Chef Jenn Robbins learned her grilling skills in Texas. Here are some of her grilling tips to get the best out of your grill this season.
Robbins’ tips for grilling:
• If you’re using lump charcoal or hardwood, the easiest way to start the fire is to use a chimney starter and newspaper stuffed in the bottom. That will get the flames started.
• Have a cotton towel on hand and a squeeze bottle of oil to season the grate. “It’s the same as seasoning a cast iron skillet. Seasoning your grate cuts down on the food sticking. Even a cut down t-shirt will work. Use something you don’t mind discarding since you’re not going to want to wash it. Get oil into the cloth and then rub down the grates. Never use spray nonstick cooking oils.”
• Gas grills are great for cooking a large volume of food very quickly. “You can crank up the heat and you don’t have to worry about maintaining the heat like you do with charcoal. You can grill for hours and hours.”
• Charcoal grills are inexpensive, easy to access and lightweight.
• Ceramic cookers like the Big Green Egg maintain temperature really well. “Once the lid is closed, it becomes a wood-burning convection oven. That makes it really versatile. You’re not only cooking from the bottom, but from the top. That’s why they work well for baking, too.”
• The new braai-style cookers like the KUDU use open fire cooking. “Instead of cooking in a pit, this grill elevates the fire. With its arms, you can place grates near the heat or swing them away. And you can raise and lower the grates. So you can pan fry potatoes at the same time you’re cooking a steak. Essentially it lets you cook many different things at the same time but at different temperatures.” Robbins particularly likes the smoke dome. “The dome is built to withstand the heat and helps you control how much of the smoke flavors what you’re cooking.”
Tonya Morris, chef de cuisine at Buckhead’s Southern Art, grew up in south Florida. Grilling was her family’s favorite way to cook as it was too hot to cook inside. Her love of grilling continues today as does the flavor that grilling brings out in the food.
Morris’ tips for grilling, especially fish:
• When working with charcoal, add fruits and vegetables to the coals to build flavor. “When the coals are about half gray, add in some carrots or oranges, scraps from the onions you used for the meal, that kind of thing. It takes away from the oily taste you can get from charcoal.”
• When you’re oiling your grates, use tongs to hold the cloth to apply the oil. Then let the grill get good and hot before putting anything on it. If it’s not as hot as it should be, the meat will stick.
• When grilling fish, stick with fresh fish, never frozen.
• If you’ve marinated your fish, be sure to drain it well before grilling. “You don’t want that oil dripping into the fire. You don’t need the meat to be dry, just not dripping wet.”
• Marinades can be very simple. You want something with a little acid, which can even be beer, and then a bit of seasoning. Nothing with butter and nothing too oily.
• If you want nice grill marks, start with a hot grill, then put down your food at an angle. If you’re cooking fish, wait until you see it turn white around the edges, then rotate it to make cross-hatched grill marks.
• Don’t walk away especially when cooking something like fish. “If you walk away you can be sure it will flame up!”
• Baste while cooking, using some of your reserved marinade.
• To know when it’s done, just break off a piece and try it.
• When cooking fish, it doesn’t have to rest after coming off the grill, like you would rest a steak or other grilled meat.
• Dive in!