With the Fourth of July upon us, and warmer weather ushering in grilling season, here are some tips from seasoned masters of the grill. We interviewed four acclaimed chefs known for their expertise with fire-cooked meats: Alexander Remer of Fireside bistro in Monsey, NY; Mark Hennessey of Le Marais in Manhattan; Izzy Eidelman of Izzy’s Smokehouse in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; and Bryan Gryka of Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed in Chicago. They shared their insights on everything from what to grill to how to grill it, and how to clean up afterwards.
What kind of grill do you recommend for outdoor use?
Remer: For authentic grilling flavor I recommend and use myself charcoal and wood. Gas grills do make for a great way to cook outdoors and are quite versatile, but they will not give you the flavor profile traditional barbecue and grilling offers. Make sure the coals are hot and spread out for direct heat cooking. Flaming should be kept to a minimum or will give the food item unwanted flavors. Use your lid and cover the grill, adjusting the vents, so that the smoke and heat can work its magic.
Hennessey: For me, charcoal, with the addition of wood for flavor, is the best way flavor-wise. Gas is easy and effective, yet lacks the depth of flavor that can come from charcoal and wood. So for grilling dogs, burgers, and quick steaks, a gas grill does an effective and efficient job.
Gryka: I am partial to charcoal because I love the flavor and like to add wood chips for added depth. They are also much less maintenance over time, but do require a greater knowledge of how to use them. As for gas [grills], I always recommend getting one that has thick cast iron grates, not the cheap stainless-steel ones.
What meat should you grill?
Remer: Items which require longer cooking, such as on-the-bone chicken, should be cooked with indirect heat. With a charcoal grill, this entails moving the coals to one side and keeping the chicken on the other side. I will sometimes place a pan with water in it underneath the chicken.
Hennessey: The king of steaks is the rib eye, and these are great for grilling. I would recommend that they be at least an inch thick and cooked to no more than medium rare and seasoned aggressively with kosher salt and coarse black pepper.
Gryka: For normal grilling, I love a simple medium-rare rib eye. Boring, I know. Skirt steaks are good, but kosher ones tend to be very salty and require work to remove some of that saltiness. A thinly cut short rib can also be grilled (think Korean kalbi). Usually, I will start hot and finish low.
How can we best grill vegetables and fruit?
Remer: When grilling vegetables, firm, hearty produce can take the heat best. Thick slices, well-oiled and seasoned, are better to work with. I will usually cook my meats to a temperature when the heat is at its peak. As the heat subsides the vegetables make their appearance over the coals while bone-on chicken sizzles away from the direct heat. More delicate items, such as [some] kinds of fish and thin stalks of asparagus, can be cooked on a pan over the fire. Covering the grill with its lid will ensure the flavor penetrates the food items present even if they are not directly over the coals. Fruits can be grilled as well and are often delicious due to the caramelizing of sugars and the presence of sweet and salty contrasts. Primarily be concerned that the heat can burn sugars and watch for that.
Hennessey: For the grilling of fruits and vegetables, they should be firm and very fresh. Vegetables like zucchini, asparagus, all types of peppers, large mushrooms, and fennel do very well on the grill. Pineapple, melons, and semi-ripe stone fruit also do well on the grill. Be sure that before grilling fruit and vegetables that the grill is clean and seasoned as well as good and hot so as to avoid sticking.
Gryka: I love cooking vegetables. Onions, peppers, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green beans, tomatoes, pretty much anything. I have never grilled a vegetable I regretted grilling. [Because of] cross contamination, [grill vegetables and meat] 100 percent separately. I also like to control each vegetable to make sure it’s cooking properly, so my kabobs are always just meat or just vegetables. Cut [fruits] to create a flat surface that can be placed on a grill. I like to add a little oil, brown sugar, [and] spices to my fruits like pineapples and peaches. The oil is important to avoid sticking (as for every food).
Eidelman: I love grilling pineapple and peaches.
Do you grill fish?
Gryka: I love grilling fish like halibut, salmon, rainbow trout. These are fattier fish that hold up better to the heat.
Eidelman: Salmon grills beautifully.
To marinate or to rub?
Remer: For barbecuing, I use dry rubs and meats I have cured. There are many recipes for dry rubs available and you should seek out flavor profiles similar to your own tastes. The slow cooking process of barbecue allows for the flavors of rubs to enhance the product, but direct grilling can result in burnt results. Chicken on the bone can be brined. [A] mistake made by novices on gas or charcoal grills is applying sauces to items [while they’re] cooking. The heat and fire will burn sugars and the food can have an acrid taste — also, your grill will be coated in black tar. Sauces should be applied at the end, while finishing, allowing the flavor to melt into the item without being ruined by excessive cooking.
Hennessey: For the grilling of good-quality beef, I strongly believe that good sea or kosher salt along with course-ground black pepper is all that is needed. I pay a lot for beef and want to taste it — and not your cabinet full of marinade ingredients. If you do, try to avoid marinating in anything acidic, for acid will begin to cook the meat and break down the muscle before it hits the grill.
Gryka: Marinate ahead of time. Poultry for not more than an hour or two.
What are the most helpful grilling tools?
Remer: A good, strong pair of long-handled kitchen tongs. A good pair of tongs will function as your hands in a hot-to-the-touch environment. A coarse grill cleaning brush, towels, and a bottle of water, soap, and sanitizer for keeping your hands and space clean.
Gryka: Long-handled tongs, dry towels, spatulas, silicone brush, thermometer, and a grill brush are all you really need.
Eidelman: Tongs and a shovel.
How do you clean up a grill?
Remer: Clean up as you go. Have a receptacle for trash at hand. Allow the heat of your grill to bake all the residue on your grill and then brush them clean and oil.
Hennessey: To prep the grill, I first get it good and hot. Then brush it down with a wire brush and then wipe it down with a towel that has some vegetable oil on it. When finished with your grilling and while it is still hot, repeat with the brush and oiled towel. This will keep your grill clean and well-seasoned.
Gryka: Brush the grill while still hot, wipe up as you go before marinades and whatever dries and sticks. Clean as you go!
Eidelman: Always clean up after, while grill or smoker is hot. The last thing you want to do when grilling is having to clean up last time’s mess.
For the full interview and recipes from the grill masters, visit The Jewish Week’s Food & Wine website, jwfoodandwine.com.