Not a grill master? Try a few tips from local pros

Published 12:06 am Sunday, May 3, 2015

Illustration by Ben Hillyer

Illustration by Ben Hillyer

NATCHEZ — The debates will never end — gas versus charcoal, pork chops versus steaks, what vegetables should go on a kebab — but one thing is certain. It’s grilling season.

For some, that means a half-dozen half-hearted attempts that result in rubber tough chicken thighs dark enough to be mistaken for the charcoals over which they were cooked.

But others have gotten the art of grilling — pardon the pun — down cold, and they’re willing to share a few tips.

Bryant Herbert is likely to grill, in his words “any given day.” One thing is certain, though. He’s a charcoal man.

“Occasionally I’ll add in wood chips — just whatever they have at the store — but I like the natural flavor,” he said.

Its merits aside, many people accidentally trade the natural flavor of deep char when dealing with charcoal because they get too excited and throw the meat on the grill before it’s ready.

“It is about having the meat cooked evenly, but your main thing is to let your coals cook down first,” Herbert said.

“If you throw it on before the coals are ready, it will burn the meat or cook it on the outside too quickly, and when you get to the bone, it isn’t cooked through.”

Having to wait for charcoals to cook down is part of the reason Jennifer Voss — who has gone through four grills in 10 years and grills out five nights a week — is a fan of using gas.

“Gas is quicker,” she said. “I have three teenage boys in the house, and I have got to get food moving, quick.”

Voss said she likes her steaks rare and finds most meat from the grill taste best as soon as they’re cooked through.

“If you cook it too long, it is still edible, but it is no good,” she said.

The secret to knowing when meat is just right, especially a big roast, can be found in most kitchens, Voss said. It’s a meat thermometer.

“With a big pork roast, if you cut into it to see if it is done, all the juices are going to run out, and it’s going to be dry,” she said.

And even if you’re trying to get something done fast, on the grill you just don’t need to rush things. That means taking it off direct heat.

Scott Nugent likes to grill a couple of times a week. One of his favorites is cooking ribs.

“Try not to cook it super fast,” Nugent said. “Depending on what it is, put a sear on it to keep the juices in, move it to the side away from the coals, and cook it a little slower.”

When it comes to meat prep, marinating can be everything.

“It is fine for an hour or two, but it is best if you let it be overnight,” Voss said.

The other trick is not to throw marinated meat on the heat right from refrigeration.

“Take it out 45 minutes to an hour before you’re ready to grill, and let it warm up,” Nugent said.

Once you’ve got the meat sizzling over the heat, don’t toss the marinade.

“I don’t want to waste the marinade, so I pour it on for more flavor while the meat is cooking toward the end,” Herbert said.

For those adding a glaze — for example, barbecue — the lesson about rushing the process remains constant.

“When you glaze the barbecue sauce, you want it to be a nice reddish color, but you don’t add the barbecue until it is pretty much done on the outside and the inside,” Herbert said. “If you add the barbecue sauce too early, it burns the chicken.”

Voss agreed, adding that putting sauce on too thickly over high heat can result in a black, burned coating over the meat.

Everyone agreed that grilled vegetables are best cooked cut lengthwise to prevent them from falling into the heat source and given a simple treatment — a little olive oil, some salt, pepper and other seasonings before being put over the heat.

Voss said she likes to grate Parmesan cheese over squash when it’s done.

In the end — tips taken into consideration or not — Voss said the grill has its own benefits aside from delicious food.

“It is so much easier,” she said. “I don’t have dishes to wash, and it’s fewer calories when I cook on the grill as opposed to putting something in the oven with a lot of sauce on it.”