As the unofficial beginning of summer, Memorial Day weekend is also the unofficial beginning of grilling season.
Everything tastes better cooked on the grill. Food is richer tasting and more flavorful, meat is juicier, seasonings taste more seasoned, corn is butterier, everything is just better.
Whether it’s the Maillard reaction causing a complicated interaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives charred food its deliciousness, and also, sadly, its carcinogens, or it’s just some primal human fascination with fire, grilled food just tastes better.
Lyndsey and Dustin Cheek enjoy cooking on the grill so much they have what is, in effect, an outdoor kitchen. Ribs are a favorite meal. “We don’t really have a recipe. We just cut the rack in thirds, boil for about 30-45 minutes with salt and pepper and a rib rub. We like Emeril’s Rib Rub or Bone Sucking Rub. After they boil I just coat them heavily in the rub and grill. You can add sauce on the grill if you like them saucy. We just prefer dry.”
Rubs can also be homemade. A reasonably stocked pantry and spice cabinet can yield a delicious customized dry rub. The recipe that follows is a basic one that can be customized to your families tastes. Don’t like heat? Reduce or leave out the cayenne. Like it hot? Up the cayenne. Don’t have one of the ingredients. Leave it out. Add something else. Or not. It’s hard to mess this up. You don’t need to use exact measurements unless you want to be able to reproduce your results, should it prove to be perfect. Which is very possible.
Not just ribs, steaks, burgers, chicken and meat tastes good on the grill. Vegetables also benefit from a little char. Try grilling tomatoes before making them into salsa or charring some spring onions before mixing them into the butter you’ll slather onto your corn grilled in the husk.
The world is your oyster. Grill it.
Rib Dry Rub
1 tbsp. cumin
1 tbsp. paprika
1 tbsp. granulated garlic
1 tbsp. granulated onion
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. white pepper
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Store in an airtight container. Pack on the dry rub onto your next rack of ribs.
Grilled Salsa Roja
The flavor of red salsa is intensified by grilling the tomatoes.
8 plum tomatoes, cored
½ medium white onion
4 serrano chiles
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup (packed) cilantro leaves with tender stems
Prepare a grill for high heat. Grill tomatoes, onion, and chiles, turning occasionally, until lightly charred and fragrant, about 4 minutes for chiles and 6–8 minutes for tomatoes and onion. Transfer to a plate and let cool. Purée tomatoes, onion, chiles, garlic, and cilantro in a blender until mostly smooth and only small pieces remain; season with salt. Salsa can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.
Whole Corn On The Grill
4 ears of corn, in husk
Charred Spring Onion Butter
Prepare a grill for medium heat. Grill corn, rotating occasionally, until husks are blackened (some will flake and fall off) and kernels are tender with some browned and charred spots, 25–35 minutes.
Let corn cool slightly, then shuck. Serve with Charred Spring Onion Butter.
Charred Spring Onion Butter
6 spring onions
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
Prepare a grill for medium-high heat. Toss onions with oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and black pepper. Grill until lightly charred and wilted, about 3 minutes (extra-large bulbs will take a little longer). Let cool; finely chop. Mix onions and red pepper flakes into butter in a small bowl; season with salt and black pepper. Butter can be made one week ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.
Grilled Summer Squash Baba Ghanoush
Traditionally made with eggplant, baba ghanoush also works with summer squash.
Olive oil (for grill and drizzling)
3 pounds summer squash or zucchini
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. tahini
½ garlic clove, finely grated
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sumac, za’atar, crushed red pepper flakes, or Aleppo pepper
grilled flatbreads or pita bread (for serving)
Prepare a grill for medium-high heat; lightly oil grate. Grill squash, turning occasionally, until skin is charred and flesh is fork-tender, 25–35 minutes. (Alternatively, you can tuck vegetables into coals left over from grilling something else. Wait until charcoal is completely covered with ash and no black spots remain. Shake grill to knock excess ash off coal, then rake them around and pile them up around vegetables.) Let cool slightly. Halve summer squash, scoop flesh into a colander set over a bowl, and let drain at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour; discard liquid. Pulse flesh along with lemon juice, tahini, and garlic in a food processor until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle baba ghanoush with oil and top as desired. Serve with flatbreads or pita bread. Dip can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill.
Grilled Clams With Lemon-Shallot Butter
4 pounds clams (such as littleneck or mahogany)
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
½ small shallot, finely chopped
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh chives
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Basil and parsley leaves (for serving)
Prepare grill for medium-high heat. Mix butter, shallot, chives, and parsley in a small bowl. Add lemon zest and mix until well combined; season with salt and pepper. Place clams directly on grill grate. Grill (no need to turn or rotate) until they pop open, 3–5 minutes. Transfer clams to a large bowl, discarding any that are not open. Add butter mixture to bowl with grilled clams and toss to coat. Transfer to a serving platter and top with basil and parsley. Butter can be made four days ahead; bring to room temperature before serving.
Spiced Salmon Kebabs
Thread salmon pieces onto two skewers so they don’t flip and spin every time you turn them on the grill.
2 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
2 tsp. sesame seeds
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 pounds skinless salmon fillet (preferably wild), cut into 1-inch pieces
2 lemons, very thinly sliced into rounds
2 tbsp. olive oil
16 bamboo skewers soaked in water 1 hour
Prepare grill for medium heat. Mix oregano, sesame seeds, cumin, salt, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl to combine; set spice mixture aside. Beginning and ending with salmon, thread salmon and folded lemon slices onto 8 pairs of parallel skewers to make 8 kebabs total. Brush with oil and season with reserved spice mixture. Grill, turning occasionally, until fish is opaque throughout, 5–8 minutes.
As any seasoned grillmaster will tell you, adding the barbecue sauce too early leads to scorching. Most bottled sauces are very sweet. This homemade sauce is more vinegar based and not as sweet.
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. mustard powder
1 – 3 to 4lb. chicken, cut into 10 pieces (breasts halved)
2 tbsp. dry rub (homemade or purchased)
Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until paste turns brick-red, about 2 minutes. Add garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne, and black pepper. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add vinegar, orange juice, brown sugar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, mustard powder, and 3 cups water. Cook, stirring occasionally and scraping up any browned bits, until reduced by half, 50–60 minutes; season with salt.
Prepare grill for medium heat. Season chicken with dry rub. Grill, turning occasionally, until lightly charred, 15–20 minutes. Continue grilling, turning and basting with barbecue sauce often, until chicken is cooked through and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of thigh registers 165°, 8–10 minutes longer. Barbecue sauce can be chilled 1 week ahead.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.