Spring Grilling Ideas

Today’s advice column is in response to a question submitted by a fellow North New Jerseyan from neighboring Bergen County about grilling.

Dear North Jersey Nonconformist,

Now that spring time is here, thoughts of grilling are dancing in my head.  Unfortunately I seem to always grill the same thing… Pork Tenderloin, rubbed with some random spice I find in the cabinet.  It’s very tasty, but getting a little redundant.  Any suggestions on interesting grilling recipes?


Karl in Bergen County

Thank you for your question, Karl.  Grilling is a subject near and dear to my heart and you’ve come to the right place for advice.  I have three parts to my answer.  I’ll cover the topics of grilling technique, interesting grilling ideas, and book recommendations.

Grilling Technique

The suggestion I make when asked advice about grilling is to understand the two basic techniques, direct and indirect grilling.  Direct grilling is what most people do and it has many useful purposes.  Indirect grilling (sometimes referred to as barbecuing) is an entirely different method of grilling that opens a whole new range of possibilities.

  • Direct Grilling is grilling meat directly over a source of heat. Typically on a gas grill, all of the burners would be on, and on a charcoal grill there would be a thin layer of hot coals on the bottom of the grill.  Direct grilling is best for meats that take a short period of time to cook, where the outside will be seared and the inside will be cooked to a safe doneness temperature.  Things that can be grilled directly are standards such hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken cutlets, pork chops, and steaks.
  • Indirect Grilling is the act of grilling meat over a cool spot on a covered grill while the heat source surrounds it. On a gas grill, this would mean only turning on one or two of the burners on and placing your meat over one that is off.  On a charcoal grill, the coals are placed in baskets on the sides of the grill and the meat is placed in the middle.  In both cases, put a drip pan under the meat.  This technique will increase grilling time but will allow your meat to cook at an even temperature without burning the outside.  This method opens things up to a wide range of possibilities such as whole chicken, whole turkey, and ribs.

A rule of thumb is that anything that takes less than 25 minutes should be grilled over direct heat, and anything that takes longer than that should be grilled over indirect heat.  Indirect grilling can be made easier if you know the doneness temperature of your meat and you have an instant read thermometer handy.

Rubs, sauces, or mops will enhance the flavor of meats that are grilled indirectly.

  • Rubs are typically made of a mixture of dry herbs and spices. They are sold at any supermarket and can easily be made at home with ingredients that you’d typically have in your spice rack.  For example, if I ever need a rub, I’ll throw together a few teaspoons of brown sugar, kosher salt, ground pepper, paprika, and garlic powder.  Give your meat a thorough coat of rub before putting it on the grill.
  • Barbecue Sauces are sauces that are made with sugar. They will burn if they are on the grill for too long so it is best to apply a sauce to meat towards the last 10 minutes of grilling time so it will caramelize but not burn.
  • Barbecue Mops are sauces that are more acidic than sugary and can be applied to meat throughout its grilling time because they won’t burn. Many of them are cider or vinegar based.

I encourage you to read your grill’s instruction manual and practice indirect grilling.  These are the basic steps:

  1. Apply a rub to your meat.
  2. Set an alarm on an instant read thermometer to the doneness temperature of your meat.
  3. Set up your grill for indirect grilling and place a drip pan under the cool spot on the grill.
  4. Place your meat on the cool spot of the grill and keep it covered until it is done. Only open the grill to apply more barbecue mop, or barbecue sauce.  Mops can be applied throughout the grilling process, sauces towards the end.

Interesting Grilling Ideas

Three of my favorite things to grill are all done indirectly.  They take some extra time to grill, but I find that the end product is worth it.

Beer Can Chicken

This is a unique way to grill a chicken that will crisp the skin but keep the insides most and juicy.  A little rub and sauce will top your bird off nicely.  You can easily search for recipes for beer can chicken online and I’ll make a few author recommendations below.  I’ll outline the basic steps here.

First, you’ll need about a 4 pound chicken.  Clean it off and remove the giblets.  Rub it all over with your favorite rub and sprinkle some of the rub inside the body and neck cavities.  Drizzle a tablespoon of oil on the outside of bird and rub that in as well.

Next, you’ll need a can of beer.  My favorite is Pabst Blue Ribbon, but any 12 ounce can will do.  Drink half the beer (my favorite part of making Beer Can Chicken), and punch two more holes in the top of the can with a keyhole opener.  Sprinkle a few teaspoons of rub inside of the can.

Set the grill up for indirect grilling.  Shove the can up the chicken’s ass and stand it up like a tripod on the grill.  Insert an instant read thermometer into the deepest part of the thigh and grill until it reaches 170O F. Optionally, you can coat the chicken with barbecue sauce within the last 10 minutes of grilling, roughly when the thermometer reaches 160O. Remove the chicken from the grill and let it stand for 10 minutes before removing the can and carving it up.  The skin will be crisp and the chicken will be moist throughout.

Baby Back Ribs

I still recall the first time I tried to make ribs on a grill.  I bought some barbecue sauce and some ribs, applied the sauce to the ribs and grilled them over direct heat.  They tasted like raw meat wrapped in carbon paper.  That was a lightbulb moment for me and it was when I taught myself indirect grilling so that I would never ruin another rack of ribs.

I know people who like to pre-broil ribs inside of aluminum foil in the stove before grilling them.  This step is unnecessary if you know how to properly grill ribs.  Here’s what you do.

Get as many racks of pork baby back ribs as you can fit on the cool spot of your grill.  Most backyard grills can hold about two racks of ribs, they may need to be cut in half.

Using a paring knife, remove the membrane from the back of the ribs by slipping the knife between the membrane and bones.  Once you have an opening, you can pull it off with your hands.  You don’t want to grill ribs with the membrane still on the back, it will take the consistency of plastic by the time it is done.

Set up the grill for indirect grilling and rub the ribs with your favorite rub.  Optionally, you can marinade the ribs for 8 hours ahead of time.

Grill the ribs over indirect heat for 1½ hours.  You can apply your favorite sauce in the last 10 minutes of grilling time.  Reserve some of the sauce for serving.

Let the ribs sit for 20 minutes after removing them from the grill.  They should be pulled back from the bones and tender when they are done, and it should come off pretty easily.

Bacon Explosion

This is an offbeat recipe that has many variations available on line, I like the one I found on bbqaddicts and made it several times.  It only has four basic ingredients, 2 pounds of bacon, 2 pounds of Sweet Italian Sausage removed from their casings, barbecue rub, and barbecue sauce.

Cook one pound of the bacon to your desired doneness.  Chop it into bite-sized pieces and set it aside.

With the other pound of bacon, make a 5×5 weave and sprinkle it with some of the rub.  Spread the sausage out on top of the weave.  Top the sausage with more rub, the cooked bacon bits, and some sauce.  Roll the sausage up and then roll the weave around it.

Bacon Explosion Weave

Bacon Explosion Weave

Bacon Explosion Assembly

Bacon Explosion Assembly

Set up the grill for indirect grilling and grill the bacon explosion until it reaches 165O F on an instant-read meat thermometer.  In the last 10 minutes of grilling time, add more sauce to the outside of the explosion.

Bacon Explosion on the Grill

Bacon Explosion on the Grill

Once it is done, let it sit for 10 minutes before slicing and serving it.

Book Recommendations

I learned everything I know about grilling by reading cookbooks by Jamie Purviance and Steven Raichlen.  Both authors each have published over a half dozen books about grilling that contain hundreds of ideas. More importantly, they teach you techniques to grill anything you can possibly imagine.  I learned indirect grilling from just the first five pages of one of Jamie Purviance’s books.  They both make recipes and techniques simple and easy for anyone to understand.

You can purchase any of their books and wouldn’t go wrong.  If you would like the essentials, start with these:

Best of luck with your grilling season, Karl, and thank you again for your submission.

If anybody else is looking for advice of any kind, please send me an e-mail at advice@njnonconformist.com with your question and I’ll be sure to tell you what you need to hear.

Chicken Cutlets with Lime and Dill Mayo and Pickled Red Onions

In a moment of curiosity, I made a batch of pickled onions from a recipe I found on Bon Appetite.  I didn’t have much to do with them once they were in the jar so I threw together a quick chicken recipe that’s easy to make on a weeknight.  As it turns out, the onions aren’t necessary, you can enjoy this meal without them.  You can also make the mayonnaise a day in advance.

For the mayonnaise:

  • 1 C mayonnaise
  • Zest of one lime
  • Juice of one lime
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ t dried dill
  • ¼ t ground pepper

For the chicken:

  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ C milk
  • 1 C breadcrumbs
  • ¼ C extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb chicken breasts thin slices

For the onions (optional):

Combine mayonnaise ingredients and chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes

Combine the eggs and milk in a shallow plate.  In a second plate, spread the breadcrumbs in a thin layer.  Dip each chicken breast slice in the egg mixture to coat on both sides.  Coat each side with breadcrumbs.

Heat olive oil over medium heat.  When the oil is warm, cook the chicken for 2 minutes on each side.

Serve with the mayonnaise and pickled onions, if using.