No matter how you’re spending summer holiday weekends, there’s a good chance you may be in close proximity to a grill of some capacity: Whether that be a full-fledged, top-notch, high-tech situation or maybe an equally iconic George Foreman Grill.
If you are looking for tips on how to properly approach your grill, reduce flare-ups and produce some truly scrumptious food — especially if you’re a beginner and looking to serve a hungry, patriotic crowd — look no further. Salon Food spoke with Chef Mat Urban, executive chef of CBD Provisions at The Joule in Dallas, Texas, who also happens to be a grilling aficionado.
So, happy grilling! And if you happen to get rained out today, be sure to utilize these tips all year long.
The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
For a grilling neophyte looking to try out some grilling this 4th of July or this summer overall, how would you recommend they begin? With what type of grill?
I would recommend a new griller to start with a propane (gas) grill, rather than charcoal grill, until they get a lot more comfortable. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get quality products at home. I personally have a Nexgrill from Home Depot that costs around $300 bucks.
What are some non-negotiable tools or utensils?
Absolutely, you must have a grill brush. Dirty grill grates are the worst and will most definitely affect your cook. Other must haves for me would be a nice set of long metal tongs, a metal spatula and a digital thermometer.
Can you tell me why the thermometer is a non-negotiable tool for grillers?
Most chefs who work a grill or have worked a grill at a busy restaurant in their career have probably cooked more meat on a grill in a month than [most people] will in a lifetime. The chances of their cooking a perfectly tempered steak are far higher than [others] doing it. What [some] may lack in experience can dramatically increase simply by knowing what temperature your food is at.
What is the difference between grilling and barbecuing?
Grilling is what most people do when they have the “back yard BBQ”. Grilling is typically thinner cuts of meat like your steaks, chicken, pork chops, burgers, vegetables, etc. Grilling is done mostly over direct heat and is a much quicker timeline. Barbecuing is more of a low and slow, indirect cooking method. Think your briskets, ribs, pulled porks. Although you can smoke veggies and “smaller” items like chicken thighs or tomatoes, typically BBQ is bigger more tough cuts.
What are some tips on how to not over-grill or inadvertently burn everything?
I like to keep one side of my grill lower than the other so I can move the food around should there be any flare ups. With a propane grill having the metal diffusers so close to the grill grate, you have to keep a closer eye on your flare ups.
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What should you always be aware of or try to shy away from when grilling?
Oily or wet foods are not usually good for grilling. Wet foods can stick to your grates and oil makes flare ups and carbon smoke which can really affect the flavors.
What should be cooked on high, direct heat versus what should be cooked with indirect, slow cooking?
I tend to cook things like burgers and steak on high heat. [For] these items, you want that sear to keep the meat nice and juicy inside. Slow, indirect cooking would be more for smoking meats or larger cuts that would typically get burned before being able to finish internally. Trade secret: Chicken actually benefits very well from indirect cooking since its so lean and will help it to not dry out.
Any ideas for top menu items or grilling options for this summer?
Grilled corn! I keep it in the husk and everything. If you haven’t had corn this way, trust me . . . it’s the best.
What have you been grilling mainly lately?
The last thing I grilled was teriyaki chicken. I like to meal prep and I hate doing dishes. Grilling is a great way to maximize both.
What are some of the most popular grilled items on the CBD Provisions menu?
CBD doesn’t have a grill, but we do have a steakhouse style broiler. Our most popular item from the broiler is the butcher’s cut steak.
What are some of the main differences between cooking on a stove or in an oven vs. cooking on a grill?
One big difference between the two is the smoke aspect. Smoke does add flavor and you’re able to get a much better char on your foods.
Any other tips or advice for grillers, no matter if beginner or seasoned?
A tip I like to use that I feel not everyone does is that I season most of my proteins up to an hour ahead of grilling time. This allows the seasoning to penetrate deep into the meat to achieve a better overall seasoning.
Chef Mat Urban’s Grilled Zucchini Salad Prep Time 5 minutes Cook Time 10 minutes
3 medium zucchini (any summer squash works here)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
BBQ spice (whatever your favorite is: I love the Kinder’s Woodfired Garlic), to taste
8 baby sweet peppers
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup goat cheese crumbles
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic glaze or reduction
3 sprigs fresh mint
Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Season with olive oil, salt and BBQ spice.
Heat the grill on high heat and wait until it reaches 400-500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the zucchini cut side down on the grates and immediately turn the grill down to medium heat. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until charred, but not totally soft.
Toss the peppers in a little bit of oil and seasoning and grill whole.
Once the veggies are grilled, cut them in bite size pieces and add to a large bowl.
Next, add in the cherry tomatoes, torn mint leaves and olive oil and mix gently to coat.
Taste for seasoning, then garnish with the goat cheese crumbles and balsamic glaze.
Serve as a side to grilled steaks, pork chops or even fish.
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