All Up in Your Grill
From showroom cookers to backyard fire pits, choice cuts of beef to slaw-covered brats, perfect margaritas to domestic sixers, it’s summer. Time to move the kitchen outside.
Light a grill and he will come: the know-it-all meat expert usually a male relative—with dubious advice. To help you silence such goons, Steven Rinella, author of The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine, shares his best cooking philosophies. Learn them and defeat all comers.
Beef Rib Eye
A grain-fattened beef rib eye is hard to beat for tenderness, flavor, and moisture. Buy it with the bone in, and cook on a very hot grill, flipping once, just when the juices start to run clear. Sprinkle with fresh cracked pepper, coarse sea salt, and nothing else.
Nothing says “I'm a man, a delicate man” quite like whole grilled quail. Soak the birds two per person for two hours in a white-wine-and-Dijon marinade and heat one side of your grill until it's medium hot. Cook them on the opposite side, breasts up, lid on. Baste often, until you can pull off a wing without having to wrestle the bird for it. Singe quail over flames at the last minute for color and texture.
The flank steak is the thinking man's cut of beef: It compensates for its lack of tenderness with complex flavors and textures. It jibes well with marinades, particularly milder soy-sauce-based concoctions, and it benefits from hot, fast cooking. But the real key to flank steak is the knife work: Let it sit a few minutes before slicing it, diagonally, against the grain.
Leg of Lamb
A leg of lamb exudes a barbaric yet elegant glory, but it can be a major time sucker. To trim down cooking time, buy a boneless leg or slice out the femur yourself. Then butterfly it by slitting the thickest parts of the meat; it lets the heat in. Use a Greek-themed rub and serve the slices as you cut them off the shank.
There's no room for error with this cut: It's bland when overdone and potentially deadly too rare. Rub your chops with olive oil and cracked pepper, and place on an oiled grill over medium heat until the internal temperature hits 160.
Don't you dare reach for the barbecue sauce. Instead, cook ribs for a couple of hours with a light coating of a paprika-based rub. Place them on the grill, away from the heat, and baste with a sauce of cider vinegar and mustard until they start to fall apart.
If you read Fast Food Nation, you know it's reasonable to fear ground meat. For safe burgers that can be eaten blood red, buy a choice roast and grind it in a food processor. Then add some diced, semi-cooked pork fat, like cheap bacon or fatback.
If a friend gives you elk, he likes you. If he gives you a loin, he's crazy count yourself lucky. Trim it of sinews and silver skin; turn it in oil and coarse salt, followed by a roll in a sage-juniper rub. Cook directly over a hot grill until the outside is lightly crusted and the inside is thoroughly warmed.
Remember this: spatchcock. It's a method of flattening chicken by removing the spine. Buy young birds and slice out the backbone before marinating them in a lemon-garlic-thyme mixture. Cook them slowly, with the lid on, over indirect heat, while continuing to brush with sauce.
Our advice? Go easy on the salt and heat.
Pork Ribs: 1 tbsp each smoked and sweet paprika, brown sugar; 1 tsp each salt, onion powder, dry mustard, cayenne, cumin.
Elk Tenderloin: 1 tbsp each juniper berries, dried sage leaves; 1/2 tbsp peppercorns; grind all.
Leg Of Lamb: Steve Raichlen's Mediterranean Barbecue Rub (4 oz, $13) is a primo ready-made.
The only bad thing about grilled fish is grilling the fish. It tends to stick, fall apart, and generally ruin your best taco intentions. The solution? Cut a lime, an orange, and an onion in half and rub them over the grill. That's Mark Alberto's secret. And the owner of Sayulita Fish Taco, in mainland Mexico's trendiest surf town, may be better at it than anyone else on the Pacific coast. Brush the fish with a mix of olive oil, fresh garlic, onion powder, cilantro, serrano chile, and a dash of salt and grill over medium heat. “Well-cooked fish looks opaque and should be moist,” says Alberto. “It should have just lost its translucency.” Finish the tacos with cabbage, mango salsa, and two lime wedges. “Sounds so good,” Alberto says. “I'm heading out now to make three or four.” —Claire Napier Galofaro
No More Kebab
Fruits and vegetables cook at different rates, so grilling on a skewer will leave you with pulpous tomato and raw pineapple. Instead, use low heat and follow these directions.
Vegetables: Slice firm stuff into large, flat pieces about half an inch thick, brush with olive oil, and throw directly on the grate, about five minutes per side. Grill tomatoes whole, two to three minutes.
Fruit: Slice firm items like pineapples half an inch thick, brush with butter, and grill five minutes per side. For softer fruits, like bananas, go with slightly underripe and grill entire halves. —Emily Matchar
Sheboygan, Wisconsin, native Sam Moulton shares the secrets of the state's savory pork link
Keep It In Wisconsin: Johnsonville brats are available nationwide. But if you need to impress your in-laws from Oconomowoc, mail-order from Usinger's, the best pork ever packed in a tube.
Never Boil: I grill mine over charcoal, right out of the package, but some of my people think they taste better if you parboil them in a light lager—like PBR—and sliced onions. If you go that route, simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, and never let them boil; it splits the casings.
Respect The Bun: Brats taste best on a warm, buttered hard roll—basically a Bavarian semmel. Beyond the Cheddar Curtain, you'd best bake your own. A brat on a hot-dog bun is like pinot in a paper cup.
Dress It Right: Chopped onion, pickles, sauerkraut, and dark brown Düsseldorf mustard make the best combo. And, yes, it is acceptable to squirt ketchup—but not too much—on your brat.
There's only one brand of potato chip worth eating: Kettle. Go with sea salt and vinegar—blue bag. Unlike reconstituted fakers, they're made from whole potatoes and flavored with actual dehydrated vinegar, which is brutally tangy on the tongue. If you eat the whole bag, like I sometimes do, you're likely to burn off your taste buds. They'll grow back. —Grayson Schaffer
Cart + Drum = Awesome
With modern grills reaching NASA-level complexity, there was bound to be an engineering backlash. You're looking at it: This 55-gallon-drum-and-shopping-cart cooker will feed a crowd and showcase your handiness. Here's how we made ours.
- Cut the basket off the cart and halve the oil drum with a plasma torch. (Every man should own one.)
- Use the mesh from the basket to create a coal bed, grilling surface, and all-important bun warmer.
- Are you kidding? Call a pro welder, like we did.
Tips from Kansas barbecue legend Jeff Stehney, whose restaurant, Oklahoma Joe's, is always full, despite being located in a gas station:
- 200–275 degrees.
- You want to smoke the tough, fatty muscles. Use brisket and ribs, not chicken breast or steak.
- Barbecue sauce is a condiment, not an ingredient.
- Wood chunks are better than chips. Use them, especially mesquite, sparingly. And if a tree bears fruit, you can smoke with its wood. —Jason Kerkmans
The Fuego 01
It's the MacBook Air to your old Atari 2600, thanks to the genius of its creator, former Apple industrial designer Robert Brunner. With 37,000 BTU of gas heat and optional charcoal and infrared cooking drawers, it can handle everything from weeknight grilling to all-day feasts. $3,500.
The perfect party mix … doesn't exist. But some people know better than others. And few can be trusted more than the folks at the Hi-Tone Cafe, in barbecue capital Memphis, Tennessee. The pizza joint hosts about 1,000 bands for 300 shows a year—both local and national touring acts. “If a tremendous band is playing rooms our size,”says owner Jonathan Kiersky (who suggests the rootsy starter mix here), “they will be playing the Hi-Tone.”
- “Honey, I'm Too Old for You,” Jack-O and the Tennessee Tearjerkers
- “Push and Pull,” Viva L'American Death Ray Music
- “T New,” Antenna Shoes
- “Desert Sun Played,” Vending Machine
- “Is There a Ghost,” Band of Horses
- “So Much Trouble,” Matt Pond PA
- “Ugly Things,” Unknown Hinson
- “The Cry of Melora,” Black Cobra
- “Last Day of Winter,” Pelican
- “Veni Vidi Vici,” Black Lips
Mark York Calendar
We know when you should throw your outdoor party this summer. It's in the sweet spot between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Temperatures are a month away from their summer peak, Bonnaroo is a hazy, week-old memory, the Tour de France hasn't begun, the Democratic primaries are finally over, and the Sox and Yankees don't play for two more weeks. It's also got the most daylight of any Saturday this year and promises a nearly full moon and possible meteor shower. So, unless you've got a wedding to go to, block out June 21. —Claire Napier Galofaro
Choose Your Weapon
A comparison of grill firepower
What it does to the meat: Clean, consistent heat with an automatic igniter and adjustable flame mimics, well, a stove. But for convenience, you can’t beat it.
What it does to you: Outside, gas is the cleanest, safest fuel.
Who it’s for: The metro man who’s too busy for charcoal.
Buy: Weber’s Q 320 packs heavyweight performance into a 36.5-inch footprint, with 21,700 BTU from two burners. $460.
What it does to the meat: Low, indirect heat can slow-cook even a whole hog. Smoke breaks down tough muscle fibers until the meat falls apart.
What it does to you: In high doses over time: stomach cancer.
Who it’s for: Nose-to-tail meat aficionados.
Buy: The ceramic XL (14 lamb racks) Big Green Egg, modeled on old Japanese kamado cookers. $1,000; stand, $100.
What it does to the meat: Ceramic tiles convert natural gas to infrared. The focused heat speed-cooks perfectly seared outsides and pink middles.
What it does to you: About the same as gas.
Who it’s for: The well-heeled foodie with a quiver of grills.
Buy: Toss the 20-pound Solaire Anywhere portable in your truck for high-tech tailgating. $400.
What it does to the meat: Burns hot to sear in flavor. Add wood chips for notes of smoke. Downer: There’s ash to clean up, and it’s tough to control the heat.
What it does to you: Grease vapor is a potential carcinogen.
Who it’s for: Old-school grill masters; your dad.
Buy: The Napoleon Apollo has a Space Age design and side compartments for oven cooking. $200. —Emily Matchar