It’s barely mid-June, but deep in the heart of Texas it’s hot everyday and the locally-grown fruits and vegetables are rolling into the markets, tables groaning under the bounty of summer. With Father’s Day upon us, it was time to pick up corn, peppers, squash, tomatoes, and ‘shrooms and fire up the grill. We mighta’ sneaked a few chunks of chicken in there, too.
Grilling is nearly a state religion in Texas but, in my opinion, there’s no one way to do it rightly or wrongly. It takes a few decisions, a few key tools, a little bit of creativity, and an apron with a built-in bottle opener and koozie to keep you cool when facing the flames.
First decision: gas or charcoal. Down and dirty grillmasters and -mistresses swear by charcoal. For the last two years I grilled only on charcoal and it does have benefits, such as superior heat control and hot spots exactly where you want them. But all my recent grilling has been on gas, and what you give up in control is a trade-off for easier cleanup and possibly fewer carcinogens launched into the atmosphere.
Second decision: what to grill. I know folks swear by steaks and burgers as their grilling favorites, and while it’s hard to beat a beautifully caramelized piece of grilled flesh, vegetables take on a wholly new character when they come off the fire, delicately charred and bursting with flavor. Marinate them or not before sliding them over the flames, but do give a judicious coating of olive oil, salt, and pepper to minimize sticking and guarantee great flavor.
Third decision: direct or indirect heat. I’m definitely no expert on the benefits of direct and indirect heat for grilling meats, but when it comes to veggies I think that medium direct heat is best, and keep the grill lid closed! Not only will the food cook more efficiently, but you’ll also be rewarded with luscious grill marks and that smoky char. Place your larger, sturdier vegetables over the hottest spots of the grill, which tend to be right between two burners.
Fourth decision: skewers or not. When grilling vegetables I’m agnostic about skewers. Metal skewers do a bang-up job when grilling meat kabobs, since they conduct the heat through the center and help it to cook evenly. Mixed veggie kabobs look amazing, but they are difficult to manage because the vegetables cook at different rates–tomatoes will split before the zukes have even realized they’re getting warm. I think that nice big hunks of veggies cook more evenly when placed directly over the heat, but that it’s worth using skewers for mushrooms and tomatoes, or any other small vegetables likely to break up on the grill. Screw bamboo. Politely, of course.
Arm yourself with a long pair of tongs and a spatula and dinner is yours in about 15 minutes. Your ol’ dad will love it, too.