills/charcoal-series/one-touch-gold-22-1 I leave the charcoal on each side of the Weber kettle and center is clear. I’ll place the pork in the center over no direct heat with the fat cap facing up. I control the heat with my vents to get the temp to stay under 300-350 degrees Fahrenheit.  First round of smoking will be for 2 hours. Then I will flip over the pork to put the now crispy fat on the bottom for another hour. There will be a lot of juices in the pan by now. Have another clean aluminum pan to transfer the pork to. It will be getting I beautiful smoky crust all over, it’s not BURNT!

The last hour is in a clean aluminum pan with 2 cups apple juice and 1 cup apple cider vinegar. (Or substitute with more vinegar pepper sauce) You can smoke this again on the grill until it is 155*F, but since I am going to travel with it, I put into the crock pot.  It will fall apart in as little as an hour on medium. Once it can be hand-picked, time to get some industrial cleaning gloves (clean or new) and pull that thing apart the best way there is.

If you prefer to chop or slice you can, but with your hands is the easiest. The only thing I remove is the fat cap and the bone, because the rest is all moist, succulent pulled pork ready for enjoying.

Since I am doing this right now…pics will follow.

I am off to the party!

-J

Building your spice rack

Just like a marinade, seasoning can make or break your dish on the grill. A good spice rub can take your flavor over the top. So it’s time to get to know your spice rack a little better, because having a good spice rack and knowing how to use it are key elements in your arsenal of tools to take your grilling to the next level.

While many of us have accumulated spices, dried herbs, and seasonings over time…some people are just getting into or reinventing their spice rack. It can be a daunting and very expensive task! This is where shopping at the big box stores actually can save you some money. Also, the Internet is a great tool to get spices in bulk and get those hard to find specific spices. There is a world full of spices online, so start looking and doing some price shopping. I have used amazon.com, allspiceonline, thespicehouse, and penzeys.com, just to name a few. With Penzey’s you’ll need to find a store or get their catalog which is worth it.

The great thing about buying individual spices and dried herbs is that (if stored properly) they have a fairly long shelf life. Cool, dark spaces are the best. I know those spinning spice racks on the counter look amazing, but if they’re in direct sunlight, it will shorten the life and thus the flavor of your spices. Another great thing about individual spices is the ability to mix match and explore to get that perfect blend.

If you have the benefit of having ethnic grocery stores nearby, they too carry the spices from their corner of the world, usually for much cheaper than a regular grocery or even big box store. They will also have very hard to find spices so you can transport your meal to that authentic taste from a unique region.

With that being said, I am also a big fan of some pre-made mixtures. I know that some of you may have favorites and there have been some staples that the world has used for years. The only downfall to these is the SODIUM content and other ingredients you can’t pronounce. Believe me, salt is always part of seasoning, I just like to have control of how much I put in.

Pre-made mixtures save time and money, it’s that simple. But you can make a variation on a lot of rubs, seasonings, and dried herb blends with your own spices, too. Do not be afraid to try this; you’ll be rewarded, save money, and lower you sodium content. Below I will list some of my spice rack standards.

Speaking of salt…we all use it and if I can ask only one favor, please kick the table salt. Use kosher salt or sea salt. You will use less and get more flavor enhancement from them, in my opinion. (don’t toss the table salt, it’s good for cleaning coffee pots)

For pepper, it is imperative that you buy a pepper mill if you don’t already have one. Freshly ground pepper is the most pungent and flavorful thing you can add to a dish and it will awaken your taste buds. The taste of pre-ground pepper is not the same. Don’t skip this – do the research and find a decent pepper mill that fits your budget. It doesn’t have to be a four hundred dollar, twenty two inch long wooden one. However, if you can’t justify buying one, get out some wax paper and a heavy pot, meat tenderizer or beer bottle and bash away, though you’ll have a much more coarse pepper. Here are a couple of links below:

http://www.consumersearch.com/pepper-mills/important-features
http://www.williams-sonoma.com/shop/cooks-tools/salt-pepper-mills/

Alright, I hope that helps out but I think the lists below will speak for themselves. I will be adding some rub recipes in the future, so be on the look out for them coming soon. As for now, go take inventory and get ready to SPICE things up!

-J

My favorite single spices:

  • Allspice (ground)
  • Bay leaf
  • Brown sugar
  • Black peppercorns
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Celery seed
  • Chili powder
  • Cinnamon powder and sticks
  • Cumin and Cumin seeds
  • Dill or dill weed
  • Ginger and candied Ginger
  • Garlic powder
  • Mustard powder
  • Mustard seed
  • Nutmeg
  • Onion powder
  • Oregano (dried)
  • Paprika (smoked is good to have, too)
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Rosemary (dried)
  • Salt (sea and Kosher)
  • Thyme (dried)

My favorite store-bought seasonings:

Morton’s Natures Seasoning

Old Bay Seasoning, original (also available in 30% less sodium)

Weber Kick ‘n Chicken

Willie’s Hog Dust, original

Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning

Tony Chachere’s Injectables Creole Butter (the best for deep fried turkey and whole chickens)

McCormick Italian Herb Seasoning Grinder

McCormick Gourmet Collection Herbes de Provence

Goya Adobo Light without pepper (50% less sodium)

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It’s ok to use bottled sauce, I promise:

Do you make your own marinades?

The reason why I ask this question is to spark the debate over bottled or store bought ingredients being used during the grilling process vs. home made. I do make plenty of my own marinades but have a lot of favorite bottled items, too.

What is a marinade?

Definition of MARINADE

mar·i·nade

noun \ˌmer-ə-ˈnād, ˌma-rə-\

: a savory usually acidic sauce in which meat, fish, or a vegetable is soaked to enrich its flavor or to tenderize it

That is how Merriam-Webster defines it, and I concur…for the most part. I like to think of a marinade as three parts;

  1. Fat (usually an oil)
  2. Acid (from citrus to vinegars)
  3. Spice (herbs, salts, peppers, etc…)

Now with that being said, those are the basic components of a lot of store bought items, like salad dressing, especially vinaigrettes. These are necessary time savers, and I have no problem using them or with anybody using them.

I have been known to be a label freak and for those of you whom suffer from this affliction, I feel your pain. Calories, fat, SODIUM, SUGAR or high fructose corn syrup…and the list goes on. Salad dressings, barbeque sauce, steak sauce, soy sauce are all part of my pantry and contribute to the marinating process quite a bit. Like with all good things in life, they require some moderation, but by no means are they detrimental if used occasionally.

I combat this by making my own marinades when I have the time and resources. Simple things to keep in your pantry can not only save you money, but time as well. If you can, try to take note of what you have in your pantry as far as stand alone items. Think of combining these items together to create you own marinades using the above. (1,2,3)

If you had to go out and repurchase everything to equip your pantry for this, it would cost a fortune. So use what you have and buy items when they are on sale to restock your pantry with marinade friendly items. Always have oil, whatever kind you like…may I suggest an olive oil and a vegetable oil? I would also suggest the following: Soy sauce (low sodium), Worcestershire sauce (also available in low sodium), your favorite hot sauce, your favorite barbeque sauce, ketchup, and mustard.

Then try out some new vinegars. I am sure you have red wine vinegar or white vinegar already. They work well with oil and garlic, salt and pepper. That’s all you need. What you may like is to add some balsamic or flavored vinegar to your arsenal. They make it all including rice wine, pear, peach and champagne vinegars, so experiment with your taste buds.

You can also substitute just about any vinegar with a citrus fruit. And don’t forget to use the zest. The outside colored skin (not the white pith) of lemons, limes and oranges are filled with flavor and aromatic oils that add incredible punch. You can buy a fancy zester, or just use your box cheese grater.

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (1/4 cup)
  • Zest of one lime/lemon
  • Juice of ½-1 lime/lemon
  • 1-2 gloves garlic minced (fresh)
  • Hefty pinch kosher salt
  • Hefty pinch freshly ground peppercorns

You can use that on anything and everything, including vegetables and even as a salad dressing. Then, you start branching off and adding things according to your tastes and BAM, you are master of your grill!

As far as how to and how long, well that is dependent on the most important thing…your time. If you can’t marinade overnight, you can sneak in at least 30-45 minutes and still get the benefit of the flavor enhancement. The longer you can marinade, the more the food will become tender, but if you’re marinating fish or shellfish it need not be more than an hour. Oh yeah, have plenty of zip-top bags!

Now I would like to name drop a few store bought bottles I can’t live without:

Soy Vay: Veri Veri Teriyaki

Kikkoman: Less Sodium Soy Sauce

Kikkoman: Low Sodium Teriyaki Sauce

Dale’s seasoning: Low Sodium Blend

Lea & Perrins: Reduced Sodium Worcestershire Sauce

Sticky Fingers: Habanero Hot BBQ Sauce

Sticky Fingers: Memphis Original BBQ Sauce

Huy Fong: Sriracha Hot Sauce

Tabasco: Green Jalapeño Pepper Sauce

Franks: Red Hot Wings Buffalo

Lusty Monk: Original Ground Mustard (the Chipotle is also awesome and hot!)

Gulden’s: Spicy Brown Mustard

Alessi: White Balsamic Vinegar

Alessi: Pear Infused Balsamic Vinegar

Up next…your spice rack

-J

Grilling and smoking fruits and vegetables

Once you start getting a feel for your grill or smoker, you immediately get more adventurous. You may start scouring the Internet or magazines for new recipes to try; at least that is how I am. Once I gain the confidence on one item or dish I want to top it the next time I hit the grill.

For the longest time I just grilled meat, every time. I was one dimensional and getting bored of just steaks or beer can chicken, etc… I mean, I had thrown some things on the grill with minimal vegetation, like a kabob…but that was the extent of it. To be honest, I was a bit of a meatatarian during my early grilling years. Not that there is anything wrong with that.  🙂

Like a lot of folks, side dishes seem to always be prepared in the house. Then I met grilled asparagus. That single-handedly changed not only my viewpoint, but also gave me the confidence to try anything on the grill. I was bound and determined to find ways to prepare the whole meal at, on, or around the grill.

Not every veggie is great on the grill, but most are. Furthermore, they require only a minimalist approach to season or marinade. Sometimes just olive oil, salt and pepper, sometimes just some quality Italian dressing will do the trick. Either way, the best grilled or smoked veggies are generally easy. Grilling thick slices of onion and peppers, along with skewered baby bella mushrooms makes the most amazing aroma, the kind you smell outside the ball park.

As a side note, experiment with all kinds of vegetables based upon your tastes. Heavy duty aluminum foil is a vegetable dish’s best friend. I make foil pouches for things like broccoli and cauliflower and steam them on the grill. A little butter, garlic and spice are generally all you need to spruce them up quite nicely. Try soaking several rosemary sprigs in water from 30-60 minutes, then put those on your top grill rack or over indirect heat on your grill. Next put some halved baby potatoes on top of the rosemary. The rosemary smoke will infuse your potatoes with subtle flavor (tip: parboil potatoes for a couple of minutes to soften their texture first).  If you want to wow your friends and family, you can spear the rosemary through the potato for a killer presentation.

Next, I have to say is my favorite…grilled fruit. I just started this within the past couple of years. Man, was I missing out! If you’re a follower of this blog, you may have seen the grilled pears I posted before. Tip of the iceberg…because just about every fruit is ridiculously awesome grilled. I have made grilled lemonade, grilled peaches, pears, apples and pineapple. Super simple; just like veggies, they require little attention beforehand:  a little brush of oil or melted butter with a sprinkle of brown sugar and cinnamon will make any fruit pop as an amazing dessert or appetizer. Throw some vanilla bean ice cream on a grilled peach and you’ll experience a sweet nirvana. They can even co-star with a main dish. Experiencing a grilled apple with grilled pork is FLAVOR-TASTIC!

 

You can also make fruit savory with ease. Oil, salt, and fresh herbs are simple additions that give the food a complex taste. And don’t get me started on cheese…oh man! Pears and apples are my favorites to add cheese to. I will halve them and cut slots on the bottom to keep them stable, then scoop out a small divot to put the cheese in and melt away. Grill the flat side first, flip, and add cheese to melt.

Fruit is full of natural sugars, so be very attentive while cooking, especially over direct heat or flame. I tend to grill my fruit and veggies on low or medium heat, sometimes completely indirect to prevent burning.

Experiment; play with your food because it’s fun and rewarding. You’ll get better with practice, I promise. I know I have found a new love of grilling and even smoking my fruits and vegetables. What an easy, fun way to get these into your diet!

-J

Local food festivals:

With the summer months in full swing, it’s that time when all the local farmers and markets showcase their crops. Not only does it help awareness but gets their names out to help them thrive in the era of big box stores. There is something to be said for the local farmer. Their passion and enthusiasm about their crops are palpable and the enthusiasm is contagious.

I remember a few from my childhood in New England. Right around the corner was a strawberry festival which was closed down due to housing developments before I was even old enough to enjoy it. There were many fall based ones around for apples and pumpkins. Looking back I wish I was enticed as a kid about farm fresh produce, because now it’s extremely important to me.

I do buy produce at my local grocery store, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes we all have to. What I do have is the luxury of three farmers markets within 15 miles of my house. So that means on any given day I can get local, home grown, and organic produce, often for a fraction of the cost from the grocery store. I realize that is not an option for all, but becoming aware of your local communities farmers is a great start towards sustainability and community economics.

Getting off the soapbox, I NEED to tell you about the tomato festival we visited this past Sunday. It was the third annual tasty tomato festival brought to us by a local urban garden center. There were a mixture of venders that had everything from local arts, crafts and jewelry, to home made eats with the featured tomato.

Plus, they had a Bloody Mary bar! There was heirloom tomato tasting, tomato sandwiches made right in front of you, along with several other vendors that utilized the tomato in creative and scrumptious ways. Did I mention the Bloody Mary bar?

It was a hot day and the place filled up really quickly (we were early arrivers, of course). We got a chance to talk to and see almost all the vendors and met some really cool folks, too. Upon exit, I wasn’t going home without any of these prized beauties. Not only did we get a good sampling of every kind of tomato the Southeast has to offer, we got seeds and an heirloom plant of our own to add to the garden at home. All in all great day!

Now I will tell you what I am going to do with all these. First, it was less than five minutes after I got home when I dove into the first heirloom like an apple. Jackpot! Almost indescribably good, it stood no chance. While we got a plethora of varietals, I just wanted to test one last night.

Tonight I am making this: Smoked, stuffed heirloom tomatoes with garlic, mozzarella and basil.

I am going to cook these indirect on my gas grill on a wax paper lined cookie sheet. I will trim off the top of the tomato and de-seed. On the bottom I will cut a small notch so they stand upright on the cookie sheet. In the hollowed areas where the seeds were, I will drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over them then lightly salt and pepper. Next, cut some wafer thin garlic slices to place in the holes. Then fill those with mozzarella and top with hand-torn fresh basil. I will load up my smoker box with apple juice soaked apple wood chips. Cook uncovered until that cheese is bubbly…

That’s it. I will have pictures, salsa and bruschetta to follow, so check back.

Thank you tasty tomato festival for inspiring me to make a local, fresh and better meal!

-J

Charcoal/Kettles 101

Types of grills: Charcoal/Kettles

I know everyone is different, I know every grill is different, what I don’t know is what everybody out there has. I don’t want to write about just charcoal and gas grills. I want to write about ALL of them!

I have used several different types of grills with the majority being charcoal. I grew up on my grandfather’s Weber Kettle. He used to have a 20lb coffee can with holes punched in it for a chimney starter…he told me some story about shooting the can with a 22. The jury is still out on that one.

I learned the hard way, as I almost always do, how to master the charcoal grill. Years of lighter fluid heartburn from those “authentic” charcoal flavored burgers and finally learned how to light charcoal with that coffee can.

Luckily for us now, we have the luxury of every known grill gadget on the planet at our fingertips. Thanks, Internet!

With that being said, I would like to talk about charcoal grilling for a minute. Don’t worry; I am going to cover them all. So if you are a regular reader or first time reader, there WILL be info on your grill, or something extremely similar.

First off, no matter what kind of charcoal grill you have…whether it is a small hibachi, kettle, or ceramic egg, you’ll need a few things to make your experience taste the best and get some longevity out of your investment. Most of you will already have many of these essential items, but in my opinion, the following are essential for the charcoal experience.

Let’s look at the chimney starter. This can be had for less than twenty bucks at any major hardware store, big box store, online, or if you’re lucky enough to have one, a grilling specific store. The basic premise for this is to start your coals.  Pour your coals in the top, put some newspaper on the bottom, light (no colored ink or adverts, please) and wait 10-15 minutes until your fuel is getting that grey-white ash color. Not only is it faster, cleaner, and safer, you can ditch that lighter fluid. That is, if you want to; I have nothing against lighter fluid. When it’s used properly it can start a great charcoal fire. This is just personal preference; just make sure all your lighter fluid burns off before throwing your food on. Oh, and this is a big NEVER…don’t ever add lighter fluid to an existing fire (I think that goes without saying) and NEVER through the cooking grate, please and thank you!

Next let’s look at your fuel. There are many types for you to choose from and I am not going to tell you which to buy, we’ll just discuss the differences. I may mention what I like to use but by all means, if you like one brand or another, use it!

Briquettes and natural lump charcoal are the basics and most widely available for purchase. Briquettes are more readily available just about everywhere you may shop. Thankfully, the big box retailers have caught on to the use of lump charcoal, so it’s becoming more readily available. The basic difference is the shape and the ingredients. While I would love to go into the details, it would take a whole other post specifically on this subject to give it the attention it deserves. Google “briquettes or lump charcoal” and have at it.

Summary, lump charcoal has no additives like briquettes and provides a slightly hotter and shorter cook cycle in an average kettle grill (not so in a ceramic egg or smoker).  It provides the most natural taste in my opinion, and is a staple for my Weber Kettle and Primo Oval ceramic egg. Briquettes are very uniform and can be used almost mathematically for very specific and exact cooking times and temperatures. They also come in a variety of styles that can include preloaded lighter fluid and smoking wood flavors.

Now let’s talk utensils, because there are a lot; however, you can get away with only a couple and you can add YEARS onto the life of your grill.

Starting with a cover, this will help you keep your grill outside almost year round depending on your climate. While I would always suggest getting a manufacturer-specific cover because of the fit and design, just about any cover will work. Some will have much higher quality, better thickness or elasticity. Some will be replaced every year…your choice there. Don’t cover a warm grill.

Next would be your grill brush, and again this debate can go on for days, but I will spare you. Get one that has a scouring side and a softer side (or two different ones if you’d rather).  CLEAN YOUR GRILL AFTER EVERY SESSION! A lot of folks say that they are keeping their grill bits on for seasoning. That’s rotting food, plain and simple. Clean while warm for the best results, but always clean. All you need is a little elbow grease and if that isn’t working, add a little oil to the grates with a paper towel or sponge and get back on that elbow grease. Don’t have a full flame going and dump oil on there…that’s always bad. Save your eyebrows and be smart. I like using a small gardening spray bottle with any high temperature oil (grape seed, canola) or my oil drizzle bottle from in the house.

On new grills, I would always consider running a half chimney of charcoal before cooking anything to burn off any chemicals from the factory. Try to get rid of ash after the grill cools down, too.

Last and certainly not least are the tongs and spatula. These are usually very specific to the individual and each backyard grilling aficionado will have a different opinion. I will tell you what you need to consider. Forget about the spring loaded, non-locking tongs, Forget about the silicone ones (although silicone on the handles is fine).  Forget about the short ones and get a long pair. You’ll save knuckle hair and drop less shrimp, I promise.

As far as the spatula, again the longer the better so you can reach all around the grill. Again I would stay away from silicone (handles are fine). My point here is really that you don’t need a specific set of tools that you wouldn’t already be using in the house…unless you’re going to leave them outside for most of the year. If you’re a fish griller, or would like to become one, that is the only time I would recommend buying a specific spatula.

Well, I hope that covers the bases for the charcoal grillers new and seasoned.

To recap:

  • chimney starter
  • briquettes vs. lump charcoal
  • utensils; cover, grill brush, tongs, spatula

Now please, go get grilling!

-J

How do you grill?

Happy Fourth of July!

July 4th 2012:

4th of July is probably the most active grilling day in all of America.  With the holiday falling on a Wednesday this year, we found ourselves joining friends to have a brunch-like food fest; getting together early in the day so we could all get back to the grind on Thursday.

It was an impromptu gathering of some of my “regulars” that all have massive amounts of talent in the kitchen and around the grills. There was an Israeli couscous salad with fresh cucumber, bell peppers and shallots served cold with a vinaigrette and a tomato and cucumber salad with feta and balsamic that was just as refreshing as it sounds. There was also grilled zucchini with buffalo mozzarella, fresh tomatoes with basil and peach balsamic, and chicken done lollipop style grilled to perfection.

My contribution to this was grilled pear halves drizzled in olive oil, salt and pepper. For the kicker, I seeded them with a grapefruit spoon (I had help – team effort) to leave a small divot in the bottom end, and trimmed the round side with a small one inch slice to make it flat on its bottom and stable on the grill. I grilled them face down to get some grill marks and soften them up.

After you flip, then stuff those divots with Gorgonzola cheese (or your favorite sharp cheese).  They are ready to come off the grill when the cheese is nice and bubbly.  Just beforehand, carefully drizzle a very small amount of organic honey on the cheese side of the pears. Enjoy!

Grill your fruit!

-J

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big thanks to M&S, C&B, K&K, W&L, and S!