5 ways to up your grilling game this summer

Tired of the same old hot dogs and hamburgers routine?

Chef Jonah Frazier has the tips and tricks to spice up your grilling game this summer.

Smoke your entry

Smoking meat or vegetables is one of Frazier’s favorite methods for adding flavor and “drama” to a meal, he said.

“It creates the experience that you’ve put way more effort into (your cooking),” said Frazier, chef at Blue Dust in Homestead.

A propane grill can be used to smoke entrees if you don’t have a smoker, Frazier said. Simply put woodchips, which can be found at any hardware store, in an aluminum foil packet. Place the packet on a burner over low heat, and put the entree on another burner.

Frazier cautioned that it takes longer to smoke meat than vegetables, so allotting the proper amount of time is important. With vegetables, the key is simply to add flavor.

Smoking cabbage rotisserie-style and tossing it in a light citrus or red wine vinaigrette is one example Frazier said he has found success with.

“It elevates something as simple as (cabbage) to the next level,” he said.

Veggies are a great alternative starter

Though the traditional image of grilling for a crowd may not include vegetables, Frazier said they are a “healthier and more modern table option.” He recommended going to Trader Joe’s and “raiding the vegetable section” for unique veggies.

Grilled antipasto platters with broccolini or asparagus, for instance, are a good way to switch up the carb and fat-heavy sides typically served at a summer gathering.

Frazier also encouraged taking classic vegetable dishes and thinking about how they could be made better by grilling them. A beet salad can be elevated by smoking the beets and dressing them like you would a regular salad.

Also remember, he said, that grilled vegetables, unlike meat, still taste good if they get a bit cold. That can be helpful — and reduce a chef’s stress — when cooking for large groups.

Don’t underestimate chicken legs

Because chicken wings are more expensive right now, Frazier said a good, cost-efficient alternative is chicken legs.

During quarantine, Frazier occasionally made smoked chicken legs and cabbage or cauliflower and delivered the meal to his neighbors.

He said those are some of his favorite vegetables to grill, and the smoked chicken legs taste just as good as wings — especially when brined and smoked.

While cooking

When cooking for large groups, Frazier advised making large quantities of a food that you can “sit and forget” so that it will not go bad if it sits outside for a while.

If cooking white meat, Frazier said, it is best to brine it in the day or so leading up to grilling. Because grills do not have a way to lock in the juices from the meat you are cooking, it is easy for white meat to become dry. Brining the meat—submerging it in a solution of salt and water—beforehand helps prevent this.

Frazier also suggested continually moving the meat as you are cooking it. This goes for any type of meat. Grills sometimes unevenly distribute heat across the grate or burner, so if the meat is left to sit, some of it may be overcooked and some may be undercooked.

Moving the meat to different points on the grill as you are cooking helps it stay moist and evenly cooked.

If you insist on burgers and dogs

There are ways to make even the traditional hamburger and hot dog menu more exciting, Frazier said.

His rule of thumb: Try combining two foods of similar substance.

Frazier recommended thinking of favorite entrees and how they could be paired with a hamburger or hot dog, all while keeping with fresh, “summer” ingredients.

A classic side dish at any gathering is chips and guacamole. Why not combine that with a hot dog? A hot dog topped with guac, crushed tortilla chips and hot sauce would make a good pairing, Frazier said.

One of Frazier’s longtime favorite foods is a crisp Caesar salad. He suggested making a sort of coleslaw out of shredded romaine, minced anchovies and parmesan cheese, and tossing it in olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Place the slaw on a burger, and you have a fresh take on a summertime classic.

The important thing, Frazier said, is to enjoy the process and try something new.

“You’re having a party, a celebration,” he said, “it should be fun.”

Quincey Reese is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Quincey at 724-757-4910, qreese@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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