I’ve been grilling since I was eight years old, when my father taught how to do it on an old, rusty, kettle-style barbecue unit using lump charcoal because briquets hadn’t been invented yet. It was very difficult to control the heat of the fire, so cooking chicken required constant attention or the result would be a blackened, unsavory mess. So I learned how to constantly move the pieces of chicken around on the grill, turning them constantly because the fat from the chicken would cause the fire to flare up.
These days, with sophisticated gas grills, the process is a lot easier because the heat of the fire remains much more even. You hear a lot of talk about how cooking over charcoal or charcoal with wood chips is a lot more flavorful than gas, but the truth is that most of the "barbecue flavor" results from the fat and juices of the meat that are vaporized upon contact with the flames or coals. This is why grilled meats cooked in restaurants taste great, and restaurant cooks rarely, if ever, use charcoal or wood chips to flavor any kind of meat. I’ve grilled and smoked foods outdoors using many different kinds of barbecue units, but in my opinion gas grills are the quickest and easiest of them all.
Back in the old days we didn’t know much about marinating or using rubs to further flavor the meats we were grilling. As outdoor cooking has evolved over the decades, we now, fortunately, have a wide variety of products and techniques to add both flavor and spice to our outdoor cooking. Since I’m nicknamed "The Pope of Peppers," you can probably figure out that I like my grilled foods spiced up. I’m not talking killer heat here, but just enough chiles to make the food a lot more interesting. Here are two of my favorite summertime grilling recipes, and they prove that you don’t have to be Bobby Flay to make some great barbecue!
Citrus-Marinated Grilled Chicken
The concept of marinating chicken in a spicy fruit juice and then grilling it originated in Mexico and is quite popular throughout the American Southwest. The chicken is served with warm corn tortillas, salsa, and a side of pinto beans. The chicken can be cut off the bones and eaten topped with the salsa, or rolled up in up in the tortilla with salsa, like a soft taco. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tomatillos, husks removed, chopped
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons ancho chile powder or New Mexican red chile powder
2 small chickens, cut in half lengthwise or cut up into pieces
Bottled salsa of choice, or make your own pico de gallo
In a saucepan, saute the onion, garlic, and tomatillos in the oil until soft. Add the remaining ingredients, except the chicken, and simmer for 10 minutes. Place in a blender and puree to form a sauce.
Marinate the chicken in the sauce in a non-reactive bowl in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 3 hours.
Grill the chicken until done, basting frequently with the sauce. Chicken is done when the internal temperature is 160 degrees F.
Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Medium
Grilled Corn with Spiced Butter
Why bother to heat up the kitchen and boil corn on the cob when you can use the grill and get even tastier results? Spiced butters, also called compound butters, give corn a unique flavor dimension. This one is based on Nitir kebe, an Ethiopian spiced butter that is an ingredient in many that country’s dishes. It certainly gives an exotic twist to a summertime favorite. Be sure to buy ears with some of the stalk attached for a great handle. The spiced butter freezes easily. It’s a good idea to have a spray bottle with water handy in case the husks start to burn. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.
1/2 pound unsalted butter
1 teaspoon crushed chiltepins or pequins, or use ground cayenne chile
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
4 ears corn, husks and stalks attached
Allow the butter to soften at room temperature in a bowl and mix in all the ingredients for the spiced butter. Let sit for an hour to blend the flavors.
Remove any dried, brownish husks from the corn. Pull back the husks, but don’t remove completely, and remove the silk. Soak the ears in cold water for 30 minutes to prevent the husks from burning.
Brush some of the butter on each of the ears and pull the husks back up over the ears and secure with string or a strip of corn husk.
Place on grill over a low fire, fairly far from the heat, and grill, turning often, for about 15 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Hot