Chef shares tips for successful National Grilling Month


Chef Bob McGuire graduated with two degrees from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.

photo by George White

July is National Grilling Month and grillmaster hopefuls everywhere take out their tongs to show their family and friends what magic they can make with fire and meat (or vegetables).

First, some facts about grilling:

• 63 percent of the United States’ population grills monthly.

• 62 percent of Americans own an outdoor grill (63 percent gas grill; 51 percent charcoal grill).

• The four foods grilled most often are, in order, hamburgers, steaks, hot dogs and chicken.

• In the U.S., Northeasterners grill the most, followed by those who inhabit the North Central, the South, and the West.

• The Fourth of July is the largest grilling holiday, followed by Memorial Day and Labor Day.

There are important tips to make the grilled meal tasty as well as safe from the threat of food poisoning, said chef Bob McGuire. McGuire graduated with an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and worked as a chef for Emeril’s. He now teaches culinary classes from his home.

Outdoor grilling gives food the look and smell of doing barbecue. However, because it can dry out the meat, McGuire normally suggests cooking food 80 percent in the oven or frying pan and then transferring to the grill for searing and putting the marks on it.

For those wanting to go ahead and grill, McGuire recommends purchasing a meat thermometer to ensure the food is prepared correctly so it is safe from causing food poisoning.

“People talk about being able to see whether or not the meat is cooked by all different methods. I say put a thermometer in it. There is no rocket science to it,’’ he said.

Safe minimum cooking temperatures are 165 degrees for poultry in all forms, 160 for ground meats and 145 for beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks.

Once you get the basics down pat, it’s time to branch out to other dishes. There is more to grilling than just meat.

“I grill vegetables all the time: zucchini, yellow squash, corn. If you’re worried about it falling in between the cracks in the grill, it should not be on the grill,’’ he said.

Some fish, like salmon, needs to be grilled with the skin on to help hold its shape. Other species need a rack “because sometimes they just fall apart,’’ he said.

If you want to get fancy, McGuire has a recipe for grilled peaches with almond mousse, pizza using a pizza stone (put the heating stone on when heating up the grill or it will break).

The biggest error in grilling is not cleaning a grill after use, especially in the case of messy foods like ribs.

“You need to get the fat off the grill or it drops down to the bottom and you have layer after layer,’’ he said.

Other rules:

• Meat should only be flipped once.

• Meat should never be pierced with a fork during cooking.

• Hamburgers should not be pressed to squeeze out the juices.

• Put barbecue sauce on at the very end of cooking. Any earlier and the sugar will burn.

• Always take it off the grill and leave it on the plate to rest. “It allows the temperature to equalize. 

It does not continue cooking,” he said.

According to the Food Network, the history of grilling begins shortly after the domestication of fire, some 500,000 years ago. 

Until well into the 1940s, grilling mostly happened at campsites and picnics.

Regional variations developed, leaving us today with four distinct styles of barbecue:

• Carolina-style has variations largely in the sauce: South Carolina uses a mustard sauce; Western Carolina uses a sweeter vinegar-and-tomato sauce.

• Memphis barbecue is probably what most of us think of when we think of barbecue — pork ribs with a sticky sweet-and-sour tomato-based mopping sauce.

• Texas, being cattle country, has always opted for beef, usually brisket, dry-rubbed and smoked over mesquite with a tomato-based sauce served on the side.

• The sweet-hot, tomato-based sauce is the model for most supermarket barbecue sauces.