Food Network Grilling Week

Outdoor Cooking: Burger Tips

Originally posted at TheKitchenHotline.com:

I am a firm believer that the most American food is not the hot dog nor the apple pie but the burger.  Both the hot dog and the apple pie trace their lineage to one other country (Germany and France respectively) while the burger reflects our melting pot culture.  The bun originates in Egypt, the Mongols were the first to grind the beef while the Germans were the first to cook it, tomatoes are from the New World but ketchup gets here by way of Italy via China and mustard is from India.

Mobile Burger CrawlThere is a very important designation to make here – a burger refers to a sandwich with at least 5 ounces of meat while anything with less than 5 ounces of meat (including a quarter-pounder) is a slider.  Remember when the McDonald’s sign used to say how many hamburgers were sold?  Today it says “billions served.”  There is no mention of hamburgers.  Perhaps that is because most of their menu fails to meet the definition of a burger.

Of course when most of us think about throwing a few burgers on the grill few visualize a paper thin wafer of frozen ground beef.  Most of us visualize a thick, hand formed patty.  That’s why the designation is important, if you try to mimic the weights at Micky D’s you’ll end up disappointed with your grilling experience.  In this case bigger is absolutely better.

Calories aside the best burgers contain a grind that is 80% lean meat and 20% pure fat.  Unfortunately that much fat can be lethal.  Many have experimented with leaner grinds, not just of beef but also chicken, turkey, pork, et al.  The result is a dry, less than satisfying burger.  Granted it is healthy but not exactly good.

I have two healthy fixes, one easy and the other a bit labor intensive.  The first is to throw your lean ground meat into a large bowl then blend in olive oil equal to 1/5th of your meat.  That’s 1/5th by weight mind you not volume or 3.2 ounces of oil per one pound of ground meat.  Olive oil being unsaturated fat that is full of antioxidants will give your burger the right mouth-feel without adding all the saturated fat.

The other method is for the burger connoisseur like myself.  Using the meat grinding attachment on my trusty old stand mixer I usually grind my own meat for burgers.  I buy the leanest sirloin steak I can find, usually 96% lean or higher, grass fed if at all possible.  I cut that into 2” cubes and place them two or three cubes at a time into the grinder alternating frequently with a tablespoon of coconut oil.  This gives me an actual saturated fat for my burger that has the added benefit of being very healthy.  The result is a burger that is perfect in every conceivable way.  This same method works well for grinding a skinless turkey breast or a nice lean pork tenderloin.

When hand-pattying burgers it is important not to work the meat too much, it can actually make them tough.  For the novice I suggest getting a 5 ounce ice cream scoop to make well-rounded balls.  Place each ball on a piece of parchment paper or cellophane topped with another piece then gently pressing down with a plate until the patty is ½ to ¾ of an inch thick.

Something else I like to do when making burgers is to blend herbs into the meat.  My preference is Herbes de Provence but any dried herbs and/or seasonings will do.   This way the meat is flavored throughout and not just on the surface that gets the salt and pepper on it.  Oh, yeah, salt is not an option; it has to be used.  In addition to enhancing the flavor it is crucial for the Maillard reaction which is the fancy science name for searing meat to get a crust.

Outdoor Cooking: Rib Tips

Originally posted at TheKitchenHotline.com:

The most popular ingredient in American outdoor cooking is quite possibly pork ribs.  They are probably the ingredient that gives the weekend warrior the most trouble as well.  That’s because ribs do not react well to the same cooking method as burgers, dogs and chicken.

More Tips from the ProsTo understand the reason for this it is important to learn the actual definition of one of the most misconstrued words in cooking – grill.  When most here the word “grill” the immediate picture that comes to mind is usually of iron grates over a gas flame.  That specific cooking method is called char-broiling.  While that it is a method for grilling it is not the only method.  To grill something means to cook quickly in close proximity to a high-temperature, dry heat.  Char-broiling certainly fits that description but so does a griddle.  This is the method most use to cook burgers, dogs and chicken.

If you try to grill ribs you will not be happy with the result.  If they look good on the outside they are raw in the center; if they are done through and through then they’re most likely burnt on the outside.  To properly cook ribs you need a low temperature for an extended cooking period, usually no hotter than 225 degrees for no less than three hours.

The secret to ribs according to Danielle Dimovski (aka Diva-Q) is, “low and slow rules.”  Diva-Q is the Grand Dame of the competitive barbecue circuit.  She was the break out star of season two of TLC’s BBQ Pitmaster and is rumored to be part of a new series on the Food Network.  The lady knows her ribs.

According to her, “The number one rule for ribs is pull your membrane.  If you’re making ribs you need to pull your membrane so the smoke can absorb and the rub can absorb into the meat.”  Concerning the low/slow method she adds, “You cannot break down that internal fat fast.  You need to take time to do it.  It’s not something that should be done quickly.  At least four hours for a slab of St. Louie spares. “

Because it only produces a high heat gas is difficult, but not impossible, to cook ribs properly.  If you have a gas grill only light one side of it and place the ribs over the cold side.  It isn’t perfect but it will work.   The reason it is only functional is because there is little smoke.  Smoke is vital because it provides a great deal of the taste.

Low and slow isn’t the only reason why charcoal is the preferred cooking medium for barbecue; it also produces smoke.  As the smoke permeates the meat it slowly breaks down the connective tissue leaving a tender rib with great flavor.

Two last tips to producing great ribs.  First, do not put on any BBQ sauce until the ribs are done.  The sugar in the sauce will scorch long before the ribs are done so try not to cook the sauce more than about 10 minutes.  Lastly, never, ever boil the ribs before putting them on the fire.  You lose all of the finger licking goodness.

Outdoor Cooking: Grilled Pizza

Most people have run into this scenario:  You’re having a pool party and everyone starts getting hungry.  Half the camp wants to crank up the grill and the other half want to order pizza.  There is no reason you cannot have both.  Pizza translates well to the grill.

The secret to a really good pizza is a blast of heat from the bottom to cook the crust with a slightly softer heat to warm toppings and melt cheese.  That is right in the wheel house of your grill.  The open flame, be it from charcoal or gas, is perfect for crispy crust and closing the lid will surround the toppings with a blanket of cozy heat and a kiss of smoke flavor.

pizzaPizza, grilled or not, can be broken down into two elements – crust and toppings.

For the crust you can purchase some of the pre-cooked “skins” out there like Boboli or Mama Mia’s.  You can even get creative and turn various breads into crust like Italian loaf, naan or pita.  You can also stop by your favorite pizza parlor and purchase raw dough balls from them and put them in the freezer until you’re ready to use them.  Or you could make the dough from scratch with this handy recipe:

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast or 1 oz brewer’s yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (between 100 and 110 degrees)
  • 3 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 cup semolina flour
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of salt
  1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast on the warm water and stir to dissolve it. Set aside until the yeast starts forming bubbles – about 5 minutes.
    Sift the flour. Pour the flour into a large bowl or on a work surface. Mold the flour in a mound shape with a well in the center.  With a wooden spoon, draw the ingredients together.
  2. Mix everything with your hands to form dough.  Sprinkle some flour on the work surface. Place the dough on the floured surface. Knead the dough briefly with your hands pushing and folding.  Knead just long enough for the dough to take in a little more flour, and until it no longer sticks to your hands.
  3. With your hand, spread a little olive oil inside a bowl.  Transfer the dough into the bowl.  On the top of the dough, make two incisions that cross, and spread with a very small amount of olive oil. This last step will prevent the surface of the dough from breaking too much while rising.  Cover the bowl with a kitchen cloth, and set the bowl aside for approximately 1½ – 2 hours until the dough doubles in volume.  The time required for rising will depend on the strength of the yeast and the temperature of the room.
  4. When the dough is double its original size, punch it down to eliminate the air bubbles.  On a lightly floured work surface, cut the dough into three equal pieces.  Knead each piece to form a ball – these are called dough balls.
  5. On the work surface, using a rolling pin and your hands, shape one piece of dough into a thin round layer. Make a pizza about 12 inches in diameter – this is called a skin.

I like to make large batches of pizza dough at one time and then freeze the dough balls in individual zip top bags until I want to make a pie.  They take a few hours to defrost at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

PizzaNow that you have your skin ready you can either throw it on the grill by itself to cook part of the way (par-cook) before topping it and returning it to the grill or you can top it first and then carefully move it to the grill. The latter will take some practice but you’ll be rewarded with a more cohesive pie.  Regardless of which way you go I suggest investing in a peel – the giant spatula that pizza parlors use.  You’ll thank me later.

As for toppings, well, that’s up to you.  You can stick to tradition with tomato sauce, pepperoni and mozzarella or experiment with less conventional adornment.  It is outdoor cooking so why not replace the marinara with BBQ sauce, pulled pork for the pepperoni and pepper Jack for the mozzarella?  Try basil pesto with grilled chicken, sun dried tomatoes and feta for a pie that is a good deal more authentic than many in this country know.

For the kids you can make a chili dog pizza with turkey chili, sliced turkey hotdogs and cheddar cheese.  Adults can garnish theirs with relish, kraut, onions or even jalapeños.  You can take a grilled pizza skin and cover it with yogurt drizzled with honey and sliced fruit for dessert.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast on the warm water and stir to dissolve it. Set aside until the yeast starts forming bubbles – about 5 minutes.
Sift the flour. Pour the flour into a large bowl or on a work surface. Mold the flour in a mound shape with a hole in the center.  Using a spatula, draw the ingredients together.  Then mix with your hands to form a skin.
Sprinkle some flour on the work surface. Place the dough on the floured surface. Knead the dough briefly with your hands pushing and folding. Knead just long enough for the dough to take in a little more flour, and until it no longer sticks to your hands.
With your hand, spread a little olive oil inside a bowl.  Transfer the dough into the bowl.  On the top of the dough, make two incisions that cross, and spread with a very small amount of olive oil. This last step will prevent the surface of the dough from breaking too much while rising.
Cover the bowl with a kitchen cloth, and set the bowl aside for approximately 1½ – 2 hours until the dough doubles in volume. The time required for rising will depend on the strength of the yeast and the temperature of the room.
When the dough is double its original size, punch it down to eliminate the air bubbles.  On a lightly floured work surface, cut the dough into three equal pieces.
On the work surface, using a rolling pin and your hands, shape one piece of dough into a thin round layer. Make a pizza about 12 inches in diameter.

Outdoor Cooking: Kebab Tips

Originally posted at TheKitchenHotline.com:

Hailing from the mysterious sands of the Persian Empire comes a dish that is both stunning in presentation and simplistic in preparation.  It is also quite misunderstood.  Americans first became familiar with this food-on-a-stick under the name shish kebab and as time has worn on we have ditched half of the name.  Unfortunately we ditched the wrong half.  As it turns out shish means on-a-stick while kebab refers to seasoned meat cooked any number of ways most of which do not involve a stick.

Omaha Steaks Tenderloin KabobsBut like with Christopher Columbus misnaming chilies as peppers, the damage is already done.  For the rest of this post when I refer to kebabs I mean meat-on-a-stick.  Kebabs come in lots of variations including the original shish kebab, Italy’s spiedini and ultimately even the corn dog – a batter dipped, deep fried kebab although that is a pretty loose interpretation.

Now when most of us think of kebabs we think of a long sword like skewer with alternating bits of vegetable and protein.  That makes a striking display but it is not exactly sanitary, especially with poultry.  Cross contamination is a serious concern with kebabs.  You simply do not want raw chicken liquid getting on your vegetables.

That’s why food safety experts suggest cooking the protein all together and the vegetables on a separate skewer.  Sure it doesn’t look as nice but it also won’t have you reaching for the Imodium at 2 AM either.  If the presentation is that important to you then reassemble the skewers after everything has cooked.  Beef, lamb, duck and seafood do not carry nearly as much danger as chicken and turkey do.

Here are a few other tips for a successful kebab experience:

  • Be sure to marinate no less than 30 minutes and no longer than 24 hours.
  • Only marinate in the refrigerator to avoid food-borne bacteria.
  • Meats should be cut bite-sized (uniformly-sized 1 to 2-inch cubes) for quick and even cooking.
  • Fatty meats can be cooked at a higher temperature. Lean meats will need a longer time at a lower heat.
  • When using seafood, choose firm-textured fish (salmon, tuna, mahi mahi, swordfish, shark, etc.) and shellfish.
  • A light spray of cooking oil will help keep the kebabs from sticking. Turn the kebabs often for even cooking.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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