Each summer, Southern Indiana gets greener and greener, field by field. I remember my Grandpa telling me the old Hoosier saying that corn should be “knee high by the 4th of July.” He always appreciated the chance that a good field of corn could bring you “greener pastures.”
Hot weather seems to melt away all my professional chef pomp and circumstance. In fact, my culinary “genes” seem to transform into cut-offs as the temperature rises. All I can think about at meal time is some version of grilled meat, tomato salad and a tall glass of something icy cold.
Grilling is a great way to not only connect to our childhoods but to our primitive caveman roots. There is something primordial about food and fire. At my restaurant I often like to show off a bit, but summertime family gatherings are more about nostalgia and fun than kitchen wizardry.
Something A Little Different
But don’t just sling the standard package of Oscar Meyers on the grill; try something a little different. A huge hunk of local grass-fed beef? Some of Rebecca Fiedler’s Sausages? How bout some homegrown veggies or even some of the locally made tofu I just sampled.
Gather local ingredients, cook them simply and have a sizzling alfresco summer supper!
Summer Grilling Tips From Chef Orr
Always use more charcoal than you think you need. If you have heat left after your finished throw on a few extra vegetables for sandwiches, salsas, grilled ratatouille and simple salads. There’s nothing worst than not having enough heat to give that good sear to the foods you’ll be cooking.
The fire waits for no one. Keep an eye on your coals and use them at their best. Coals are perfect when they have an even white ash around them. No black unburnt coal and not too much red hot burn. A general rule is:
- High heat (500 degrees) you can hold your hand 6 inches above for 3 seconds
- Medium high heat (400 degrees) 5 seconds
- Medium heat (350 degrees) 7 seconds
- Medium low heat (325 degrees) 10 seconds
- Low heat (300 degrees) 12 seconds
Use an instant read thermometer to check doneness – always check in the center of the thickest part of the item. Chefs rarely do this because they know by touch if something is ready but if you don’t cook hundreds of meals a day here are a few guidelines for cooking outside on the grill or indoors.
- Chicken and turkey-breast 160-165 degrees
- Beef, lamb and duck 115-125 degrees rare, 125-130 medium rare, 135-145 medium, more than that a waste of time
- Veal and pork 135-145 degrees
- Fish – this is a tricky one. Good quality tuna just needs a sear on all sides but in general the temperatures can be the same as for beef.
Always create two temperature zones on your grill. You build a nice big charcoal fire in the middle of the grill. Once the coals are white hot you push the majority of the coals to one side of the grill. If you are using a gas grill you put one side on high and the other on low. This gives you two heats to work with and lessens the chance of flare-ups and burning.
Don’t over crowd the grill. A fire is like a living thing, it needs to be able to breath or it will tire and go to sleep. Allow air to reach the fire so it will stay alive and happy.
Don’t move the food around all the time. Let it sit and color then move it to the slow heat side of the grill. I try not to turn anything more than once or twice. Depending on size and shape.
Place wet onion skins on the coals under meat or fish to add a wonderfully sweet smoky flavor
Use lemongrass, rosemary, sugarcane, wild fennel and other types of flavorful branches to use as skewers for meat, fish and vegetables. They add flavor and interest to anything on the grill.
Always build a fire to have a hot side and a warm side that way you can “mark” on the hot side and slow cook on the warm side. This maximized flavor and prevents burning. Once items are “marked” move them to the warm side and cook cover with the grill dome. This allows the to pick up more smoky flavor.
Make a brush by tying rosemary and other herbs on a chopstick or skewer of some type and use this brush to “mop” or apply marinades and sauces to grilled items. This adds both flavor and romance to you BBQ.
I like to tie up a clean cotton rag into rolled cylinder which I lightly oil and squeeze out the excess. I use this to wipe off my hot grill by holding it with long tongs. This cleans the grill wonderfully as well as leaving a light coating of oil which prevents things from sticking.
Large pieces of meat (like a pork roast) can be rubbed with garlic, spices and herbs, rolled in aluminum then pre-roasted in the oven until tender before finishing on the grill. When finishing I like to place the roast on the slow side of the grill, place wood chips on the hot side and cover with the dome so the meat gets a good smoky flavor.
Keep an open bottle of beer or wine next to the grill so you can pour some on the fire if it flames up. It adds flavor as well as keeping the fire under control.
Always start cooking the largest and longest cooking items first and moving them to the warm side of the grill to finish. This way everything finishes at the same time.
Never place cooked items back on the trays that the raw food was on. You want your friends to have good memories of your party!
Add A Touch Of Class To Your BBQ
To add a touch of class to your BBQ put fingerbowls out on the table, but if some of your friends are like mine you’ll have to tell them what it is before they try to drink it!
Fingerbowls are dishes of water with lemon or lime slices floating in it. Guests can dip their fingers in and squeeze the citrus to remove the grease and sauce from their fingers before they go in your house and mess up the furniture! To add a little aromatherapy add a splash of orange flower or rose water to the bowls.
Good Things To Have Around When Grilling
- Good quality long handled spring –loaded tongs.
- Large wide spatulas for fish and other items that tend to flake
- Hot pad or dish towels
- Long handled pastry brush for sauces and marinades
- Bamboo skewers – soaked so they don’t burn
- A good wire grill brush
- Plenty of zip lock bags – to use in place of bowls for marinating (saves on clean up time) and for storage of leftovers.
BBQ Duck with Grilled Peaches – Earth Eats Style
This is an easy, show stopping recipe that will make you look like a pro even if you can barely boil water. As with many restaurant recipes it is all about planning or “mise en place” or advance preparation.
By par-cooking the duck in advance you remove a majority of the fat that can cause flare-ups and burning. You also don’t need to worry about undercooking the meat and having burnt skin and raw duck.
You may do the same recipe with chicken, goose, game hens, or any other poultry for a change of pace.
Serves 2-4 depending on the size of the duck, the number of sides you are serving and your appetite.
Par-cooked Roasted Duck for Grilling (may be done up to 3 days in advance)
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Remove giblets and trim excess fat. Rinse and dry.
- Gently prick the skin. Season as desired, inside and out with salt and pepper. Stuff with ½ oranges and lemons and fresh herb stems if desired. If you prefer, truss legs loosely.
- Spray roasting pan with cooking spray. Place the bird breast-side up on a rack in pan and fill with 1/3-1/2 inch of water.
- Roast duckling for 20 to 25 minutes per pound. Baste with pan juices every 15minutes. The duckling is done when the legs move freely, the juices run clear, and the internal temperature atthe leg joint reaches 145-150° F.
- Remove duckling from oven and cool to room temperature. Cut into 1/2s or 1/4s and chill in refrigerator until needed.
- 1 par-cooked duck – see above recipe
- 3/4 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
- 4 peaches – cut in half and pitted
- To cook on a gas grill, turn all burners to high, close lid and allow to heat up for about 15 minutes. When hot, leave 1 burner on high and turn the rest to med-low and close the lid.
- Place par-cooked duck on the grill over the burner on high. Cook 2-3 minutes per side or until lightly browned and crispy.
- Move duck to the cooler side of grill, skin side up, and brush liberally with BBQ sauce. Cook for 5-7 minutes.
- Brush with BBQ sauce again and turn over. Cook an additional 5 minutes.
- As the duck finishes on the slow side of the grill, grill the peaches. To do this brush the grill lightly with an oiled paper towel. Place the peaches, cut side down, on the hottest part of the grill and cook until caramelized. Turn them over and place on the cooler side of the grill until duck is finished.
- Remove duck and peaches from heat to a serving platter and drizzle with remaining BBQ, sprinkle with sea salt and a touch of freshly cracked black pepper.