Finger Grilling Good

By Lauren Hurwitz

Nothing defines a classic suburban summer gathering better than a great backyard bar-b-que. But for so many women, taking charge of the grill is daunting. Erica Ellis of Larchmont says, “I leave the grilling to my husband – he does the best job! I would overcook everything if it was left to me.” Rye’s Alyssa Sieven shares, “grilling definitely intimidates me – I’d rather leave it to my husband who knows how to best use it and actually enjoys it.” But women of Westchester, have no fear! Elizabeth Karmel, nationally recognized food writer, author of “Steak and Cake,” and Creator of Girls at the Grill, says knowing the fundamentals of grilling will allow any busy lady to be the ‘hostess with the mostess’ this summer. 

To begin, it is helpful to know if you’re grilling, or actually BBQing. Grilling is when you cook with direct heat or indirect heat. Direct heat is when the food is placed on top of the heat source, whereas indirect is when the heat surrounds the food. To simplify, imagine what indoor cooking looks like: food is placed under a lit broiler and so the heat is directly over the food. Whereas roasting in the oven surrounds the food with heat, so the heat is indirect, a.k.a. indirect heat. True BBQ however, is always cooked over indirect heat with the addition of wood smoke. While BBQ is rising in popularity, it’s still more common for at-home cooks to grill vs BBQ in their own backyards. 

Once you determine what type of method to use, consider what type of food you’re cooking. Karmel’s rule of thumb is the bigger the food in terms of size, weight, and density, the longer time it will take to grill. Larger foods like steak, Yukon Gold potatoes and root vegetables require indirect heat and likely don’t need to be turned at the halfway cooking mark.  Smaller, less dense foods like hamburgers, hotdogs, shrimp, and baby potatoes are better with direct heat method and shorter grill times of about 20 minutes or less (depending on the food) but don’t forget to turn the food over halfway through cooking.  

Regardless of what you’re cooking, it’s imperative to brush your food with olive oil before it hits the grill to avoid sticking to the grates but also ensure unmatched flavor! “Grilling is intrinsically healthy and tastes fabulous because you’re cooking without additives and fats from sauces and butter you may otherwise be using with stovetop or oven cooking,” Karmel says. She relies on her “trusted trilogy” of olive oil, kosher salt and pepper to ensure her grilled foods come out top-notch. Consider something as simple as a steamed vegetable like an asparagus – they’re flavorless until you drench them in butter. 

However, throw those asparagus on the grill with the trilogy and you have amazing taste minus added fat. Karmel says, “Olive oil also keeps the natural juices inside the food so you don’t dehydrate your food. Make sure to oil the food, not the grate. If you oil the grate and not the food, you’re basically asking to glue the food to the grate. And, if you try to turn your food too quickly, you can mess the entire process up! All protein will naturally adhere to any hot surface so trust that your food will naturally release itself when its ready – generally halfway through the cooking time. 

Don’t be tempted to rush it.”

Known for her delicious grilled, BBQ and southern food creations, Karmel says her guests think her dishes are indulgent because the flavor is supreme, “but the truth is if you use the heat of the grill, olive oil and salt and pepper, you are cooking super clean food!  The amount of calories in the olive oil is negligible and you’re bringing out the best flavors that are inherent in the ingredients. Just buy the best quality food you can find whether it’s vegetables, meat, poultry, fish or shellfish, and get to work!” She adds, “You’re going to love grilling if you’re cooking foods you already know that you enjoy. Instead of being tethered to a recipe, use the trilogy and get comfortable with the grill so you have a great first grilling experience and want to do it over and over. Once you feel confident in your grilling skills, you can start adding in different flavors.”

Every good griller needs a good grill. Purchasing a grill can feel overwhelming. Instead of focusing on bells and whistles that don’t help you cook, like glass windows in the lid of the grill, Karmel recommends purchasing the largest and best grill you can afford. The more room you have, the better. Avoid grills with cascading shelves because although they may look beautiful, they’re not the most practical when it comes to cooking. Most of all, make sure that the grill can be set for both direct and indirect heat. Generally, on a gas grill, it’s just a matter of turning the correct burners on and off based on your grilling needs. The important aspect is the size – is the grill large enough to fit a big turkey? Today you may envision only heating up a few burgers but pretty soon you’ll wish you had even more room for veggies, buns and other creations – maybe even desserts – once you perfect your skills. Karmel says, “You need a minimum of three burners on a gas grill.  If all three are lit, that is direct heat. If you turn the middle burner off and put the food over the burner that is turned off, that is indirect heat.”

She also recommends shopping in store for the grill so you can ‘kick the tires’ before making your big purchase. With windy Westchester winters, and ever-changing weather patterns, you want to make sure your grill is sturdy, stable and won’t tumble over easily. Finally, you want to ensure your grill has a solid warranty if you’re investing in it for many years to come. “You should expect that any parts that a manufacturer doesn’t cover will need to be replaced. A well-made grill should last years, even decades before it needs to be replaced,” says Karmel. 

If you are more of a charcoal gal, but like the idea of the ease of a gas grill, Karmel recommends Spark Grills as they just launched a new grill that uses compressed charcoal “Briqs”, a fan and a thermostat so that you can control the heat similar to how you control the heat in your oven. 

Once you overcome your fear of the grill, it’s time to embrace the most understated benefit of grilling: No clean up! And what woman doesn’t appreciate that?