Bodacious Barbecued Chicken Breasts are delicious.
CHICAGO -- As spring turns into summer, millions of Americans will rush outdoors to light up a grill in celebration. Take some simple steps before, during and after the party to minimize any hangover, gastronomic or otherwise. Here are some simple do's and don'ts from experts who know how to prevent the most common grilling mishaps.
Read or reread the owner's manual for your grill, says Leslie Wheeler, spokeswoman for the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, a trade association based in Arlington, Va. Pay particular attention to the manufacturer's safety hints.
Give the grill a thorough inspection and cleaning. "Make sure the legs are sturdy, that things haven't rusted out, the vents are working properly and the burners are clean," Wheeler says. With gas grills, make sure there are no holes or leaks in any hoses, that the hoses are properly hooked up and all connections work properly.
Use care in positioning the grill. "Lots of people put the grill outside the back door but, really, is that the best place?" Wheeler asks. Grills need to be out of high-traffic areas so children and pets won't bump into them. Ideally, the grill should be at least 10 feet away from the house to reduce fire risk. If you live in a condominium or apartment building, make sure grilling is permitted and know what type of grills are allowed.
Pay attention lighting the grill. Open the hood before igniting a gas grill to vent any fumes that may be gathering there, Wheeler says. Don't pour additional lighter fluid on coals after they're lit; you risk a big flare-up.
Watch chicken especially. "People are terrified the chicken will be undercooked, so they leave it on too long or on too high a flame," says Cheryl Jamison, co-author with her husband, Bill, of "100 Grilling Recipes You Can't Live Without" (Harvard Common Press, $16.95). "You get a charred surface and chicken sushi inside." Chicken should be grilled over medium heat, Bill adds.
Stay focused: "We get frustrated when we see people not sticking with the food," Bill Jamison says. "They're going away, getting a beer, drinking a beer, while the food cooks without them paying any attention to the time or the temperature."
Don't move the food around. Put it on the grill, let it get a good sear on both sides, then move the food to more moderate heat to cook through, say the Jamisons, who live in Tesuque, N.M., just outside Santa Fe. Searing eliminates the risk of food sticking to the grill, Cheryl Jamison says.
Don't squash the burgers onto the grill. "All the juices will run out," Cheryl Jamison says.
Never sauce too soon. "Most sauces on the market are ketchup based, and there's sugar in them," says Myron Mixon, author of "Everyday Barbecue." "The sugars caramelize and start burning." He recommends applying sauce to food at the end of the grilling time or serving the sauce in a bowl at the table. If you want to dab something on the food as it cooks, Mixon recommends an old Southern trick, a mop made of vinegar, salt and red pepper flakes. "Use it for basting, for flavor and for keeping the food from burning," he says.
Practice, practice, practice. Mixon says you should try out any unfamiliar grill recipe a few times before adding it to your party lineup. Don't sweat it if the dish doesn't debut on Memorial Day; Independence Day is fast approaching.
Clean the grill while it's still hot. The work will go faster, Wheeler says. Use a sturdy brush to get any food residue off the grill rack. Make sure the gas is turned off before closing the grill lid. Close the grill vents so a charcoal fire dies out quickly; you should be able to reuse some of the coals next time, she says.
Bodacious Barbecued Chicken Breasts
Makes 4 servings. Prep: 20 minutes. Marinate: 20 minutes. Cook: 15-22 minutes. In their latest cookbook, "100 Grilling Recipes You Can't Live Without" (Harvard Common Press, $16.95), Bill and Cheryl Jamison describe this dish as a "fool-proof version of the all-American backyard classic: juicy chicken coated in sauce with a few charred and chewy edges." Their secret? Using boneless, skinless breasts pounded to an even thickness so all portions cook through at the same time.
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons each: packed brown sugar, butter
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon each: freshly ground black pepper, chili powder
1/2 cup water
3 to 4 tablespoons bourbon
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (6 to 7 ounces each), pounded to 1/2-inch thickness
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or coarse sea salt
COMBINE the ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, butter, Worcestershire, mustard, onion powder, salt, pepper, chili powder and water in a medium saucepan; heat to a boil. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer; cook, until thickened lightly, 5-10 minutes. Stir in the bourbon; simmer, 2 minutes. Remove from the heat; set aside about half of the sauce to serve with the chicken at the table.
PLACE the chicken in a zipper-top plastic bag; pour the Worcestershire over it. Add the oil and salt; seal the bag. Toss back and forth to coat the chicken evenly. Let sit at room temperature, 20-30 minutes.
FIRE up the grill, bringing the temperature to medium. (It's "medium" when you can hold your hand over the grill for 4 to 5 seconds.)
DRAIN the chicken, discarding the marinade; blot any moisture on the surface with a paper towel.
GRILL, uncovered, 10-12 minutes total. Turn three times, giving the breasts a half turn each time for crisscross grill marks. After each side of the chicken has faced the fire once, begin brushing the sauce over the breasts. The chicken is ready when it is white throughout but still juicy and the sauce is a bit chewy and caramelized in spots. If you wish, leave the chicken on the grill an extra minute or two to get a slightly crusty surface.
SERVE the breasts whole or thickly sliced and mounded on a platter. Pass the reserved sauce on the side.
Nutrition information: Per serving: 294 calories, 7 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 102 milligrams cholesterol, 20 grams carbohydrates, 35 grams protein, 707 milligrams sodium, 0 grams fiber.
Spicy Salmon Burgers
Makes 2 to 4 burgers. Prep: 15 minutes. Chill: 1 hour. Cook: 4 minutes. Recipe from "Everyday Barbecue" (Ballantine, $24), by Myron Mixon with Kelly Alexander. Mixon, billed as the "winningest man in competitive barbecue" and a judge on the reality television series "BBQ Pitmasters," recommends chilling the salmon patties for 1 hour before grilling for easier handling. "Take special care not to overcook them: Juiciness is the key to a good salmon burger," he notes.
1 pound skinless salmon fillet, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon each: fresh lemon juice, Dijon mustard
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup prepared tartar sauce
1 tablespoon fresh dill
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)
2 to 4 sesame seed rolls, split
Red onion slices
4 to 8 Bibb lettuce leaves
PLACE the salmon, egg, lemon juice and mustard in a food processor; pulse until coarsely ground. Transfer the mixture to a bowl; mix in the green onions, garlic, salt and pepper.
GENTLY form into two to four 1/2-inch-thick patties. Cover; refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.
HEAT a charcoal or gas grill to medium-high heat. Meanwhile, whisk together the tartar sauce, dill and lemon zest in a bowl.
GRILL the rolls until toasted; transfer to plates. Spread the bottom halves generously with the enhanced tartar sauce.
GRILL the salmon patties uncovered until the fish is cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Place the burgers atop the sauce on the rolls. Top each with onion slices, 2 lettuce leaves and the top half of each roll.
Nutrition information: Per serving (for 4 servings): 609 calories, 27 grams fat, 9 grams saturated fat, 188 milligrams cholesterol, 57 grams carbohydrates, 31 grams protein, 832 milligrams sodium, 1 gram fiber.