Make the Grill Work Harder for You
Industry experts share best grilling practices for premium results
Chances are, you're already making good use of your grill. It cooks food beautifully, from burgers to steaks. It imparts the visceral flavor of fire, relays authenticity of place and lets diners know that craftsmanship is behind their eating experience.
But it takes a deft hand to cook protein properly, coax out flavor and caramelize without over-charring. Why bother, when sautéing generally takes less back-of-house effort? "Grilling signals dining cues that guests today consider valuable," says Joseph Barin, corporate chef, Kraft Foodservice. "The smell helps elevate hunger and anticipation. Grill marks are elegant and enticing. And often, grilling indicates a better-for-you experience. It also can help upgrade the value perception." That all adds up to a moneymaking opportunity. Here, industry experts offer grilling tips, secrets and best practices to help you maximize profits from your grill.
assistant corporate chef, Glowbal Group; executive chef, Glowbal Grill, Vancouver
restaurant style: steaks and satay
grill setup: 48-inch gas-fired grill; top-fired broiler, flat top; 24-inch gas forno high-heat oven
chef-owner, Kuma Inn and Umi Nom, New York City
restaurant style: independent specializing in Filipino-American "mash-ups"
grill setup: 36-inch gas-fired grill
executive chef, Seasons 52, Orlando-based
restaurant style: fresh grill and wine bar featuring seasonally inspired cooking; 30-plus units in 15 states
grill setup: open-fire grill fueled by 75% oak wood and 25% mesquite coals; brick oven
principal of SRZ Consulting
previous restaurant experience: chef-owner of Province; chef-partner of Nacional 27
grill preferences: gas-fired grill; chapa, an Argentine flat cast-iron pan
Pleau elevates grilled salmon with a marinade of ground white onion, malt vinegar, soy sauce, Grey Poupon Classic Dijon Mustard, OLD BAY Seasoning, garlic, salt and pepper. "The vinegar cuts through the fattiness of the fish while the mustard gives it depth," he says. "That marinade also works well on rotisserie chicken and lamb." When grilling salmon, he cooks the meat side down first to caramelize it. After he flips it, he lets the skin burn, then slides the meat right off the skin for service.
For Barn & Company's famous chicken wings, Wiviott steeps wings overnight in a buttermilk brine (buttermilk, brown sugar, sage, thyme, coriander, white peppercorn, salt). He pats them down with a house rub, then cooks them in a 240˚F oven with a final low-temp finish on the gas grill to crisp the skin. The hot wings are tossed in butter and hot sauce and paired with a dipping sauce of Kraft Ranch Dressing or Kraft Blue Cheese Dressing. "The Kraft Dressings give our prep cooks one less thing to spend valuable time on."
A standard salad can be made special with an unexpected but wonderful layer of smoky flavor. Zweiban pours a vinaigrette or dressing into a small container and places it in a hotel pan with smoldering wood chips, covered with aluminum foil, until the smoke penetrates the liquid (approximately 30 minutes).
"I'm a big believer in the flavor domino effect," says Wiviott. He often starts with a marinade, then smokes the meat and adds a spice rub for even deeper flavor. "Season both sides. Spices interact with the fire, and fire is a flavor-changer."
Seasons 52 features rustic cooking techniques, like brick oven-roasting and grilling on an open fire-with nothing on the menu over 475 calories. For a better-for-you profile without sacrificing flavor, Pleau suggests spritzing items on the grill with oil from a spray bottle rather than dipping them in butter before grilling.
To add smoky flavor without investing in a commercial smoker, Barin suggests soaking wood chips in water or fruit juice in a shallow hotel pan, then heating on the stovetop until the wood smokes. "Then move that to a preheated oven and slow roast a protein in there with the smoking wood chips. Delicious."
"Grilling is a great way to showcase delicious Filipino flavors," says Phojanakong. "But with proteins that take a long time to cook on the grill, the trick is to caramelize without over-charring." He starts with a dry rub, then adds a glaze 5-10 minutes before pulling from the grill. "If you use a marinade or early glaze on a longer-cooked item, the sugars in it will burn before it's cooked through."
"If you're putting in the effort, you want to get credit for it," says Pleau. Seasons 52 employs powerful menu language to relay premium cues, like "oak-grilled" and "caramelized." Other enticing phrases that help convey value are "spice-rubbed," "slow-marinated" and "wood-grilled."
Zweiban marinates vegetables, such as spring onion, summer squash and portobello, then grills them on a white-hot "chapa," or Argentine-style flat grill. After chilling down, he incorporates them into salads and other composed dishes. "Preparing these components ahead of time, then pulling for service, adds depth of flavor and increases the guest's value perception."
For Glowbal Grill, a rotating menu of seafood, meat and vegetable satay items helps catapult sales. "The satay sells itself," says Morrison, referencing the sight of the satay platters, the sound of the sizzle from the open kitchen and the smell of the grill. "Pulling something from a live fire brings so many positives to the business. Plus it offers incredible value for these small bite-size portions with big flavors."
Certain value cuts of meat, like the flat iron and Denver cut, perform well on the grill with the help of a marinade to tenderize the meat and add flavor. One of Phojanakong's recent creations: grilled skirt steak marinated in rice vinegar, palm sugar, chipotle, vegetable oil, Grey Poupon Classic Dijon Mustard, onion, garlic and soy sauce. "I buzz it all, then let the steak sit in it overnight," he says. "Grey Poupon gives it great flavor and keeps the emulsion together."
Sandwiches with Grilled Meats
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