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If dreary winter days call for delivery orders, then warmer weather means there’s no excuse not to break out the grill.
Chef Andy Husbands, world barbecue champion and owner of The Smoke Shop BBQ in the Seaport and Kendall Square, grew up watching his father grill in the summer months.
“In my early 20s, I developed this real strong passion for fire cookery — anything from wood fires to ovens to, of course, smokers,” he said. “That intense heat coupled with that light, smoky flavor really takes food over the top, in my opinion.”
But the perfect flavor doesn’t just happen by accident –– there are critical tips and tools behind the technique.
“You have to practice,” Husbands said. “It’s not something where you can just turn on your oven and go. But it’s fun practice.”
Here are his pointers for grilling restaurant-quality meats and vegetables without ever having to leave your backyard.
Choose the right grill
“I have to say, when it comes to grilling, I’m a huge fan of the simple Weber grill,” Husbands said.
He said he feels that the simple Weber charcoal or hardwood charcoal grill is superior to gas in terms of how it leaves food tasting.
A fairly simple but critical step to grilling is to have clean grill grates. Husbands said having a good grill brush goes a long way. Interestingly, he also said that being a little lazy when it comes to cleaning up after cooking can make for cleaner grill grates later on.
“Leave the grills dirty from the last time you cooked,” he said. “Next time, get it real hot, and it’ll scrape right off from the last time you cooked. Easy.”
Remember that whole “patience is a virtue” saying
Husbands said that the hardest part of grilling is fire management.
“People will think their grill isn’t hot enough, so they’ll do something silly and make it get hot too quickly,” he said, “and all of a sudden, things get burnt.”
“In grilling, speed is key,” Husbands said.
That means it’s important to have everything you’ll be using ready and waiting –– there isn’t time to run inside the house to grab something you forgot when there’s a live fire burning.
“You need a good pair of tongs, a grill brush, a spatula, and all of your ingredients prepped and good to go,” he said.
Choose the right items
For those just starting out, Husbands recommended a burger.
“I considered suggesting a steak, but burgers are a little cheaper,” he said. “I wrote a whole book on grilling burgers. It’s kind of like pizza. Even a bad burger is pretty good.”
Much like his suggestion to start out with a simple Weber grill, Husbands also mentioned the importance of keeping it simple with the actual grilling technique.
“I read this book where this guy was talking about how to make the best burger. He was like, ‘First you have to sous-vide it for X amount of hours, and then you have to freeze it in liquid hydrogen, and then you have to deep fry it in duck fat,’” Husbands said. “It’s like this complicated thing, where to me, the very best burger is a cooked burger with my friends on a hot summer day. Food is all about celebration and enjoying each other.”
For an amateur grillmaster looking to please veggie-loving guests, Husbands suggested starting with zucchini or summer squash.
“Local asparagus season’s coming right up,” he said. “You don’t even need to blanch it. Just a little bit of olive oil, little bit of sea salt, roll it on that grill until it’s tender. Boom, you’re good to go.”
Husbands said that grilled asparagus is one of his favorite things to eat in the summer months.
“You want to make it deluxe?” he asked. “Grill some onions, toss in a little lime, add some sea salt.”
Of course, a true New Englander may not be satisfied with grilling unless it involves a little shellfish.
“Sometimes it’s fun to put a cast iron pan on a grill,” Husbands said. “I’ll take some clams, throw them in a cast-iron pan, throw in a little beer, add a little Old Bay seasoning, little butter, and let them steam open. Little Necks from the Cape. That’s the kind of thing you do when you have people over and give them to eat while they’re waiting on everything else.”
Lobster tails, which need to be blanched before grilling, are further up on the difficulty scale, according to Husbands.
“Brush them with a little bit of garlicky butter,” he said. “Cod is very flaky, so it’s difficult, but great.”
One last — and significant — tip
Patience and preparation are at the top of Husbands’ list for a successful grilling session, but the final element is a bit easier to achieve.
“A cold beverage of your choice,” Husbands said. “I find that to be rather important, whether that be an adult beverage or a lemonade.”