Now that you have all the necessary gear for grilling season, the next question is: what to cook? Burgers and hot dogs are standard fare, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for dull, boring beef patties and tubed mystery meat at your next barbecue. Here are some tips to take your Fourth of July and the rest of the summer to the next level!
Burgers & Hot Dogs
Store-bought beef patties are easy, but it’s really not difficult to step your burger game up. All you need for a great burger is some ground beef and some spices, along with some eggs and breadcrumbs to hold everything together. Some spices that go particularly well with beef include: cumin, rosemary, thyme, and dried chili peppers. And of course, you can’t forget salt and pepper. Another way to make your burgers more interesting is by blending different types of meat. I personally like to mix ground sirloin with chorizo. The latter lends some smokiness and spice, and is especially delicious off the grill.
As for hot dogs, you can’t go wrong with a classic Nathan’s frankfurter, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to expand your horizons. Okay, I’ll admit, the concept of a gourmet hot dog sounds a bit crazy, but patrons of New York’s finest hot dog purveyors (like Dickson’s Farmstand Meats in Chelsea Market, or Bark in Park Slope, Brooklyn) will tell you that better meat (of known origins) makes all the difference. You can find ‘em in person at high-end grocery stores like Citarella, or online at D’Artagnan.
A good steak starts off with the right cut of beef. My favorite steak cuts for grilling are ribeye and porterhouse, but if you’re on a budget, a skirt steak will do the trick too. Season them as you wish – the spices mentioned above for burgers will go great with steak, too.
If you’re working with a charcoal grill, it’s important to arrange the coals so that one part of the grilling surface can get super hot, while the other remains cooler for slower cooking on indirect heat.
If you’re using a gas grill, you can simply put a few burners on high heat while leaving the others turned off. Start the steak off on the hot part of the grill so that you can get a nice sear on the exterior, and a flavorful crust from the herbs and spices on the surface. Cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side, then move the steak to indirect heat to finish cooking. The hardest part of preparing steak is ensuring that it’s cooked to the proper doneness – medium-rare is probably the way to go. For this, I like to do a little something commonly referred to as the thumb trick. Nobody likes an overcooked (read: well-done) steak. And if you do, you can find another barbecue because you won’t see any of them coming off my grill!
Though veggies are an afterthought at most barbecues, the grill can really transform them into something special. The flames and smoke are perfect for elevating the flavor profiles of many vegetables. Some that perform particularly well on the grill are asparagus, pepper, mushroom, eggplant, and corn. You get a unique combination of caramelization and smokey flavor that you can’t really get when using other cooking techniques. Just be sure to keep a close eye on the grill, as veggies tend to be more delicate than most meats.
Pizza. Yes, pizza.
My go-to neighborhood pizza spot uses a coal oven. Why is it my favorite? Because the pizza there is delicious. Think of your grill as your own personal coal-fired magic pizza machine. All you need is some dough (see recipe here), along with your favorite sauce, cheese, and toppings, and you’re good to go!
Here’s how to do it:
• Once you have your dough ready, roll it out to the desired pizza size.
• Cook it on high heat with the lid closed until the bottom (grill-facing) side starts to brown and air bubbles start to form up top – about 2-3 minutes if your grill is hot enough.
• Remove the dough from the grill, add your sauce and toppings, and throw it back on the grill.
• After a few more minutes, you’ll have a delicious homemade pizza!