Pictured recipe: Grilled Polenta & Vegetables with Lemon-Caper Vinaigrette
Chances are your summer calendar is loaded with BBQs, outdoor parties, cookouts and more food-related invites than you can keep track of. So we consulted the pros for their best tips when it comes to what to serve, how to cook the perfect meat and healthy swaps for traditional fare. Heed their advice, then get to grilling.
Temperature control is key for Elm Restaurant executive chef Luke Venner (New Canaan, Connecticut). "If your heat is too low your food will steam and then overcook, but if your temperature or flame is too high your food will burn. Identify hot spots and use them to develop some char, then rotate items to a cooler spot to roast or rest."
There is no shame in temping your meats or fish while they grill, according to Alon Shaya, chef-owner of Shaya, Domenica and Pizza Domenica in New Orleans. "It allows you a picture into what's happening on the inside, while the outside is sizzling away, because you don't want to cut into that beautifully grilled whole fish just to find out the middle is raw, or even worse, overcooked."
Pictured recipe: Salsa-Black Bean Burgers
"Only flip your burgers once. If a crust hasn't formed and you try to flip the burger, it's going to stick to the grill and fall apart. And if you keep flipping it over and over, there's a good chance that it will fall apart and the juices will flow out," says chef Bobby Flay of Bobby Flay Steak at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City. "The most important thing, however, is to not press on the burger while it's cooking. Pressing on it will let the juices right out of it (while starting flare-ups on the grill), drying the burger out."
Evan LeRoy—chef, pitmaster and co-owner of LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue in Austin—has a trick to prevent meat from sticking to the grill. He swears by an old towel rolled up and soaked in oil to oil your grill grates.
For the best corn on the cob to star as a side dish, lifestyle designer and event producer David Monn says, "Opt for flint corn over sweet corn because it adds color to your plate and can be used to decorate your tabletop."
Pictured recipe: Mixed Grill with Balsamic-Mustard Vegetables
Chef de cuisine Joe Frietze of Publican Quality Meats in Chicago prefers a loose marinade so you can "periodically dunk the meat back into it and place it back on the grill to develop some good carbon," he says.
"My biggest piece of advice when it comes to meat is to make sure you always let your meats rest before slicing into them," says chef Michael Gallina of Vicia, in St. Louis.
Pictured recipe: Cheesy Potato Packets
"Place new potatoes and garlic into foil packets and drizzle with lots of olive oil and coarse salt, then wrap and leave to cook on the grill for about an hour," says chef Michael Gallina of Vicia. "The garlic caramelizes and the potatoes start to char just a bit at the bottom for an awesome side dish."
According to Zach Hunter, executive chef of Austin's The Brewer's Table, the best on the market is the Big Green Egg. "It's pricy, but well worth the investment when you factor in ease of use and quality of end result. It doubles as a smoker as well as a grill."
"One of the tools I love to use at home is a rib rack," says Doug Psaltis, co-founder of Chicago's Windy City Smokeout. "I have one that holds five racks of ribs so they cook evenly and save space on the grill. I'm also a fan of the Looftlighter (which looks like a giant hair dryer) to start my charcoal. It cuts down on the time and hassle of lighting coals, but you're still guaranteed those charcoal sears and smoky flavor that we all love with BBQ."