AS MUCH AS you love spring, it seems like the season’s sole purpose is to test your patience by dangling all things summer in front your face for months on end. In January, your gym buddies start dropping the words “six-pack” and “beach” in the same sentence. Shorts and swim trunks pop up in your favorite stores when there’s still frost on the ground. And the arrival of baseball season leaves you craving summer food long before Memorial Day.
But enough whining. This year, know what you don’t have to wait for? A 75-degree day to give you the green light to grill. We caught up with James Briscione, Director of Culinary Development at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, who taught us how to prep our favorite grill recipes right in the kitchen. To make sure food is just as flavorful as it would be coming off the Weber, follow these tips.
Pick a heavy pan
When grilling indoors, a single pan takes the place of the entire gas or charcoal grill, so the thing better be sturdy. “Cast iron is ideal,” says Briscione “It gets hot and retains heat well, so it will stay hot and give the grill marks you want.”
If using a cast iron grill pan, season it according to the manufacturer’s instructions, then lightly rub with canola oil before each use. If using a non-stick or other type of grill pan, a light coating of oil is all you need.
Burn-proof your meat and vegetables
To ensure a successful indoor grill session, pat food dry if it’s damp, lightly brush it with olive oil, and season both sides with salt and pepper before tossing it over heat.
If you’re grilling with a marinade, brush loose pieces of herbs, garlic, etc. with oil so they don’t burn. “To prep chicken and vegetables, I marinate them with a bit of olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice and lots of fresh herbs,” says Briscione. “But good steaks, like a rib eye, strip or filet, require only salt and pepper.”
Place the grill pan on the stovetop and heat it until it is very hot, then reduce the heat to medium-low and maintain that temperature throughout the cooking process. If the pan starts to smoke, it’s getting too hot and the heat should be turned down.
Set food on the grill and walk away. “A big mistake people make is wanting to mess with the food and check to see if it’s sticking or getting brown,” says Briscione. “Just leave it undisturbed for 3 to 4 minutes, then rotate the food 90˚ without flipping. This will create a crosshatch pattern, and make you look like a pro.” Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes and repeat on the other side.
Let the smoke escape…
“The nature of grilling is to create that charred, smoky flavor; unfortunately that flavor is not possible without creating a little smoke,” says Briscione. Open your kitchen windows and turn on fans before you turn on the flame.
…Or contain it in the oven
If your house or apartment is not well ventilated (city dwellers, we’re looking at you), grill inside the oven to help contain some of the smoke plus speed up cooking time.
How to do it: Place one rack on the floor of the oven and set your grill pan on the rack. Preheat the oven to 500˙F. Give the oven and the pan 10 minutes to fully heat. Then cook items on the grill pan as you would normally, turning halfway through cooking. Keep the oven door closed as much as possible to maintain heat and contain the smoke.
Know what “done” feels like
Grilled meat should feel firm or register 160˚F on a thermometer. After the meat comes off the grill and sits for a few minutes, the temperature will rise to 165˚ or higher. “This is called carry-over cooking, and it’s a good thing,” notes Briscione.
Still not sure if your food’s done? Try this trick: Make a tight fist with one hand. With the other, poke at the tissue between the knuckles of your thumb and pointer finger. That is what cooked chicken feels like. If you loosen your fist and lightly press the tips of you thumb and pointer finger together and feel the same spot, that is what medium rare (or 130˚F) steak feels like.