Eats and Drinks
If you want a more tightly textured burger, add salt to your ground beef and mix before forming into patties.
Published: May 29, 2013
This is some weird-ass weather we’re having, even for Baltimore, huh? Some kind of prolonged stretch of not-quite balls-hot like real summer, but definitely no chance of any more snow. Pretty sure this is what’s known to the outside world as “spring.” Anyway, it’s possibly the ideal time to do stuff out-of-doors, like—if you’re lucky enough to have the means—grill. And lest we get bogged down in semantics yet again over the matter, by grill I mean high heat from below, via either coals or open flame. And here in America, that is the opposite of barbecue, which is defined by indirect and/or low heat. Anyway, in the interest of space, I’ll forgo getting all preachy about charcoal versus gas and get straight to some food-related protips.
If you want a more tightly textured burger, add salt to your ground beef and mix before forming into patties. If you want a more tender, crumbly texture, don’t add any salt until after you’ve formed the patties. In either case, do not handle the meat too much or you’ll go blind. But seriously, this is just the beginning of burger wisdom—for the complete lesson, check out next week’s City Paper: The Big Burger Issue.
Use boneless thighs! They are tastier, stay moister, have more uniform thickness (which saves you some prep), and cost less. If you must use white meat, slice the especially large breasts to make thinner pieces. Thick means a long cook time, and lean equals reduced ability to retain moisture over that time. One way to dry-proof chicken breasts is to liberally salt them on both sides the night before. This is a procedure known as dry-brining. Long story short, the salt enables the proteins to hold onto water more effectively. A couple hours before grilling, rinse off any excess salt, and season or marinate as usual.
Very delicate fish, like flounder or farmed catfish, and very lean fish, like cod, tend not to grill well. Salmon, rockfish, tuna, and swordfish are safe bets. For the first two, buy it with the skin on. The skin helps keep the fish intact as a unit and provides a source of moisture during cooking. Always start skin-on fish flesh-side down and cook mostly through, then flip and crisp up the skin. Always liberally lube up fish with oil or even pan-release spray before placing on clean, hot, and also lubed-up grates in order to avoid sticking.
Cut a peach in half along its vertical axis down to the pit, then twist apart and remove the pit. Lube and grill cut-side down to make marks, and serve with balsamic vinegar. Peel and cut pineapple into either rings or spears, and sprinkle with brown sugar. After about 30 minutes, grill briefly to make marks and caramelize the sugar. Cut watermelon into roughly steak-shaped and -sized pieces, using the denser flesh that’s closer to the rind, and not the often spongy center. Lube and sprinkle with kosher salt, and grill briefly to make marks.
To avoid the annoying spinning around of skewered foods—like when you’re trying to flip the kabob to cook the other sides—use two skewers. Much easier flipping. Also, invest in metal skewers. No matter how long you soak bamboo ones, on a hot grill they almost always burn anyway. Skewers are also handy for grilling asparagus. Impale a bunch of spears (nice, eh?) through the bases and toward the tips to form a sort of asparagus raft. Handling asparagus as a single, large unit is much easier than chasing individual spears around, and having them fall through the grate and such. Obviously, very thin spears can’t be prepped this way.
> Email Henry Hong