Facing the Grill

Burgers aflame or chicken that’s pink inside — if firing up the grill fires up your culinary nerves, you’re not alone.

But never fear — we’ve asked local pro Lani Hudgins, owner of Flue and Flame | a fireplace, hearth and grill shoppe in Cary, for help on making the most of our gas grilling challenges.

The end result? You can create sumptuous summertime meals, with a smile!

HELP: I’m stuck at hot dogs!

“Be adventurous! Anything you can cook in the oven, you can grill, like take-n-bake pizza, fish, veggies, even cookies,” Hudgins said. “The key is having a good temperature gauge, or using a digital thermometer.”

HELP: My grill cooks unevenly.

“It’s the placement of the burners and the quality of your grill,” she said. “The grill should cook like your oven — you shouldn’t have to move the food around, from front to back. Keep the lid closed, and only flip the food once halfway through the cooking process.”

HELP: My food’s on fire!

“Grilling is an art, but it should be fun,” Hudgins said. “With a gas grill, in most cases food should not be exposed to direct flame. Newer grills are equipped with sear plates that prevent flare-ups when meat juices drip. Be safe — if you’re seeing rust or flames, your grill is deteriorating and it’s time to retire it.”   

HELP: My food is cooked outside, but not done inside!

“Don’t stab or cut steak. You’ll lose the juices and the meat will be dry,” she said. “Instead, do the ‘finger test’ for consistency: Push the meat with your spatula and compare it to the fleshy part of your hand, under your thumb, when your pinky finger is pressed to your thumb. Firm like your hand means the meat is done; soft means it’s not.

“For boneless chicken, which takes about 16 minutes to cook, flip after 6 or 7 minutes, and a few minutes later do the finger test.”

HELP: How do I get all my menu items finished at once?

“Any chef deals with timing, whether in the kitchen or at the grill,” Hudgins said. “A bit of pre-planning is the best advice: You want to put the quicker-cooking foods on last. Usually that means starting the meat before the veggies. BUT, baked potatoes and corn on the cob actually take longer than boneless chicken, so it can vary.

“I wrap my corn in foil and put it on the top rack of the grill, or you can boil it on the side burner.”

HELP: What tools do I need to get the job done?

“The basic tools every backyard chef needs are a spatula, tongs, a grill brush and basting brush,” Hudgins said. “All kinds of accessories are available as you branch out with your cooking — fancy thermometers, fish baskets, woks, flexible stainless skewers.

“As for the grill itself, the average American spends $300 on a grill and replaces it every two to three years. Investing in a better quality grill will give you a better cooking experience and it can last for 20 years.

“The more equipped your grill, the more possibilities. Use just the side burner. Cook bacon, crab cakes or hard boiled eggs outside so the house doesn’t smell. Use the grill for breakfast and lunch, and even year-round. Options expand your kitchen.”  

HELP: Grill cleanup is a beast!

“People say, ‘Burn it off,’ but when there’s nowhere for all that grease to go, it eventually leads to fire,” Hudgins said. “Look for an easily removable grease tray that’s big enough, and stainless steel cooking grids that can go in the dishwasher.

“Maintain your grill with seasonal cleaning; take apart the burners and grates. And most manufacturers offer covers specific to grill models. We recommend them over a universal size, to protect the grill from pollen, bugs and nests.”

Editor’s note: Flue & Flame offers free-to-the-public Sample Saturdays, featuring grilling tips and food samples. For info, visit flueandflame.com.

Recipes for Summer Grilling

Summer grilling season is upon us! Check out these recipes from the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, at hpba.org, for a marvelous start-to-finish summer meal. 

APPETIZER: Grilled Pizza

pizza dough
olive oil
sauce, cheese and toppings as desired

Make or purchase pizza dough, and shape dough into circle about 1/2-inch thick. Brush with olive oil and place on grill at medium heat. After 2 minutes, check the crust; if at desired crispness, flip over. Add sauce and toppings. Close the grill for a few minutes and when the cheese has melted, remove and serve. 


Italian Beef Kebabs

1 pound top round steak, no more than 3/4-inch thick, trimmed of all fat
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons cold water
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
1 tablespoon dried Italian herb seasonings
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small sweet (Vidalia) onion, cut into 1-inch wedges
3/4 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, washed

Cut beef into 1/2-inch cubes. Mix oil, vinegar, water, garlic, herbs and season­ings together in a food-safe plastic bag or an 11×9-inch non-reactive glass or stainless steel dish. Add beef, coating all surfaces with liquid. Cover and marinate in refrigerator, a minimum of 10 hours but no more than 20 hours. Turn the beef several times to ensure even exposure to the marinade.

Thread beef and vegetables on five 15-inch metal or bamboo skewers (if using bamboo, soak skew­ers in cold water for 30 minutes before assembling). Brush each kebab with marinade, then discard remaining marinade.

Grill kebabs over direct medium heat about 4 inches from heat source. Grill for 7 to 8 minutes, turning skewers every 2 minutes. Cook until beef reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees F and vegetables are tender. Serves 4.

Source: American Meat Institute

Simply Great Grilled Chicken

1 cut-up broiler-fryer chicken
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sherry
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon pepper

In jar with lid, place soy sauce, sherry, canola oil, garlic, ginger and nutmeg; shake well and pour over chicken in bowl. Cover chicken and marinate in refrigerator 4 hours or more.

Place chicken on prepared grill at medium, skin side up, about 8 inches from heat; sprinkle with pepper. Grill chicken, turning and basting with sauce every 10 minutes, for about 1 hour or until fork can be inserted with ease. Serves 4.

Source: National Chicken Council

SIDE: Grilled Vegetable Orzo

1 medium red onion, cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices
2 zucchini, about 6 ounces each, cut lengthwise into 1/3-inch-thick slices
vegetable or olive oil spray
1 pound orzo pasta
2 tablespoons flavorful extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh rosemary or sage leaves, optional (do not substitute dried)

Fire up the grill, bringing the temperature to medium. Spray the onion and zucchini with oil spray. Sprinkle them with salt. If desired, skewer the onion slices on soaked bamboo skewers to hold them together as they cook.

Grill the vegetables, about 10 to 12 minutes for the zucchini and 12 to 15 minutes for the onion, turning so that each faces the fire twice on each side. After grilling and when vegetables are cool enough to handle, cut veggies into neat small dice.

Meanwhile, cook the orzo in salted water according to the package directions. When done, toss with the grilled vegetables, extra virgin oil and fresh herbs. Serve warm. Serves 6 to 8.

Source: Bill and Cheryl Jamison

DESSERT: Fruit Cap

Peaches, plums, nectarines or apricots

Place halved peaches, plums, nectarines or apricots on the grill for 3 to 4 minutes until lightly charred. Serve warm with ice cream or frozen yogurt.

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