When talking about cooking in the Hudson Valley during the summer season, the conversation always seems to turn to grilling. And why wouldn’t it? Grilling is the perfect summer solution for cooks. It imparts a smoky flavor into food that screams summertime, it’s suitable to cooking all kinds of different foods, and it provides an easy solution for feeding a crowd at a backyard get-together, all while letting the cook take part in the fun! After all, no one wants to be the cook stuck indoors in a hot kitchen while friends and family hang out by the pool or in the backyard.
Using a single grill, you can easily prepare a meal for twelve people within an hour, and clean up afterwards will only take minutes. When cooking for a large group, one of the biggest challenges can be making sure that there’s something that will make everyone happy. On a grill, you can cook a variety of foods, from red meat and chicken to fish and vegetables, all at the same time. I like to prepare a couple of cold salads and sides ahead of time, and then make sure everything else can simply be thrown on the grill shortly before it’s time to eat. My favorite grilling foods are chicken thighs, New York strip steaks, ahi tuna, local sausages, corn, asparagus, and shish kebobs (try onions, summer squash, tomatoes and bell peppers). Be creative, because anything you put on the grill is going to pick up a unique barbecue flavor, especially if you’re using charcoal.
The most common grills that you’ll find in backyards today are either charcoal or gas fueled. Gas is the simplest grill to use by far; just turn it on, let it heat 5 to 10 minutes and you’re ready to grill. Charcoal is a little trickier to set up and takes a little bit longer to prepare, but you’re rewarded for the extra effort in flavor. There are a variety of different grilling charcoals available and each will impart a flavor of its own. When you’re slow cooking on a charcoal grill, try adding wood (like apple or hickory) to infuse your meats and vegetables with even more smoky flavor.
To control how fast your food cooks on a grill, you need to be in control of the temperature. This is important, especially when cooking thicker cuts of meat. You want to cook them slowly and evenly, letting the inside cook without charring the outside. You never want to see your grill flare up when you put a nice cut of meat on it. That means that the temperature is too high, and the fat coming off of the food is burning; that’s not a flavor that you want on your finished food. I keep a spray bottle of water with a little apple cider vinegar in it near the grill, and if I see this happening, I mist the food which immediately puts the flame out. Controlling the temperature depends on which type of grill you’re using. Most grills come with a thermometer built in. You can easily regulate the temperature with a gas grill; to do so with a charcoal grill means adding coals to increase the temperature or removing some to decrease it. The vents on the grill can be useful too. The more air your flame is getting, the hotter the fire will be. When you put a cover on the grill, you’re essentially making the grill into an oven and/or smoker. This is what you want with thick cuts of meat. Let the meat cook slowly at around 300 degrees fahrenheit until you reach the desired temperature. Grilling low and slow will cook your food more uniformly, and your meat won’t need to rest as long after cooking for the juices to redistribute.
If you’re looking for more tips on grilling to perfection, check out these videos that I made for Terrapin Restaurant on grilling chicken wings, grilling great burgers and keeping your grill clean. But the most important tip that I can give you about grilling is to remember to have fun and be part of the party. Your grill is the ultimate open kitchen, so gather your friends and family around, and enjoy the Hudson Valley summer!