High Country chefs offer tips to gear up for grilling season | SummitDaily.com

High Country chefs offer tips to gear up for grilling season

Katie Coakley
Special to the Vail Daily

The grill is truly a versatile item. During the winter, we utilize it to illustrate the copious amount of snow deposited due to an overnight dump (after all, a picture is worth 1,000 brags). However, during the spring, the grill becomes the harbinger of the season. When the last of the white stuff disappears from the deck, the mighty grill is cleared off and fired up, prepared to issue a siren's scent of spring to our friends and neighbors.

It says, "The grill is on: It's time to emerge from mud season hibernation."

May is National Barbecue Month, marking the official beginning of peak barbecuing season, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. A recent survey by the organization indicates 3/4 of Americans own a grill or smoker. There's a good chance that you or your neighbor is going to be lighting up that grill soon.

There are almost as many ideas about grilling as there are about politics, but arguing about the former usually delivers up a more enjoyable result than the latter. To fully embrace grilling season, here are some tips, tricks and recipes from High Country chefs and experts to ensure you have a great experience. Who knows? You might even learn something new.

Prep makes perfect

Before you start planning a menu designed to wow your friends, take care of the basics first: Make sure your grill is clean and ready for use.

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"Keep a clean grill," said Brad "BBQ" Austin, a pit master and barbecue judge. "Make sure it's clean because otherwise you're going to be rehashing old flavors into your meat."

Start your spring cleaning with your grill and you'll ensure that last year's mistakes don't resurface as this season's regrets. Follow the directions for your specific setup, as different materials, such as stainless steel or porcelain-coated grates, require different care. Now you're ready to get started. Not grilling, though — planning.

The type of cooking that you're planning will dictate the amount of time taken and what needs to happen when.

"Are you slow cooking or smoking — processes that take four or more hours, such as brisket, pork belly or the a whole pig?" asked Marcus Stewart, executive sous chef at the Four Season Resort Vail. "Or are you quick grilling, such as steaks, chops, chicken, burgers?"

If you're slow cooking, you'll have time to prepare side dishes and other elements while the meat is taking its sweet time. However, if you're quick grilling, Stewart recommends finishing the cold prep first, like making potato salad (see recipe) or chopping vegetables.

Before anything goes on the grill, though, you'll need to prep your meat. Stewart and Austin recommend a rub for flavor, as does chef Kelly Liken, whose new restaurant Harvest will open at the Sonnenalp Club in mid-June.

From steak to chicken to salmon, a rub can be used before grilling to impart flavor. Pre-grill rubs usually have a higher salt content, though simple salt and pepper will also work.

Note: There are also finishing rubs that are used after you've marked one side of the protein and flipped it over. This rub, which might have a bit more sugar, will finish off the flavor profile.

Liken uses a pre-rub on her chicken wing recipe, which utilizes whole chicken wings, as they stay moister and meatier.

"Make a basic barbecue rub (or you can buy one), rub it in and let it sit," Liken said. "Put them on a medium grill for about 20 to 25 minutes and they'll get nice and crispy. Then I make a buffalo sauce and brush it on, like a lacquer, and it just cooks in. They're more delicious and something like 60 percent less fat than regular fried wings."

The main event

When all of the prep is done, it's time to get grilling. Whether you have a gas grill, charcoal or wood grill, there is one thing that chefs stress: Never put your meat over a full flame — it will burn the meat on the outside. Instead, place it over hot coals or chips, which will impart the best flavor.

"Don't use accelerants (such as lighter fluid)," Austin said, "because you'll get those petroleum products into your meat."

Once you have your temperature set, think about what you want to grill and how long it will take.

"Chicken goes on first," Stewart said. "You're going to have to cook it to a higher internal temperature. Once it gets to the 155-degree mark, then you can pull it off. Allow it to rest and brush with sauce, or just let it rest. Then, take care of those finicky things, like steaks. Burgers are going to go on last because those are the ones you can cook to rare and mid-rare."

Another tip repeated by the pros is the necessity of letting the meat rest after it's taken off of the grill.

"Anything you grill, take eight to 10 minutes to let it rest," Stewart said. He recommended putting steaks on a rack, like a pie cooling rack, to give them a bit of elevation.

"Once you're searing the meat and cooking it, it's basically seizing up — it looses some of its elasticity, its width and mass," he said. "Once you allow it to rest, it allows the juices to distribute more evenly and your steak will look more nicely cooked. You'll also experience less of a loss of juices when you cut it."

Liken recommends using the time when the meat is resting to grill vegetables.

Cut and season your vegetables before you start grilling. Then you can put them on the grill at the last minute; most take three or four minutes to be done.

"You want to make sure that the grill is not too hot (for the veggies)," she said. "I like a little char, but not burned and black. I throw veggies on when the meat is resting."

She recommended a perforated grill pan for vegetables, as you can chop them and they won't fall through the cracks. Or if you don't have a grill pan, take larger veggies and refrain from cutting them into little pieces. Instead, you can cut onions into quarters, cut zucchini lengthwise (instead of into medallions) or cut tomatoes in half and put them directly on the grill.

"They could even be more of a main course," Liken said. "They're more substantial."

Stewart also recommends grilling veggies as an accompaniment. Shishito peppers, baby red or yellow peppers, even cherry tomatoes from Palisade, still on the vine — they're all options that Stewart roasts on the grill.

Looking at what's in season, "you have some fun options to play with," he said.

That's really the secret to grilling: It's all about having fun.

"There's something wonderful about the grill," Liken said. "It takes away the intimidation from the kitchen."

Grilling or barbecuing

Barbecuing and grilling: These terms may be used interchangeably, but is there a difference between the two? Yes, Austin said.

"Barbecue can mean different things to different people," he said. "But the term barbecue encompasses both grilling and smoking. Grilling is usually at a higher heat, 300 degrees and higher … smoking is usually 'low and slow,' around 225 to 250 degrees."

In the end, it doesn't matter what you call it. Grilling and barbecuing are easy, non-intimidating ways to fix a meal, whether it's for you or for a group of people. And there's a surefire way to get the perfect barbecue, Austin said.

"Practice," he said. "Practice, practice, practice, because practice does make perfection on the grill."

Grilling trends

Here are some of the top grilling trends from Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association’s barbecue lifestyle, usage and attitude survey, conducted in July and August 2015.

• 75 percent of U.S. adults own a grill or smoker.

• 62 percent of households that own a grill own a gas grill, followed by charcoal (53 percent) and electric (12 percent).

• The most popular days to barbecue are Fourth of July (76 percent), Labor Day (62 percent), Memorial Day (62 percent), Father’s Day (49 percent) and Mother’s Day (34 percent).

• The top reasons for cooking out: 71 percent of grill owners say it’s to improve flavor, 54 percent for personal enjoyment and 42 percent for entertaining family and friends.

• Half of all grill owners have the most basic grilling accessories, such as a cleaning brush, tongs, glove and/or mitts. The most popular new accessories owners plan to buy include pizza stones, broiling baskets and cooking planks.

• Barbecuing isn’t just an evening activity: 11 percent of grill owners prepared breakfast on a grill in the past year.

• Nearly 1/3 of grill owners (31 percent) grilled someplace other than their homes in the past year, including 24 percent who grilled while camping.

• Nearly a third (30 percent) of current grill owners plan to grill with greater frequency.

Warm Sweet Potato Salad

“This is a healthier version, as it uses a vinaigrette rather than an aioli- or mayonnaise-based sauce,” said chef Marcus Stewart, who shared his recipe here.

1 pound sweet potatoes

1 pound purple sweet potatoes

1 pound Yukon gold potatoes

1 pound bacon, cut into small strips

1 yellow onion, diced small

2 celery stalks, diced small

1 bunch Italian parsley, leaves picked

2 ounces chives

6 ounces apple cider, mustard and rosemary vinaigrette (see recipe below)

Wash potatoes well, and cut them into 1-inch cubes. Blanch in salted water, until they are tender, and then drain away all water. Lay potatoes on a sheet tray to allow proper cooling.

While potatoes are cooking, render small cut bacon in a pan until golden brown, and drain grease. Toss potatoes with vinaigrette, celery, chives, lightly chopped parsley leaves, onion and bacon.

Makes 12 servings.

Apple cider, mustard and rosemary vinaigrette

1 cup apple cider vinegar

3 cups olive oil blend

1 sprig rosemary, leaves chopped

½ shallot, chopped

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons grain mustard

Salt and pepper

In a blender, combine vinegar, honey and mustards, rosemary and shallot. Blend. Slowly incorporate oil, and season with salt and pepper.

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