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ATLANTA CHEFS SHARE THEIR GRILLING SECRETS FOR HOSTING AN IMPRESSIVE TAILGATE OR BACKYARD COOKOUT THIS FALL
ATLANTA (September 9, 2015) -- It’s finally fall. Football season is upon us, and that backyard or tailgating grill beckons as your increasingly hangry friends cluster around you. This is no time to accidentally incinerate dinner into inedible hockey pucks. Lucky for you, some of Atlanta’s top chefs have come together to share their best grilling tips.
First things first. "Organize yourself," advises Smokebelly executive chef Nagib Sued. “Gather your tools, ingredients and seasonings, and set up your station. Then, clean your grill. You don’t want tonight’s dinner tasting like last week’s lunch. After it gets rocket hot, take a wire brush and scrape the grates. Once cleaned, dunk a towel in oil and carefully oil the grates of your grill. This will help in caramelizing and giving you great grill marks.”
What kind of grill should you be firing up? Aria’s executive chef/owner Gerry Klaskala suggests the egg. “My Big Green Egg is my secret weapon. Get one and learn how to use it.”
And your grates? “Thicker and heavier grates will result in a better sear,” FLIP burger boutique corporate chef Gregg Piazzi recommends. "Cast iron is best."
Great grilling cannot be rushed. Read that last sentence again. This is your official mantra. Every chef agrees that patience is a virtue when it comes to successful grilling. For Mike Fuller, executive chef of Ray’s at Killer Creek, this includes tempering your steaks. “I pull my steaks out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling so they get right about room temperature. This allows the meat to relax and not seize up when added to a hot grill.”
Patience also applies to your fire. When in doubt, wait. And then wait some more.
Gypsy Kitchen executive chef Matthew Ridgeway advises using wood-based charcoal. “It’s pricier, but you end up using less.”
Lance Gummere from Bantam + Biddy and Chick-a-Biddy concurs. “Do not use those manufactured charcoal pieces that look like two black domes glued together. That isn’t for cooking. I don’t really know what that’s for.”
Gummere recommends wood. “Set it on fire and watch it burn, burn, burn,” he explains. “Just when you think you’ve missed the right opportunity, and your fire is just a smoldering glow of orange timbers, it’s actually perfect.”
Klaskala suggests a chimney fire starter as well. “Kick the lighter fluid habit,” he says. “Your food will be much better.”
When it comes to ingredients, our chefs agree: buy the best you can find. Your family and friends deserve the best, don’t they? As a huge Penn State and NASCAR infield tailgater, Marlow’s Tavern executive chef/co-founder John Metz always urges using quality product. “Locate the best steak, ribs or brisket. Don’t compromise,” he implores.
Piazzi adds, "A juicy burger starts with a lot of fat in the burger mix. Up to 30 percent is optimal. Anything over 30 percent is technically sausage.”
Fuller prefers hand-cut steaks from a trusted butcher. “Find steaks that are at least an inch thick; a rib-eye or a New York strip that has a 1/4-inch fat cap, which will melt and baste your steak while cooking.”
Naturally, celebrity chef/owner of Gunshow and Revival and “Pure Pork Awesomeness” cookbook author Kevin Gillespie’s favorite thing to grill is pig. “I like it better,” he explains. He even has a simplified Korean barbecue recipe in the new book using thinly sliced pork shoulder and “whatever condiments you have.”
Simple seasonings are best. Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper or some fresh herbs. Article 14 executive chef Chris Blobaum advises using acidic marinades for cooking poultry. “Use vinegar, citrus juice or even beer as a base to marinate meats for a few hours before grilling. Acidic marinades help food taste better and also protect you against heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that can be caused by cooking poultry, red meat or fish over an open flame.”
This brings us to perhaps the most crucial tip of all. "Once you get your meat on the screaming hot grill, do NOT constantly turn it every 28 seconds," warns Sued. "Poking it only creates natural holes for your juices to escape.”
It’s the same story for burgers. Cautions Piazzi, “DON’T press on the burger with your spatula. Imagine that your burger patty is a kitchen sponge. The red meat is the structure of the sponge; the water suspended in the sponge is the fat. One press of a spatula on a burger is like squeezing a sponge and getting rid of most of the moisture - the delicious fat!”
If you’ve oiled your grate properly, the meat will develop a nice char and will naturally release from the grate when it’s ready. "Give it at the very least a minute, but try waiting two minutes," advises Gummere. “The minute will be anxiety-ridden. You’ll wonder if it’s too hot or too cold. You’ll wonder where you put your beer. But let your meat sit and sizzle.”
Now, you want those cookbook-cover grill marks, don’t you? Here’s how to achieve them. "Place the meat on the grill at the 10 o’clock position. When it’s ready to be flipped, gently - and I mean gently - lift one corner," says Sued. “If the meat comes up without resisting, it’s ready to go to the 2 o’clock position. If it sticks to the grill, leave it and let it caramelize another minute.”
To determine doneness, press your tongs into the center of your steak. If it gives a lot, it’s rare to medium rare. If it hardly gives at all, you’re hovering at well done. When your meat is at the desired degree of doneness, give it a rest - literally. “Place it on a plate far away from the fire,” Gummere advises. “Then, don’t touch it. Pretend it’s a venomous snake and walk away. After five minutes, the steak has had a chance to ‘rest,' or had time to redistribute the juices throughout the steak."
Ridgeway even advises letting it rest for 10 minutes. And those juices that run off onto the serving plate? “I save them and pour them into my baked potatoes,” he says. “Salty, meaty goodness.”
Want to go for that final rock-star touch? Drop your grill one inch closer to the coals and try this trick from Gummere. “This is like when the rock band The Who would smash their instruments before the finale. Place your beautiful steaks back on your lowered grates and give it a second sear on both sides for 30 seconds per side just before serving. YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
Spoiler alert: Your grill is still supernova hot. Why not put all that heat to good use and try these grilled dessert ideas from Blobaum? “A grilled dessert can be really delicious and simple. Grill bananas in their skins, or slit the skin and add a few pieces of dark chocolate, Nutella or rum. Or grill fresh peaches, pineapple or mango and serve them with buttermilk ice cream. I like grilled slices of pound cake with sliced marinated strawberries and topped with sweetened whipped crème fraîche. I’ve even grilled whole bunches of grapes, tossed lightly with olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar.”
Now, thanks to a team of grilling experts, you’re all set to tackle game-day grilling and keep your friends expertly fed all through the season. Go ahead, toss your tongs in the end zone and dance a little. You know you want to.
Be sure to click here for a recipe and photo from chef Kevin Gillespie!