By Pam Vukelic
Step into your backyard and you can probably smell what season it is. Grilling season! There are so many cooking options available today, whether you have a bona fide outdoor kitchen or are eking the most out of the charcoal grill you’ve had for years. I’ve heard much talk recently about the grills that burn wood pellets. I spotted a Cuisinart grilling center in a store that intrigued me, but I’m really quite happy cooking on my 15-year-old Weber gas grill.
Burgers and brats are the go-to item for many grillers. Schweitzer’s Gourmet Meats in Bismarck sells bacon cheeseburger patties. At the Wurst Shop in Dickinson I had a hard time deciding which brats to buy. There have elk, bison, jalapeno, habanero, and Italian basil, for example. Owner Kristina suggested I take the time to steam the brats for a little while before finishing them on the grill.
Although my Weber doesn’t do many of the tricks the new-fangled grills can perform, a little knowledge goes a long way. For example, pay attention to where the direct heat is and use that area of the grill for browning and high heat cooking. For longer term cooking, move your food to a spot where indirect heat provides more of a roasting effect. Preheat your grill. Keep your grates clean. Oil your grates prior to use. I avoid cooking sprays because the flare-ups make me nervous. A folded paper towel dipped in vegetable oil then rubbed on the grates using tongs is my preferred method.
My nephew Brent shared a couple techniques with me, both done on his round Weber charcoal grill. To smoke a cut, such as a brisket, check out the Snake Method. Charcoal arrangement provides cooking heat for up to 12 hours. The Spatchcock Method involves grilling a whole bird, such as a chicken or turkey, in much less time. The backbone is removed and the bird is flattened resulting in moist meat and crispy skin. I wish Brent’s backyard was not in Kansas!
There are many tools that come in very handy. A domed lid (you could use one you have for a pan or buy one specially designed for this purpose) placed over the item you’re cooking (maybe a grilled cheese sandwich) helps to speed up melting and concentrate heat. Wooden items such as cheese planks for Brie, cedar wraps for scallops, cedar planks for salmon, and skewers for any number of items will serve you well. They are, however, usually only good for one use and should be soaked in water for a while before placing on the grill. The wood will impart flavor and the presentation is delightful. Thermometers take the guesswork out of the process and have become very sophisticated. They will talk to you or send a message to your phone.
Use your grill all day. We recently were served French toast off the grill in Medora. Bacon can be cooked right on the grates or threaded on skewers. Fruits such as pineapple or peaches are especially delicious when the sugar caramelizes on the grill.
The dessert menu at The Pirogue Grille inspired me recently. They offered grilled almond cake with strawberries and cream. Delicious! I pulled out my recipe for Swedish Almond Cake and baked it in the oven as usual. Once cooled, I sliced it into 1.25 inch thick slices. I lightly buttered each cut side and placed slices on a hot grill, with the cover down, just long enough to develop grill marks and impart a bit of smokey flavor. Top with your choice of whipped cream, ice cream, lingonberries, strawberries, blueberries, or blackberries. Oh, that we had access to some gorgeous cloudberries like our dear Aunt Anna served us in Eidfjord, Norway years ago. Cloudberries there are a bit like morels here. If you know where to find them, you keep that location your private secret.
Pam Vukelic is retired from more than two decades of teaching. She says this is a wonderful time of year to use great ingredients from farmers’ markets and gardens. Pam encourages you to take advantage of this to add appeal to your dishes.
Individual Breakfast Pizza
1 small naan bread
olive oil spray
1 egg (I scored pullet eggs at BisMarket. Awesome!)
shredded Cheddar cheese
shaved Parmesan cheese
chopped chives, green onions, and flat leaf parsley for garnish
Spray bread with olive oil on both sides. Briefly grill one side. Turn over and break egg onto the top of the bread. Over indirect heat and with the cover down, let the egg cook until nearly all the white is set. Add bacon and cheese. Heat until cheese is melted. Add herbs.