Grilling is the best way to cook during the hot summer months. From family picnics to national holidays, hamburgers, hotdogs, steaks and so much more, grilling is one of the easiest, quickest ways to cook food without heating up your kitchen and offers almost endless variety.
Let’s talk about the cooking method first. Charcoal, gas and wood each work well and they all have their distinctive flavors and benefits.
- Natural gas or propane grilling, whether fueled by a tank or a permanent gas line, is the easiest and most reliable method of grilling, especially for the novice. Gas grilling allows greater control over temperature and therefore cooking results; wood flavors can be added to a gas grill through smoking chips.
- Charcoal is the classic. Whether using formed briquets or lump hardwood charcoal, match light, lighter fluid or a chimney starter, charcoal has a distinct flavor and aroma unlike any other. Like gas, you can add wood flavors to charcoal grills and smokers with wood chips.
- When out in nature, there is nothing better than the smell of a nice wood fire. With wood fires, the choice of wood you use can increase the flavor of your food, offering a smokehouse type flavor, for instance if you use a cherry wood or an applewood in your cooking. If a wood fire is your method of cooking and you choose to use a cherry or apple wood, consider what you’re cooking as it may take on the flavors of the fruit woods you’re using: chicken, fish, tofu and mushrooms all absorb flavors very easily.
Once you choose your cooking method, then it’s time to figure out what to throw on the grill. The protein options are endless, but don’t forget that you can grill fruit and vegetables as well, and even bake on the BBQ grill if you are so inclined. Protein cooks quickly over open flames, and because of this you may want to regulate your temperature a little lower to avoid overcooking or burning.
BBQ has traditionally been all about the meat, but with people who are living a healthier lifestyle or who live a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, grilling mushrooms, firm tofu, vegetables and fruit are wonderful options. Not all vegetables and fruit are created equally or work well on the grill but many do. Corn, asparagus, onions, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, bok choy, endive, radicchio, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, green beans, broccolini, mushrooms, zucchini, yellow squash, acorn squash, bell peppers, and hot peppers all work well on the grill.
As for fruit, pineapple, bananas, peaches, apricots, watermelon and apples are all great on the grill to complement a main dish or as a light dessert. Try sprinkling pineapple with a mix of chili flake and sea salt to serve alongside grilled mahi-mahi or cod.
Let’s talk about sauces and spices! Some people like to drown their grilled meats in a thick, smoky barbecue sauce; others want to use a rub or just simple seasonings. No matter your choice remember that tougher grades of meat should have a longer, slower cook time, and using onion or tomato-based sauces or rubs on them will help tenderize the meat. Keep in mind you can combine ingredients such as fruit and hot peppers, garlic, onion, tomato, to create a whole new taste experience. Bottled and packaged marinade mixes that include meat tenderizers can be helpful – just be aware of sodium content!
No matter what you want to serve at your next cookout, be creative! Try a mix of steak, fruit, veggies or throw a pizza on the grill when it’s just too darn hot to cook in the house. Try to come up with your own sauces or rubs for a personal touch. The recipes below are a great place to get you started.
Text and recipes by Lila Roth, unless otherwise noted. Lila is a trained chef and is currently working for FirstService Residential in Alberta.