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Chef John’s 7 Laws of Grilling + 5 Favorite Recipes

Chef John shares some of his favorite recipes and tips for that summertime essential: grilling! These recipes will have you rethinking the grill as your passport to alluring international flavors. Read on for Chef John's best grilling tips and tricks.

Chef John's Yucatan-Style Grilled Pork

Photo by Chef John

There’s nothing better than standing in front of a hot, smoky, crackling, meat-filled grill. Armed with just a cold beer in one hand and grill tongs in the other, I summon the ancient cooking meat-over-fire knowledge we’re all born with. Or cooking vegetables. I don’t judge. Anyway, they say the moment we started cooking with fire was when we truly became civilized -- which is why I believe that anytime we’re grilling, we still feel that magic deep down inside. And you can keep the magic alive with these fresh, new approaches to your grill.

Chef John’s 7 Laws of Grilling

1. Use a probe thermometer. Don’t be a hero. As we say in the business, “There’s no money in guessing.”

2. Grill your bread. After your meat is cooked and resting, use the still-hot coals (or grate) to quickly grill your bread. Everybody knows grilled bread is the best bread. But if you’re going to burn the bread, skip this step. Everybody knows burnt bread is the worst bread.

3. Trim the fat. Internal marbling is a magnificent thing for meat heading to the grill, but large amounts of external fat will cause the flames to flare. Trim fat down to ¼ inch or less.

4. Use a cheap pair of long metal tongs. No fancy grips, no high-tech designs—just durability and performance. Line cooks know. You can find them at restaurant-supply stores.

5. Don’t oil vegetables before you grill them. Excess oil will drip and vaporize, causing that terrible “gasoline” aftertaste everyone hates. Instead, wipe the grates with a little oil, grill those veggies first, and then drizzle with oil (or other dressing).

6. Don’t wear an apron. Keep a few old t-shirts around if you’re really worried about stains, but no one, repeat no one, ever looked cool grilling in a apron. Unless it’s one of those “Kiss the Cook” aprons. Those are fine.

7. NEVER offer unsolicited advice when someone is grilling. It’s simply not done. Insulting your grillmaster host that way is much worse than eating dry chicken. (By the way, don’t overcook the chicken.)

5 of Chef John's Favorite Recipes for the Grill

1. Grilled Spanish Mustard Beef

This is a great marinade for any thin cut of beef: skirt steak, flank steak, round steak, carne asada. The key ingredients here are smoked paprika, sherry vinegar, and Dijon mustard. Add a little crushed garlic if you like. Try it sliced thinly against the grain and served on tortillas with cilantro and hot sauce and maybe some sliced avocado. So simple and delicious.

Grilled Spanish Mustard Beef Photo by Chef John

Grilled Spanish Mustard Beef Photo by Chef John

2. Chef John's Yucatan-Style Grilled Pork

Inspired by recipes from the Yucatan peninsula, this simple pork dish boasts vibrant citrus and chile flavors. Ground annatto provides the beautiful orange hue.

Chef John's Yucatan-Style Grilled Pork Photo by Chef John

Chef John's Yucatan-Style Grilled Pork Photo by Chef John

3. Grilled Five Spice Chicken

Here's Chef John's tasty take on a popular Southeast Asian grilled chicken dish. The marinade stars five-spice seasoning, lime juice, ginger, garlic, chile sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce, and rice vinegar. A simple, bright sauce really brings out the flavor in the grilled chicken.

Grilled 5-Spice Chicken Photo by Chef John

Grilled 5-Spice Chicken Photo by Chef John

4. Lamb Merguez Sausage Patties

Merguez is a spicy north African sausage that, surprise, also makes excellent burgers! You’ll make the sausage yourself, simply combining ground lamb with a quick spice blend, garlic, spicy harissa chili sauce, and tomato paste. Finish your grilled burgers with a crumble of goat's milk feta cheese on top!

5. Grilled Mahi-Mahi with Spicy Mango Sauce

Top grilled mahi mahi with a spicy Thai-inspired mango sauce. So quick and easy, the mango sauce is spicy, brightly flavored and versatile. It would also work great with swordfish, salmon, tuna, or other fish or grilled meats.

Grilled Mahi-Mahi with Spicy Mango Sauce Photo by Chef John

Grilled Mahi-Mahi with Spicy Mango Sauce Photo by Chef John


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Originally published in Allrecipes magazine, June/July/August, 2017.

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