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Chef Elizabeth Karmel Shares Grilling Tips

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Consumers spent more than $4.9 billion on grills, smokers, camping stoves, accessories and fuel in 2020 reports retail data tracking service, The NPD Group.   Summer is the most popular season for grilling; however, 75 percent of grill owners cook during the winter months (Global Newswire).

Grilling can be a healthier way to cook meats since the fat drips away from the food as it cooks and there is no need for heavy oils and sauces or batters.*

Elizabeth Karmel is one of the country’s top grilling experts, with 25+ years of experience in the industry. For many years Karmel handled marketing and public relations for Weber-Stephen Products Co., the makers of Weber Grills, learning the business inside and out, before stepping out on her own to become a culinary consultant and professional chef. Along the way, she opened Hill Country Barbecue Market in New York City and D.C., and Carolina Cue To-Go celebrating her native North Carolina whole-hog barbecue and vinegar sauce. She has appeared on network morning shows and numerous episodes of Food Network shows as a guest judge and grilling specialist and hosted her own television special on The Cooking Channel.  www.elizabethkarmel.com

Grilling Expert Elizabeth Karmel says the SPARK Grill (in photo) is the latest innovation in charcoal grills.  

Karmel is the author of four cookbooks on grilling and barbecue including Taming the Flame: Secrets For Hot-And-Quick Grilling and Low-and-Slow BBQ, Pizza on the Grill, and Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned: A Complete Guide to Flavoring Food for the Grill.  Her most recent book is the best-selling Steak & Cake, which was inspired by a class by the same name she taught on Saturday nights at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York City.


Santé Magazine asked Karmel to share a few of her professional grilling tips:

Start with the best ingredients

Karmel is a firm believer that everythings starts with how and where you source your food; how it’s grown and the care taken to ensure its quality. She shares this:

Beef: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has stringent grading guidelines, and Certified Angus Beef (CAB) has even more stringent guidelines. If you don’t have a small rancher near you, look for products in your grocery store labeled “Certified Angus Beef” or “CAB” for short which indicates that the beef has been graded and accepted by CAB, this means it is of excellent quality—either high choice or prime.

For example, seek out smaller farmers and ranchers known for their commitment to quality and sustainability. Two ranches that come to mind are E3 Ranch in Kansas started by Major League Baseball player, Adam LaRoche. The other is Genesee Valley Ranch in Sierra Nevada, CA, which is raising Wagyu beef. You can buy direct, and the beef is also sold through Palmaz Vineyards in Napa Valley under the name, Brasas Wagyu Beef.

Poultry: Look for antibiotic-free and air-chilled which means the chickens are chilled down by cold air and not soaked in chlorinated water to chill the birds after processing. Two recommendations are Amish chicken and Bell & Evans.

Fish: Seek out a fish market with high turnover to ensure freshness. For frozen products such as shrimp, look for individual quick frozen (IQF). Allow the shrimp to remain frozen and thaw in cold running water just before cooking. Once the food is thawed it starts to lose freshness, so it is better to thaw it yourself at home.

Vegetables: Choose farm-fresh or organic vegetables that can hold up on a grill and work as a main dish. Portobello mushrooms, eggplant, and cauliflower steak are popular options. I also recommend grill-roasting whole carrots. If you dress them up with grilled scallions, toasted pumpkin seeds, fresh herbs, and creamy blue cheese, they will satisfy like any main dish.  Grill whole onions in their skin until they collapse and serve with a balsamic reduction for an unexpected side dish.  Stuff those same onions with seasoned spinach and/or mushroom mixture for a hearty main dish.”

Grilling Photo
Summer is peak grilling season, but grilling is a popular cooking method year-round in many restaurants.
Credit: Deposit Photos

Keep seasonings simple

“Make sure to oil the food and not the grates. This keeps the juices in the food and prevents the food from drying out. It also helps to prevent the food from sticking to the grates and makes it easier to turn them. If you oil the hot grates instead of the food, you run the risk of burning the oil and “gluing” your food to the grates. And, as we professionals know, burned oil is sticky. Think of all those sticky sauté pans we’ve held!

I use my “holy grilling trilogy” of olive oil, kosher or sea salt, and freshly ground pepper for everything. It enhances the flavor of your best-quality ingredients. After that, you can add your favorite herbs and spices to suit your mood and the origin of your dish.

For an easier—and healthier—seasoning option, I created a technique where I soak shallots in wine, spirits, or cognac and mix them with softened butter to create a compound butter that mimics the flavors of a complex sauce.  I’ll also sauté grilled food with a lighter flavored vinaigrette. You can dress up a grilled dish with relishes, pestos, and chimichurri sauces, but use a light touch since you never want to cover up the flavor of the meat.”

Be mindful of safety

“Wash produce in a sink or large container filled with cold water and a cup of distilled white vinegar for at least 15 minutes. Vinegar is a natural anti-bacterial and gets rid of surface bacteria. It also makes the food taste cleaner and brighter.

I recommend keeping separate 12-inch locking chef tongs for raw and cooked food, and color-code them with Red (stop) and Green (go) duct tape to avoid cross-contamination.

If you have a flare-up, make sure the lid is down and you’ve eliminated as much oxygen as possible, and it should naturally go away. If it’s more than a flare-up, use kosher salt or baking soda to extinguish a grill fire—never water which can turn into hot steam and burn you, or crack the porcelain enamel finish of your grill grates. 

If the fire is persistent, turn the gas off immediately, remove the food and smother flames with the kosher salt or baking soda to extinguish. Keep the lid down until it is cool and the fire is out.  And every kitchen, balcony and backyard should have a fire extinguisher on hand.”

Match heat to meat

“Once you know the difference between direct and indirect heat you can implement the grilling trilogy.

Direct Grilling means that you put the food directly over the heat source—similar to broiling in your oven.

Indirect Grilling means that the heat is on either side of the food and the burners are turned off under the food—similar to roasting and baking.

Basically, my rule of thumb is anything that takes 20 minutes or less to cook should use direct heat, and for anything requiring more than 20 minutes to cook use indirect heat. The bigger, heavier and denser the item, the longer it takes to cook. If you are concerned about burning your food, move the items off the direct heat to indirect heat.’

Karmel also suggests checking out the new SPARK grill which is an innovative charcoal grill that uses a small sleek compressed charcoal “briqs” as the fuel and a fan to regulate the temperature.  The charcoal grill uses consistent indirect heat to cook all foods.

* A Health Note: Reduce the risk of harmful carcinogens

Lab studies have shown that grilling and charbroiling meat, fish, or other foods on high heat can create chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that form in the flames and are carcinogens that stick to the surface of the cooked meat.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR)  recommends these precautions:

  1. If you choose to grill, limit red and processed meats, both of which link to colorectal cancer.
  2. Use leaner cuts and trim the fat off meats to reduce risk of flames.
  3. Marinate meat and poultry for at least 30 minutes prior to cooking  to help reduce formation of cancer-causing compounds.
  4. Cut larger meats into smaller pieces to lessen cooking time and use indirect heat.
  5. Add more grilled vegetables and fish which require less cooking time.

An engaging speaker and writer, Melanie Young hosts the weekly national radio shows, The Connected Table Live, featuring conversations with global thought leaders in wine, food, spirits and hospitality (a Feedspot Top 10 Food & Drink Podcasts for 2021), and Fearless Fabulous You, a lifestyle show for and about women (both on iHeart and more than 30 other podcast platforms). Young has contributed articles on wine, spirits, food, and culinary travel to Wine Enthusiast, Seven Fifty Daily, Wine4Food and Jewish Week. She is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, Wine Media Guild, and Women of the Vine & Spirits. Young’s former marketing and events agency, M Young Communications, worked with global wine, food organizations, publishing companies and nonprofits. She had an integral role in the creation, launch and management of The James Beard Foundation Awards, New York Restaurant Week, and Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund (2001) which raised funds to provide for the families of restaurant workers killed in the September 11th terrorist attacks. www.theconnectedtable.com www.melanieyoung.com Instagram @theconnectedtable

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