By Murray Schulman
It’s summertime! Restrictions have eased up, most of us have been vaccinated and we are feeling the urge to get out there and enjoy life. At this time of year, in 2021, we are finally hitting the road, heading for the beach, the campground or that favorite summer getaway spot. Many of us will be traveling to see close relatives who now live out of our area whom we haven’t seen for a year or more. We will gather at our clubs and with friends for that summer barbecue that we have been longing for. Or maybe we are just going to hang out on our decks or patios and relax with friends and neighbors.
We will be doing a number of these things, making up for lost times and missed friends and family. This month will be especially busy for us. Liz and I will be hosting a family barbecue at my home, attending a member’s barbecue at my lodge, traveling to the Jersey Shore, visiting my daughter and family, and heading south to visit my brother and sister-in-law.
The one thing that we will all have in common wherever we go or whatever we are doing is that all of us will at some point get hungry, and probably firing up our grills. You may have anything from a small camp grill to a hibachi to an old-school three-legged charcoal grill, an open wood fire with a metal grate or a large combo style grill like mine. It doesn’t really matter. What counts is that we will all be using an open fire to cook our favorite recipes. I can’t think of anything better than eating food that has been cooked over an open fire. There is just something special about the entire process that drives us to get out there and immerse ourselves in the flames, aromas and flavors of grilled food.
First though, I want to be clear that there is a huge difference to what we call grilling and what is known as smoking or barbecue. I use the term barbecue in two ways. The first is in the context of going to a barbecue or cookout. It is a name that we apply to an event, either big or small. The term barbecue or BBQ is a cooking method involving rubs, brining and low temperatures with lots of smoke. This description is a short version of a highly involved process. For our purposes today, I want to focus on straightforward grilling.
I will cook just about anything on my grill. It may be seafood, beef, pork, poultry, vegetables, sausages, pizza, fruit or anything else that you can think of. Of course, I know that some of you still get deeply involved in all sorts of marinades and brines in the preparation of the foods that will go on your grill. I reserve all of that involved fancy stuff for when I am doing some serious low and slow smoking. For me, grilling is an activity that is quick, easy and an integral part of my relaxation time.
Here are five of my favorite grilling preparations. These preparations take very little time and may be done in advance or within 30 minutes of putting the food on the fire. Also, there are most likely fancy or formal names for these processes in someone’s book. I made up my own names that you and I can easily relate to.
I use this on most of the vegetables that I am grilling on any given day. Simply use a blended oil (you don’t need much), whisk in a nice pinch of sea salt or kosher salt, some coarse black pepper, chopped garlic and a sprinkle of Italian seasoning. I cut big thick slices of onion, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, tomato or even hearts of your favorite lettuce. Lightly coat your vegetables with the seasoned oil and you are ready to grill. Hint: add either lemon pepper, lemon zest or a few drops of lemon juice to explode the flavors.
The Florentine fix
I discovered this while in the Tuscan region of Italy. Traditionally, this is geared toward beef. It also works great on pork chops, chicken, game or any dense muscle protein. You will want to use this process an hour or so before you begin grilling. Sprinkle your meat with sea or kosher salt and course ground black pepper, Cut a lemon in half and remove the pits. Peel some garlic. You can use it either smashed or chopped. Massage the garlic into the meat. Follow this by rubbing the face side of the lemon halves onto the meat until all of the meat has been well rubbed. Drizzle with some good olive oil and rub that into the meat. Let it rest for about an hour at room temperature. It is traditional to grill beef in this style over high heat to rare or medium rare. If you need it to be cooked further,
I’ll forgive you. Pork loin or even better pork tenderloin should be cooked to 155 degrees. Keep in mind that dense meats will continue to cook for a time after you remove them from direct heat. You don’t want to overcook your selections. Of course, poultry should always be cooked to a minimum of 165 degrees. Avoid overcooking so that your poultry remains moist and juicy.
This is one of my go-to methods. I use lager, pilsner, porter, IPA, light beer or pretty much any beer that I have in my refrigerator. The awesome thing about beer is that in terms of a pre-grilling process, it contains pretty much everything that is required. In most cases, I just pour a 12-ounce can or bottle of beer over whatever I am grilling, let it rest at room temperature for about an hour before grilling and that’s that. If I want to add a little something, I have been known to stir a couple of ounces of Sticky Fingers or Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce into the beer just to add a little pizzazz.
If you replace the beer in No. 3 with cola or even diet cola, you completely change the flavor profile of whatever you are grilling. The key here is that in No. 3, the addition of the BBQ sauce is an option. In this technique it is non-negotiable. I use a ration of 60 percent cola to 40 percent BBQ sauce. This gives you sweetness with a bite that for some reason works. Other than the BBQ sauce requirement, the processes for No. 3 and No. 4 are the same.
Lastly, when we want to get a little fancier, wine is the clear choice. Which wine? That depends on what you are putting on the grill. Basically, employ the same policies that should be considered as with any wine pairing. Choose a wine that you would enjoy with the meal that you are preparing. You don’t need me to go into a long dissertation on wine pairing in this context. What I will say is that you never want to use any wine that you wouldn’t drink in your cooking, ever. If it tastes awful when you take a sip, it will taste awful in your recipe preparations. Cook with wine you enjoy drinking and your recipes will be delicious. I do use seasonings and whole fresh herbs when preparing food for grilling in this way. I usually allow at least an hour or more before putting my food on the fire with this method.