Grilling, with its sizzle and scent of smoke, makes for the ultimate quick and easy summer meal. Since the flames flavor the meat, I like to skip the messy marinades and season the food to taste after it's cooked.
There are a few key tips when it comes to grilling meat. And it starts with choosing good meat that comes from animals raised with care.
Grass-fed animals tend to be leaner, and their meat is full of flavor that is often described as "mineral," or deep and old-fashioned, with a nice firm chew. Thanks to the naturally nutrient-dense diet that these animals eat, the meat is loaded with high levels of omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Plus, it's low-fat and high-protein.
Animals raised outside in the sun and fresh air are simply healthier and free from antibiotics used to prevent illnesses and hormones to boost weight gain. Plus, this style of managed grazing is an important component of regenerative farming, which is essential to maintaining fertile soil.
When it's close to dinnertime, follow these best grilling practices:
• Pat the meat dry with paper towels, then let it come to room temperature until you're ready to cook.
• Get one side of the grill glowing hot but leave the other side a little cooler, creating two temperature zones so food can be moved back and forth between them.
• Be sure to clean the grates with a grill brush (it's easier when the grill is hot) and then brush the grill grates and the meat with oil to prevent sticking and to encourage browning.
• Grilling is an inexact method, so follow the flames — not the cooking times in a recipe. Try to grill the meat over direct heat until the underside no longer sticks to the grate and releases naturally. Then flip, turn and cook until the other side is speckled with char and the meat registers doneness on a meat thermometer. If it needs more time, move the meat to the cooler part of the grill.
• After the meat has cooked, let it rest so the juices stay intact. Then dress it up with a bold sauce, an intense spice mix, a dab of herb butter or a snappy vinaigrette (see recipes).
Just knowing the benefits of grass-fed meat — better taste, more nutrition, a cleaner environment, improved soil health — and how to properly prepare it increases the pleasures of cooking outside on the grill.
Steak and White Bean Salad with Blistered Tomatoes
Creamy white beans pair beautifully with the boldly seasoned steak while the blistered tomatoes give this salad color and snap. This recipe is easily doubled. From Beth Dooley.
• 1 pint cherry tomatoes
• 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for tossing with the tomatoes
• 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
• 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
• 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 3 c. arugula
• 1/2 lb. cooked steak, sliced thin
• 1 c. cooked or canned cannellini or navy beans, drained and rinsed
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Scatter the tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with just enough of the olive oil to lightly coat. Roast the tomatoes until they burst and their skins darken, about 15 to 20 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally.
Put the olive oil, vinegar, rosemary and mustard into a small jar with a lid. Shake vigorously. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Arrange the arugula on individual plates, then add the beans, steak and cherry tomatoes. Drizzle the vinaigrette over all. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
T-Bone Steak with Worcestershire-Herb Compound Butter
Here's a luxurious finish to this luxurious cut of beef — T-bone. Make sure it's well marbled, dry-aged and thick, about 1 1/2 to 2 inches high. Choose the USDA "Prime" grade for best quality. No need to prep the meat, just sprinkle with coarse salt about 40 minutes before cooking. This draws out the moisture and breaks down muscle fibers. Right before grilling, grind pepper over the steak to give it a sharp, crunchy crust. You'll end up with more compound butter than you need, but its brawny flavor is perfect on chicken and burgers, too. From Beth Dooley.
• 1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
• 1 clove garlic, grated
• 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
• Grated zest of 1 lemon
• 2 (1 1/2-inch-thick) bone in T-bone steaks, about 1 1/4 lb. each
• Coarse or kosher salt
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• Freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl, smash together the butter, thyme, parsley, garlic, Worcestershire sauce and lemon zest. Taste, adjust the seasonings and spoon the butter into a small crock and set aside.
About 30 minutes before grilling, sprinkle both sides of the steak with the salt.
Heat a grill until very hot. Brush the steaks with the oil and then the coarsely ground black pepper. Place the steaks on the grill and turn every 30 seconds for about 1 to 2 minutes to develop a good firm char. Then, move the steaks to the cooler part of the grill and continue cooking until medium-rare, 120 to 125 degrees on a meat thermometer.
Remove the steaks to a platter and immediately spread about 1 to 2 tablespoons of the compound butter over them. Allow steaks to rest about 10 minutes before cutting across the grain for serving.
Grilled Pork Belly with Asian Glaze
Serves 4 to 6.
Pork belly is flavorful, rich and finger-licking fabulous. It can be tricky to cook on a grill, thanks to the luscious fat that tends to flare up. The trick is to use the two-zone grilling method so that the edges become crispy and the meat becomes tender. Serve this on soft buns topped with spicy coleslaw or just with a light noodle salad. From Beth Dooley.
• 2 tbsp. soy sauce
• 1/4 c. honey
• 1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
• 2 to 2 1/2 lb. pork belly, cut into 1/2-in. strips
• Coarse salt
Put the soy sauce, honey and ginger into a small jar and shake to combine.
Lightly season the pork belly with salt. Heat the grill to high. Place the pork belly over the hot side of the grill, being cautious about the flareups, and cook just 1 minute per side to develop some color, then move the pieces to the cooler side of the grill. Close the lid and cook for 1 minute. Flip and baste the pork belly pieces with the sauce every 4 to 7 minutes, keeping the lid closed between flips until the pork belly is thoroughly cooked through, 145 degrees on a meat thermometer, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Grilled Sausages, Onions, and Peppers
Note: Here's a summer classic. Use the caramelized onions and peppers as a bed for the links. Try the vast variety of sausages in our butcher shops and co-ops — lamb, pork, beef, duck. Serve with mustard and crusty bread. From Beth Dooley.
• 1 lb. mixed bell peppers (red, yellow, orange), seeded and cut into 1-in. strips
• 2 onions, thinly sliced
• 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, or more if needed
• Coarse salt
• 2 lb. fresh sausages (see Note)
Heat the grill to medium. Toss the peppers and onions with the oil and sprinkle with the salt. Lightly prick the sausages so they don't burst.
Put the onions and peppers on the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until they're dark at the edges, about 10 minutes, then move to the side of the grill. (Use a grill pan or basket if your peppers and onions are sliced too small.) Place the sausages on the hot side of the grill, rolling to create a nice char, then move to the cooler side of the grill, cover and turn occasionally, until cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the onions and sausages to a platter and then place the sausages on top.
Beth Dooley is the author of "The Perennial Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.