Before your meat, fish, or veggies hit the grates, brush up on these cooking techniques from local pitmasters.
Most of us own one but if you don’t, or are in the market for a replacement, keep a few things in mind. Gas grills have three big benefits: time, temperature, and accessibility. These grills ignite almost instantly and can top 700 degrees. You can also control temps, ensuring your dishes come out perfect every time. For those who want to take it up a notch, gas grills are extremely customizable and can be outfitted with many gadgets and add-ons.
While gas is the easiest to operate, the pros prefer charcoal. They sear faster and hotter than gas, and add a smoky depth of flavor. Dimitri Psichas, co-owner and pitmaster of Smoky Rock BBQ in Rhinebeck, is a big fan. “One thing to remember with charcoal is that you want to pile it up in the center of the grill and use liquid lighter fluid to get it going,” he says, “but don’t start grilling until you see burning embers.” You can even make your own charcoal, as it burns cleaner and is more sustainable than store-bought lumps. Get some kindling and wood shavings and start a fire in a metal barrel (available at Walmart or Home Depot). Then add hard wood that is 3–4 inches thick and 4 inches long. After 30 minutes, it should start to blacken. Cover with a lid and let the wood smolder for at least 24 hours.
Although you can certainly grill foods seasoned simply with salt and pepper, utilizing marinades, rubs, and sauces will elevate your meal. They all have their appropriate place in the cooking process, says Ed Randolph, owner of Handsome Devil BBQ in Newburgh.
“Marinades are used 6–24 hours before cooking. Make sure you remove as much marinade as possible before the meat hits the grill” because you don’t want too much moisture on the grates. A rub, or dry seasoning, is added right before grilling. And a sauce should be “brushed on at the very end,” he explains. Most barbecue sauces have a high sugar content and tend to burn, so add your sauce during the last 5 minutes of cooking.
The pros prefer charcoal grills. They sear faster and hotter than gas and add a smoky depth of flavor.
Psichas recommends marinating steak or chicken with extra-virgin olive oil and a spice mix (like fresh garlic, black pepper, rosemary, and sea salt) and letting it penetrate the meat for 24 hours before grilling. Pork gets extra juicy when brined with water, salt, sugar, and aromatics (such as rosemary, cloves, garlic, thyme, etc.). For finishing sauces, Kevin Viteri, chef and co-owner of Beast in Fishkill, uses fresh herbs and acidic notes—such as chimichurri, an uncooked South American sauce made with parsley, vinegar, olive oil and herbs—for steak, chicken, and pork chops.
It’s essential to clean your grill after each use. Not only will it lengthen its lifespan and prevent flare-ups, but your food will benefit, too. You don’t want the residue of last night’s steak sauce on tonight’s scallops. After cooking and while grates are still hot, thoroughly scrape off food particles with a stiff wire brush. Then rub the grates with canola oil to prevent sticking and rusting. Make sure to empty the drip pan (for gas grills) or remove cooled bricks and ash (charcoal).
A Cut Above
Follow these cooking hints and you’ll be crowned the neighborhood grill master in no time.
Cuts Ribeye (aka the “grandaddy” of grilling meats, says Brandon Snooks, executive chef of the farm-to-table mobile catering business Hudson Valley BBQ Co.), T-bones, flank, and flat iron.
How to Season Randolph always uses Worcestershire sauce in his steak marinade. “That powerful umami flavor can penetrate the thickest of cuts,” he says. If you’re using the salt-pepper-garlic (SPG) rub method, ensure that your pepper is as coarse as your salt for balance. Fourteen- or 16-mesh pepper is great. Hold off on adding BBQ sauce until there’s about 5 minutes left of cook time. “Let the sugars and flavors work their magic. Caramelization is good, burnt is not,” he adds.
How to Cook Make sure your ribeye or T-bone is 1–2 inches thick. These cuts don’t need a marinade, so rub in SPG and place the steak on a cast iron skillet over indirect heat (the grill should be 200–225 degrees). Using a skillet is important: it provides an even surface area for searing. Cook for 30 minutes and then move the skillet to direct heat at 500 degrees. Baste with a combination of butter, garlic, and thyme and cook for 1 minute on each side. Internal temps should be 120–130 degrees (rare), 130–140 (medium rare), 140–150 (medium), and 160 (well). Finish with chimichurri sauce or fresh herbs “to make it sing,” adds Snooks.
How to Season Most home cooks throw patties straight on the grill. But, according to Randolph, burgers taste best with a rub. This helps the patty develop juiciness on the inside and a nice crust on the outside. “There’s no limit to the variety of spices and herbs you can use,” he says. His favorite combo is ancho chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper for a smokey flavor with a kick.
How to Cook Generously rub the burgers, set the grill to around 400 degrees, and cook uncovered for about 6–10 minutes, flipping halfway, depending on your preference of doneness. Pro-tip: use beef that’s labeled 80 percent lean for guaranteed juiciness. “Fat is always your friend when grilling burgers,” says Randolph.
How to Season They’re pretty versatile: You can use SPG or Herbes de Provence (Snooks’ favorite), a buffalo-flavored marinade, or an overnight brine (water, soy sauce, salt, garlic, red pepper, brown sugar, cayenne). If you choose a marinade, you can use the excess for basting.
How to Cook Chicken wings take about 15–20 minutes. Heat the grill to 350 degrees, leaving one side without a direct flame. Grill the wings over indirect heat, basting (with marinade, if using) them every 5 minutes until fully cooked. Internal temp should be 190 degrees. “This ensures they are tender and will slide off the bone,” says Viteri. Instead of blue cheese or buffalo sauce, Snooks prefers chimichurri for the “amazing zip” and how it heightens the wings’ “smoky flavor.”
How to Season Snooks doesn’t use sweet marinades for thighs. “I don’t like a lot of sugar for a high-heat application,” he says. You can get a burnt flavor if you aren’t careful. Dry seasoning could “wear off” too during cooking. Instead, use a mop sauce—a vinegar-based BBQ sauce used to baste and flavor meat—brush on when the thighs are 60–70 percent cooked, which “imparts more flavor than any marinade could,” says Snooks.
How to Cook “Chicken thighs are the best cut to grill,” adds Snooks. They can take high heat, so it’s hard to overcook. Plus, they’re cheaper than breasts. Boneless, skinless thighs need about 6–8 minutes of cooking time per side, or an internal temp of 165 degrees.
How to Season It’s best to avoid overpowering pork with seasoning, says Viteri. Simple rubs are a chop’s best friend. Use an SPG rub or a “blend of sweet and heat with the right amount of paprika, which will make your chops stand out,” says Randolph. Make sure they’re covered evenly for optimal flavor. A vinegar-based dipping sauce will take your chops from good to great, adds Randolph.
How to Cook Twenty minutes before cooking, let the grill heat up to about 400 degrees. Lower one of the burners to medium heat. (For charcoal: put coals on one side of grill.) Once hot, place the chops over direct heat and sear on both sides, about 2–3 minutes each. Then, move the chops to the cooler part of the grill and let them cook for an additional 8–12 minutes, flipping every few minutes until internal temp is 145 degrees.
How to Season Randolph loves St. Louis-style ribs. “It’s a traditional country-style spare rib that is meaty and trimmed to a uniform rectangle shape,” he says. To build layers of flavor, use a rub with “a little more spice or heat” and brush with a sweeter sauce, adds Randolph. Most chefs create a rub with brown sugar, sea salt, paprika, dry mustard, garlic, coriander and onion powders, and red pepper flakes. Evenly coat the ribs and let rest in the fridge from 1 hour to overnight before grilling.
How to Cook If you want the meat to fall off the bone, opt for low-and-slow-style grilling. With charcoal grills, put the coals or chips on one side; with gas, set the burners to the lowest setting. Place ribs meat-side-down and cook for 1 hour at 250 degrees. Flip and cook for another hour. To keep the meat moist, drizzle on a small amount of apple cider vinegar (the acid also breaks down spices and gives the ribs a nice bark) each time you turn. At the 2-hour mark, you can brush on your favorite barbecue sauce and cook for a final hour, 30 minutes per side. Coat with another layer of sauce and let the ribs rest for 5 minutes before serving.
How to Season All shrimp really need are olive oil and salt. If you’re planning on making a dish like grilled shrimp tacos, Viteri recommends marinating for an hour with oil, lime juice, smoked paprika, chipotle, and garlic. Add to tortillas or lettuce cups and top with pico de gallo.
How to Cook To peel or not to peel? That is the question. There are two options: buy peeled and deveined (which is easier), or you can grill with the peel on, which helps retain some moisture. If frozen, remember to thaw. Heat the grill to about 350–400 degrees. If desired, add shrimp to skewers for faster turning. Grill on both sides until pink, 1–2 minutes depending on size.
How to Season Viteri marinates tuna with sesame oil and soy sauce. Before grilling, he brushes the fish with excess marinade on both sides. Garnish with sesame seeds or even everything bagel seasoning.
How to Cook Unlike most fish you’ll be cooking, tuna steak should be rare in the center. Let the grill heat up to its highest temperature, or at least 500–600 degrees. Sear and baste with marinade on both sides for two minutes.
How to Season You can debone before or after grilling: remove the fins; cut through the spine and lift it by the tail, which will split it in two parts; starting near the tail, gently lift the bones with a knife and they should lift all at once. Tuck two orange slices and fresh herbs (such as parsley, rosemary, basil, cilantro, thyme, or garlic) in the fish and season with Herbes de Provence, says Snooks. Then wrap the trout in butcher twine to keep it intact when grilling.
How to Cook You can use indirect or direct heat. The former makes the fish more tender, direct heat makes it crispier. For indirect, either stack the coal in one section (charcoal) or turn off the burners on one side (gas). The grill should be around 200 degrees. Put the trout on the indirect grate, cover, and let cook for one hour. For direct heat, bring the grill to medium heat, brush skin with extra-virgin olive oil, and cook for 6–8 minutes per side. Once done, lay it open, take out the herbs and oranges (and bones, if you choose to remove after cooking), and sprinkle with chopped parsley and lemon.
Fresh off the Grill
Pretty much every vegetable tastes better when grilled. Here’s how.
Go for the fatter asparagus at the market—they cook more evenly and won’t fall through the grates. Toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then char on the grill until tender, about 3–4 minutes.
Chop in half, toss with balsamic vinegar, butter, and sage. Put the sprouts face down in a cast iron pan—which makes the flavors “blend together” as opposed to directly on the grates—and “let the grill take care of the rest,” advises Randolph. They’ll be done in 5–6 minutes.
Cooking corn doesn’t get much easier than Randolph’s method: husk the corn (leave a few on), run it under water, wrap in foil, and grill for 15 minutes. The remaining husks lock in the moisture and steam the cob.
Peel, cut in half and season with oil, salt, and pepper. Then grill over low heat until soft and glazed, about 15–20 minutes. Adding a pinch of coarse sea salt takes the carrots from good to great. Snooks prefers heirloom carrots for the pop of color.
Any variety is great. Cut them in thick rounds or wedges (depending on your preference), season with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and cook for 5–7 minutes per side. (If they stick, they aren’t ready to flip.)
Randolph likes bell, poblano, and shishito peppers. Keep them whole and char them on grates over direct heat. “You can’t beat a fire-roasted pepper,” he says.
Lightly season with olive oil or soy sauce and grill whole: gill side down first (4–5 minutes) and then the cap (2–3 minutes).
Green or yellow work perfectly. Cut into ½-inch slices before grilling. If they’re too thin, they’ll fall apart.
You can’t go wrong with classic potato salad and mac ‘n’ cheese—but these unique side dishes are more surprising.
Blue cheese slaw
Level up basic coleslaw with some sharp flavor. “It pairs really well with grilled meat for the freshness, crisp refreshing bite, and the richness from the blue cheese,” says Vasiliki Psichas, a pitmaster at Smoky Rock BBQ. Mix mayo, crumbled blue cheese, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Toss with shredded cabbage and carrots.
“It’s one of my absolute favorites,” says Snooks. The grain goes great with charred vegetables, fresh mint, and cilantro, and pairs well with any type of meat. Cook it like risotto, adding stock little by little, until tender. (Snooks also throws in a couple cloves of garlic and ¼ cup of lime juice.) Finish with your favorite vinaigrette or seasoning.
The season isn’t complete without fresh Hudson Valley tomatoes. Snooks cubes his, adds fresh basil and garlic confit, and tosses with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pair it with fresh burrata or mozzarella, grilled bread, and pesto. “It’s summertime on a plate,” he says.