Time to Fire Up the Grill

I grew up a “lake kid.” When it was nice out you couldn’t get me out of the water from sunup to sundown. I would wear flip-flops and shorts from Memorial Day to Labor Day every year. I still do. I remember boat rides at sunset, king-of-the-raft matches, and of course, dinner on the grill. I love the smell of the charcoal heating up and the grill smoking for hours.

The age-old question: charcoal or gas?
With charcoal, food is grilled in an authentic way to create a smoky flavor that gas grill cooking can’t begin to match. The flavor comes from the juices of the meat, which drips onto the hot coals then smokes up to cook the meat along with the heat from the coals.

The heat on a charcoal grill is a lot stronger than some gas grills – especially older ones – which is crucial to achieving the all-important sear. On a final note, burning charcoal produces nothing but carbon dioxide and very little carbon monoxide to make for a “dry” cooking environment (more about that later).

The major drawback to charcoal grilling is the amount of time needed to heat the coals. A crisis can be averted with a chimney starter: Pile the coals in the top half, then crunch paper into the bottom half and light. Ten minutes later you’ve got smoking hot coals. For $8 you replace all the lighter fluid in the world.

Benefits of gas are a quick fix of heat; just flip the switch and ignite the fire. Preheat the grill or you miss out on the all important sear. Gas grills warm up quickly and have very predictable hot and cold spots.

When gas or propane burns, it produces a vapor of carbon monoxide and water, a “wet” cooking environment. The best flavor comes from dry heat, like from the smoke that is generated by the meat drippings.

Another drawback is that gas grills often cost much more than charcoal grills, and they need cleaning and maintenance.

Direct and indirect heat
Use direct heat when you cook anything less than 2 inches thick, and tender cuts of meat such as pork chops, burgers, and kabobs. Indirect heat is used on larger cuts and over a long period of time.
To cook indirectly, the heat source needs to be moved to the side or edges.

I like to dump wood chips onto the coals or flame, a technique called “smoldering.” It adds a wonderful smoky flavor to the meat, depending on the type of wood you use.
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Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Peaches & Cream Barbecue Sauce and Asparagus with Roasted Red Peppers

Peaches & “Cream” Barbeque Sauce
This is a wonderfully unconventional, but versatile, barbeque sauce to die for. If you make it in large batches, you can use it all summer.
• 6 to 8 fresh peaches, halved, pits removed
• ½ onion, minced, about 1 cup
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• One 12 oz. can “Genny Cream Ale” or cream ale-style beer of your choice
• 1½ cups cider vinegar
• 1 tablespoon Dijon style mustard
• ½ cup vegetable oil
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• Worcestershire sauce, to taste
• Tabasco sauce, to taste

In a large bowl, toss the peach halves with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper. Place them on a preheated grill and cook the peach halves until soft. Remove from heat and set aside. Meanwhile, in a large pot, sauté the onions in a little vegetable oil for about 5 minutes then add the garlic. Add the beer and reduce the heat for an additional 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and whisk in the Dijon mustard and vegetable oil. Carefully add the grilled peaches to a blender (or use a stick mixer.) Puree the peaches, add them to the pot and bring the sauce mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook the sauce for about 30 minutes stirring frequently to avoid burning. Finish the sauce to taste with additional seasonings. Cool and store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Peaches & Cream Barbeque Sauce (serves 4-6)
• 2 pork tenderloins, trimmed and silver skin removed
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• Peaches & Cream Barbeque Sauce

Preheat a grill as hot as possible. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper. Place the pork on the hottest part of the grill for about 7 minutes until the tenderloin does not stick to the grates. Turn the pork to grill on the other side. Baste the pork with sauce and cook for about 10 additional minutes. The pork should cook for approximately 30 minutes all together. After the pork has cooked, remove it from the grill and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Cut the pork into slices and serve with the rest of the sauce.

Grilled Asparagus with Roasted Red Pepper
• 1 to 2 bunches asparagus, cleaned and trimmed
• 3 red peppers
• Vegetable oil
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place the red pepper on the grill in the hottest place. (I know this sounds crazy, but I pull the grate off and drop the peppers right on the flame or coals to burn the skin.) Cook the pepper until the inside is soft and the skin is black. (Again, I know it sounds crazy but trust me.) Place the peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a tight seal. A brown paper bag works well, too. Timing is critical, so this could be done way ahead of time while the coals are preheating. Then cut and toss with the hot-off-the-grill asparagus.

I like to blanch and shock the asparagus to cook the inside so it’s tender without burning once it’s on the grill. I do this by first dropping the asparagus in boiling water, and then cooling it in either ice water or cold water. This should be the very last thing that you do. Toss the asparagus with a little oil and season with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. Lay them flat on the grill and sear for a few minutes. Serve with the pealed, seeded and sliced peppers.


by Chef Eric K. Smith, New York Wine and Culinary Center