The Food Lab: Essential Techniques and Recipes for the Summer Grill
This summer is going to be the most exciting of what has been at times a very exciting life. My wife Adri and I are packing up the dogs and driving westward across the country to settle in San Francisco (at the time that you are reading this, we're most likely somewhere in the great desserts between Moab and Salt Lake City), eating our way through this vast country of ours. And if that weren't exciting enough, five years ago we decided to start putting aside some money for an adventure fund, which we're finally cashing in this summer with a 10-week trip through China, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, and Hawaii. (!!!)
Of course, as awesome as this is going to be, it does mean two things: first, it means that I won't be able to work (my wife insisted that this can't be a working vacation as they usually are).* Second it means that I'll completely miss grilling season this year. High class problems, I know.
*Don't worry, I've stockpiled a large collection of articles to go up over the summer, and the recipes site will be in the very capable hands of our Culinary Director Daniel.
But in honor of the grilling season I'm missing, I'm going to make it my goal to get as many folks out into their backyards and onto their balconies as many times as possible this summer, because let's be honest: everything tastes better when there's fire, smoke, and cold beers involved.
And what better way to gently nudge folks outdoors than with recipes and techniques?
I've written a fair amount about grilling in the past, and while this list doesn't encompass quite everything I've done, it does hit the staples of an omnivorous summertime grill with plenty of chicken, steak, sausages, burgers, and—my favorite—corn.
Jump straight to a section of recipes below:
- Steaks on the Grill
- Burger Recipes and Toppings
- Sausages and Hot Dogs
- Grilled and Barbecued Chicken
- Grilled Corn and Toppings
For more grilling techniques, tips, and recipes from around the Serious Eats universe, check out our grilling guide!
Steaks on the Grill
There's nothing that draws a crowd of onlookers (or a horde of up-voters) quite like a thick, beautifully marbled steak charring over a coal fire. It's a primal thing. Meat + fire = delicious, and pretty much all of us, whether we eat much meat (or even any at all) can at least understand the appeal if not partake in it.
Some people grill steaks every weekend. Others might eat beef every day. I'm the kind of guy who has a grilled steak only a few times a year, so when I do have it, I want it to be goddam perfect. These recipes and guides will help you get there, no matter what cut of meat you choose.
Before you can fire up the grill, you gotta know what meat you're going to get. If you've got $$ to spare and are looking to indulge, then these are The Four High-End Steaks you Should Know. If you want to really splurge, go ahead and get a dry-aged steak, or better yet, plan ahead for the end of the summer and do it yourself.
If you're on a tighter budget or prefer the more robust texture and often stronger flavor of off-cuts, you'll want to take a look at The Five Inexpensive Steaks you Should Know. The guide will walk you through step-by-step how to shop and prepare relatively inexpensive cuts like tri-tip, hanger, skirt, short rib, and flap meat.
Want to get extra-fancy and flavorful with things? Then why don't you try stuffing and grilling butterflied flank steaks?
Ready to go? Great, here are the recipes!
- Perfect Grilled Ribeye Steaks
- Grilled Skirt Steak Fajitas
- Grilled Garlic and Herb-Marinated Hanger Steak
- Tender Grilled Short Ribs
- Argentinean-Style Grilled Short Ribs with Chimichurri
- Spice-Rubbed Grilled Flap Meat (Sirloin Tip)
- Santa Maria-Style Barbecue Tri-Tip
- Sweet and Spicy Grilled Tri-Tip
- Steakhouse-Style Grilled Marinated Flank Steak
- Thai-Style Marinated Flank Steak and Herb Salad
- Muffuletta-Stuffed Flank Steak
- Grilled Stuffed Flank Steak With Scallions, Ginger, and Teriyaki Glaze
- Grilled Stuffed Flank Steak With Pesto, Mozzarella, and Prosciutto
- Grilled Stuffed Flank Steak With Roasted Chilies and Pepper Jack Cheese
Burger Recipes and Toppings
Burgers are the great democratizer of the grill. Like pizza and Sesame Street, there's nobody, young or old, rich or poor, who doesn't love a juicy grilled burger from the backyard (whether or not that burger is made from ground meat or a well-crafted vegetable-based patty). Can't decide what to make for the weekend cook-out? The burger is your best friend and your constant, loyal companion.
You can buy yourself some pre-fab patties from the supermarket, throw them on a hot fire, slap 'em between a bun, top them off, eat them, and come away with a tasty, satisfying meal, but if you want burgers that'll truly blow you away—a burger so good it will make you swear that an angel from heaven landed in your kitchen and tripped into the meat grinder, then you'll want to go the extra mile, starting with reading up on these Tips for Better Burgers, and making sure you know How to Shape a Burger for Grilling (no more bulging buns!)
Let's say you've schooled yourself on the basics and you decide to go with grinding your own meat. Ah, a wise decision. Your next question should be How Coarsely Should I Grind my Burger Meat? Only then will you have the knowledge it takes to make truly perfect Thick and Juicy Home-Ground Grilled Cheeseburgers.
Alternatives to Beef
If you're not into beef, don't worry, you've got options! These Turkey Burgers That Don't Suck really don't suck, thanks to the addition of grilled eggplant (A.K.A. the moist-maker) and umami-bumping ingredients like marmite, anchovies, and soy sauce. If you want something a little more flavorful, try out these Lamb Burgers, inspired by the awesome burgers at The Breslin.
And for you non-meat-eaters, these Really Awesome Black Bean Burgers will knock your socks off with flavor and texture. The secret is partially dehydrating the black beans in the oven to give them a firm bite. Even vegans can get in on the backyard action with these Homemade Vegan Burgers. The mixture is a little time-consuming to make, but make up a big batch, freeze the individual burgers, and you'll be ready for the grill any night of the week,
Whether you choose beef, lamb, bean, or a veggie-based patty, loading it up with the right toppings is part of the game. Here's my take on The Principles of Topping Burgers, to help you plan yours out. Or just jump straight to one of the recipes below.
- Hot and Smoky Cheeseburgers with Bacon and Pickled Cherry Pepper Relish
- Poutine Burger (Burgers with Fried Potatoes, Cheese Curds, and Gravy)
- Muffaletta Burgers
- Barbecue Bacon Burgers
- Sweet Barbecue Kim-cheese Burgers
- Quadruple Chili Cheeseburgers
- Hot Hawaiian Burgers (Spam, Pineapple, Swiss, and Sriracha Mayo)
- Burgers with Creamy Feta Sauce and Tomato-Cucumber Relish
- Pepperoni Garlic Bread Burgers
Sausages and Hot Dogs
Why do sausages and hot dogs taste so good? It's because they're essentially meat in their most perfect form. They've got the right level of moisture, the perfect level of fat, and are seasoned and spiced throughout. The very best sausages should have a snappy natural casing and a juicy, resilient texture with a robust flavor that can handle its own against toppings and the smoke of a grill.
Whether you use store-bought sausages or you like to make your own, cooking them the right way is essential for the best eating experience. Grill them too hot and fast and they'll burst or char before they cook through. Take too long, and they'll dry out and shrivel. Our technique? Heat them gently in a container of moist toppings over the cool side of the grill to cook them through before charring them over the hot side. Read up more on The Best Way to Grill Sausages right here.
As for hot dogs, while I'm a Sabretts man myself, any high quality natural-casing dog, like Vienna Beef from Chicago, Hartmann's or Zweigle's from New York or a good Greenfield, Kowalski, or Koegel's from Michigan will do.
Got some extra time on your hand for extra awesomeness? Then make those hot dogs yourself. Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats in San Francisco shows us how.
Are you ready dogs? Start toppin'.
- Grilled Hot Dogs with Sauerkraut
- Grilled Mexican Chorizo with Spicy Tomato Caper Sauce
- Grilled Italian Sausage with Sweet and Sour Peppers and Onions
- Grilled Bratwurst with Beer, Mustard, and Sauerkraut
- Chili for Chili Burgers, Chili Dogs, or Chili Fries
- Cheese Sauce for Cheese Fries and Nachos
- The Best Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce
- Hot Slaw Dogs
Grilled and Barbecued Chicken
My mother tells me that the grilled chicken I serve to her a few times per year is one of the few redeeming qualities that my life choices have led to. I take that as a compliment.
Anyhow, that chicken—which, when I don't get distracted with dogs and beer, is as crisp-skinned and juicy as you'd like—didn't come easy. It took a lot of experimenting before I finally settled on a slow-then-hot butterflied technique as my standard. Check out my guide on How to Grill a Whole Chicken for the basics.
By taking that same technique, slowing it down even more, and applying some sweet-tart sauce, you can get yourself a bonafide Barbecue Chicken.
Pretty much all of these recipes (other than the tandoori-style chicken, which goes for high heat the whole time) are based on the same basic principles: butterfly the bird, cook it low and slow with flavorings or smoking agents as desired, then finish it off on the hot side to crisp it up.
- Grilled Butterflied Chicken
- The Best Barbecue Chicken
- How to Make Jerk Chicken at Home
- Tandoor-Style Grilled Chickens or Cornish Hens (serve them with some Easy Grilled Naan)
- The Best Chicken Tikka Masala for the Grill
- Easy Grilled Cornish Hens and Zucchini with Greek Marinade, Tzatziki, and Greek Salad
- Grilled Cornish Hens with Lemon and Rosemary
- Peruvian Style Grilled Chicken With Green Sauce
Grilled Corn and Toppings
If you follow my work, you'd know that over the past few years, I've drastically reduced my meat intake. Come by our place on a weeknight and you're most likely going to find us grilling veggie burgers, whole vegetables, and greens.
That said, corn holds a spot that's especially close to my heart, especially juicy, ultra-sweet summer corn charred on a hot grill. Pro-tip: When buying corn, always get at least 50% more than you need, because it will get eaten.
There are quite a few ways you can grill corn, whether it's in the husk directly on the coals, wrapped with flavored butter in a foil pouch, or directly over the flame. Read up on the three basic methods before you get started.
Butter and salt is a totally acceptable and classic combo, but grilled corn is such a great base for a wide variety of flavors, ranging from creamy and hot to bright and herbal. Check out some of my favorites.
- The Best Basic Grilled Corn
- Mexican Street Corn (Elotes)
- Grilled Corn with Spicy Korean Miso Sauce
- Grilled Corn with Garlic and Ginger Soy-Butter
- Grilled Corn with Harissa and Mint
- Grilled Corn with Spicy Chili Mayo, Coconut, and Fish Sauce