Grilling in Texas is almost its own religion. It can range in scope from a simple burger night over a few lumps of charcoal to a 26-hour, overnight-fire-tended brisket journey. In some areas of the country, there is a distinct “grilling season,” but around these parts, we cook outdoors pretty much year-round — though it may intensify during the dog days of summer. Whether you enjoy picking your favorite type of hardwood to build your fire or prefer the simplicity of firing up the gas grill, I have all the tips and tricks you need to become a master griller.
Gulf Shrimp and Crab Stuffed Avocado
8 ounces jumbo lump fresh blue crabmeat
8 ounces baby shrimp (cooked)
3 large ripe avocados
2 tablespoons mayo
1 lemon, juice only
1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning blend
1 dash hot sauce
3 tablespoons diced red bell pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
3 tablespoons diced cucumber
1 pinch dry mustard powder
In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except for the crabmeat and avocado and mix well. Taste for seasonings and spice level. Adjust with extra hot sauce or a pinch more salt if your taste buds prefer at this point. Pick through the crabmeat carefully to remove any excess shell pieces, but be sure not to break up the large lump pieces. Fold the crabmeat into the mixture at the last minute. Cut the avocados in half and remove the seed. Scoop the avocados out of their skins with a large kitchen spoon, then slice them into thin strips. Place a ring mold (or simply a piece of PVC pipe) in the center of a plate. Line the inside of the ring with overlapping slices of avocado. Spoon a large portion of the shrimp and crab salad into the middle, then carefully remove the ring by sliding it straight up. Garnish the plate with a little sprinkle of Creole seasoning blend and chopped chives and serve.
Fresh Herb and Goat Cheese Stuffed Portobellos
8 ounces fresh goat cheese
5 large portobello mushrooms
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh cilantro
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh dill
3 – 4 large fresh basil leaves
1 small clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
Clean the dark black gills from the mushrooms, then drizzle with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and place over medium heat on an open barbecue grill, face down. After a few minutes, turn them over and continue to cook. In a mixing bowl combine the goat cheese with minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and the mixture of fresh herbs torn by hand. Mix the cheese until all of the ingredients have been incorporated and a nice creamy texture is achieved. When the mushrooms begin to get soft and give off a little of their juice, add a nice spoonful of the goat cheese mixture right into the center of each portobello. Close the lid of the barbecue and let cook until the cheese gets bubbly and the mushrooms are nice and soft.
Picking the menu: There are plenty of nights when dinner over the grill can be as simple as picking out a protein, like steaks, chops, or chicken breasts and putting the heat to the meat. But when it’s time to really throw down — when you want to throw the best grillin’ and chillin’ party you can muster — these are a few of my favorite tips for choosing the ultimate menu.
- Be sure to get a variety of items for your guests. Remember that some people are off of the red meat right now or have taken the vegetarian plunge completely. Be sure that your grilling menu has enough variety to keep any of your specific guests from feeling left out or overlooked.
- Don’t be afraid to get a little outside your comfort zone. Seafood, vegetables, and even dessert items can often be a huge hit at your grilling party.
- Prep as many items as you can before guests show up. Save some time to hang with friends around the fire so you can also enjoy the party.
Goat Cheese and Pine Nut-Crusted Beef Tenderloin
7 ounces beef tenderloin filet
2 ounces fresh Texas goat cheese
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1 teaspoon chopped chives
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon canola oil
2 pinches kosher salt
1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
Lightly toast the pine nuts in a dry nonstick pan to a light golden brown. Combine the herbs, garlic, and goat cheese and mix with a pinch of salt. Season the filet with salt and pepper, then sear in canola oil. Be sure to brown each side of the filet before turning over to caramelize the outside. If the beef is thick, it may be necessary to finish cooking in the oven. Cook to desired temperature. When the beef is almost finished, smother the top with the herb goat cheese mixture and place in the oven for one minute to warm the cheese. Top with the toasted pine nuts and serve.
Grilled Rib-Eye Bites with Chimichurri
For the steak:
2 pounds rib-eye steak (at least 3/4-inch thick)
Season to taste with Texas Red Dirt Rub, Creole Blend
Thick bamboo skewers
Cut the rib-eyes into bite-sized cubes, removing any excess fat. Place the cubes in a Ziploc bag and spoon in 3 to 4 tablespoons of the chimichurri sauce. Season lightly to taste with Texas Red Dirt Creole spice blend and close the bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours, turning occasionally to evenly distribute the seasonings and marinade. Soak the bamboo skewers in cold water to keep them from catching fire on the grill. Stab each piece of steak with a bamboo skewer and grill over high heat for just a few minutes until a medium rare center is achieved. If the skewers burn too easily, grill the cubes alone, then stab with the skewers just before serving. Serve the meat on a platter with plenty of the chimichurri sauce for dipping.
For the chimichurri:
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, chopped (stems removed)
1 large shallot, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 lemons, juice only
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk together well. Let standat room temperature for at least one hour before serving.
How to Make the Protein Centerpiece
This is still Cowtown, and a huge showpiece steak is always a perfect centerpiece of any backyard grilling party. My two favorites for this are either a tomahawk rib-eye with the long bone or a thick porterhouse. Here are a few tips for cooking the “showstopper.”
- Allow the steak to come up to room temperature before grilling. I call this “knocking the chill off,” and it helps get an even cook once you get started.
- Season the steak well just as it comes out of the fridge, giving plenty of time for the seasonings to soak in while the steak is coming up to room temperature. The thicker the steak, the more seasonings you need to rub into the meat.
- A light coating of oil needs to be applied either to the meat or the grill bars just before the two come in contact with each other.
- Begin the cook on the hot side of the grill and get some nice grill marks. After one set of marks is charred in, rotate the steak 45 degrees (don’t flip it yet) and place it back on the hot grill side. This is how you get those nice diamond pattern marks.
- Once the grill marks are complete, flip the steak over and move to the cooler side of the grill and pull the lid down. Cooking the steak too fast will get excessive char on the outside. For a really thick steak, you can even turn the burner under the steak completely off and use the grill like an oven to slowly bring the entire steak up to your desired temperature. Medium rare is my preferred temp, so I pull it off when it hits 120 degrees.
- Use a digital thermometer to ensure that you get that perfect doneness.
- When you pull the steak off of the grill, allow it to rest for at least 5 minutes or more before slicing into it. This will give you a much juicier steak overall.
- Carve the steak into nice portions but leave that bone on the buffet for show as well.
Tips for grilling pretty much everything:
From steaks to chicken to vegetables, always season your food well, and use a light coating of oil between the food and the grill bars. Season with at least salt and pepper or go as crazy with as much spice and complexity as you like — nobody needs to grill bland food. You can either apply a light coat of oil to the food or bars right before your dish hits the fire. Either way, make sure your foods don’t hit the bars dry, or the two will be difficult to separate. On the other hand, overusing oil can also cause big-time flare-ups, so remember to keep it to one thin layer.
When cooking something that’s temperature-specific like a steak, bring the meat up to room temperature before tossing it on the grill. This will give the steaks a more uniform cooking temperature overall, rather than a drastic variance between the outer and inner layers of the steaks. Season the meat right when it comes out of the fridge, allowing the seasonings to really soak deeper into the steak before cooking.
Rest a steak for at least 5 to 10 minutes before slicing into it after cooking. If you cut a steak right when it comes off the heat — or worse yet, while it’s still cooking — lots of the natural juices will be lost, causing the steak to be less juicy in the end.
Cedar Plank Wild Salmon
4, 6-ounce portions of wild Alaskan salmon, skin on
4 cedar planks
1 whole bunch fresh dill
2 lemons, sliced into thin rounds
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
Soak the cedar planks for at least 1 hour before beginning this recipe, or they will burn too quickly on the grill. Once soaked, begin by placing a light layer of salt down on each plank, roughly the size of the salmon filet that will go on top. Spread out several sprigs of fresh dill over the salt, then lay the salmon fillets on top, skin-side down. Sprinkle more coarse sea salt over the fish evenly, then lay down more sprigs of fresh dill, finishing the layering with a few slices of lemon on top of each piece of fish. This can be done with larger pieces of salmon, but keep the fish at a size that will stay on the plank without hanging over the edges. Heat a grill to high, then place the planks directly over high heat and close the lid of the grill. The fish will cook completely on one side without flipping over, so do not open the lid too many times, or the top will have a hard time cooking. Most salmon will take roughly 6 – 8 minutes to cook, but grills and fish thickness will vary, so use a thermometer to check for doneness. For medium rare salmon, remove from the grill at 125 degrees internal temperature. For medium, cook to 135. While the salmon is cooking, be sure to occasionally check to see that the planks have not completely caught on fire. Light singeing and black smoking edges is perfect, but if a large flame ignites, have a little water handy to douse out the flames. Either pour a little water on the flaming board or have a squirt bottle handy to shoot down excessive fires. Ideally, the salmon should grill, roast, and smoke at the same time.
Grilled Scallop Kebabs on Rosemary Skewers with Herb Butter
12 large diver scallops
3 to 4 very large sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh tarragon
2 sprigs fresh dill
4 to 6 leaves fresh basil
4 ounces butter, softened
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
Begin by removing a few of the rosemary leaves from the stems, then soaking the stems in cold water. They need to soak for at least 30 minutes. Clean the scallops well by removing any small side muscle that may be attached, then pat them dry with a paper towel. Skewer the scallops onto the rosemary stems, leaving a little space between each one. Season lightly with salt, then brush a light coating of olive oil on the scallops to keep them from sticking to the grill. Grill over high heat, being careful that the scallops cook without burning the rosemary too much. Chop the rosemary that was removed from the stems as well as all other fresh herbs. Combine the chopped herbs, softened butter, salt and pepper and warm gently. Once the scallops have cooked, pull them from the grill and brush heavily with the herbed butter while still hot.
Grilled Shrimp with Honey Bourbon Glaze
10 – 12 large wild Gulf shrimp
For the glaze:
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons TX Bourbon
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Juice from 1 lemon
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients for the glaze together and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, just until slightly thick. Reserve some of the glaze in a dish to use as a dip for later. Clean the shrimp well and remove the shells, leaving just the tail portion. Line the shrimp up on a cutting board and run two skewers through them, leaving just a touch of space between each shrimp to allow even cooking throughout. Season well with salt and pepper and lightly coat with oil before grilling. Lay the shrimp on a hot grill and cook for roughly 2 minutes before turning over, then brush liberally with the glaze repeatedly until cooked through. Serve hot with some of the glaze as a dipping sauce.
Tips for grilling pretty much everything:
Utilize the hot-side, cold-side grill for extra control. I like to keep one side of my gas grill on high to get perfect grilling marks, but I leave the other side on low for control when cooking things longer. Often, for a thick steak like the tomahawk, I’ll start the meat on the hot side, make the perfect marks, then flip it over and slide it over to the cool side, then pull down the lid to finish slowly and get the temperature just right without burning the outside.
Use live fire or charcoal for extra flavor. I love cooking seafood like scallops or shrimp over live hardwood coals like hickory, as these proteins cook very quickly and absorb smoke flavors well. Be sure to get your fire cooked down to coals before adding your product to the grill. When wood first begins to burn, the initial smoke flavors can be overpowering, but after the fire gets up to the temperature of orange and white coals, the smoke flavor becomes sweet and desirable. If you only have a gas grill, adding a few wood chips and pulling down the lid can be a great way to add a little natural smoke flavor as well.
Grilled Watermelon with Tequila Lime Vinaigrette
6 – 8 red watermelon slices, 1 1/2-inches thick
6 – 8 yellow watermelon slices, 1 1/2-inches thick
Pinch kosher salt
Place the watermelon slices on a very hot grill and cook for 15 to 20 seconds, then turn 45 degrees and place back down (without turning over). This will make the crisscross grill mark pattern. After another 15 to 20 seconds, turn the watermelon over and repeat. Give each slice a very light pinch of kosher salt after turning over. Do not try to cook the watermelon, just get nice dark grill marks on the outside and stop. They should still have great crunch in the middle. Arrange the slices on a platter, then pour plenty of tequila lime vinaigrette over them.
For the vinaigrette:
2 1/2 limes, juice only
1 1/2 ounces white tequila
5 – 6 sprigs fresh cilantro
2 – 3 sprigs fresh mint
1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
2 tablespoons agave nectar (substitute honey if not available)
6 ounces canola oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Tear the cilantro and mint by hand into rough leaves, then add to a mixing bowl. Add in all remaining ingredients and whisk together well. Allow to sit for 15 – 20 minutes before serving.
Tools of the trade: Your grill is your domain, so pick it wisely. It’s the most essential and central focus of the entire event. Once you have the hardware, it’s time to pick the perfect essentials. Here’s a list of my absolute must-haves to get grillin’:
A good quality digital probe thermometer. Get one that reads the temperature quickly and accurately. I have several brands that I love and even sell one at Bonnell’s Restaurant if you need one last-minute. If you want to go high-tech, there are even cordless models that work with apps on your phone.
A long-handled, sturdy flat spatula is a must.
Well-constructed and reasonably long grilling tongs should last for many years. I like the OXO brand myself, but be sure they have the metal ends, not plastic or rubber.
Oil for the grill. Oil keeps food from sticking to your grill bars. I prefer a refillable spray bottle to gently mist the bars or food right before cooking, but there are many different ways to get your grill bars oiled up from mops to high-temp brushes, or even something as simple as an onion cut in half to spread the oil around. I like to use leftover fresh herbs and tie together a little brush to either oil the grill or add infused oil flavors to foods as they cook.
Spray bottle filled with water. To help control flare ups, I love keeping a flame-dousing squirt bottle handy. If you don’t have one handy, don’t be afraid to drizzle a little of your favorite beverage (like beer) to help keep the flames down when the situation requires it.
Towels. Always have at least one or two kitchen towels handy for wiping off your hands or handling hot trays or utensils.
Cold beverages. Never be caught alone at the grill without a good cold supply of refreshments.
Sauces and Salsas
6 Roma tomatoes
1 red onion peeled and sliced
2 – 3 fresh jalapeños
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro
2 – 3 garlic cloves
2 – 3 chili mora
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper to taste
Char the tomatoes, onions, mora, and jalapenos on the grill to cook through and char the skins. Transfer to a large container and add in the cilantro, garlic, and lime juice and blend with an immersion blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
2 cups Greek yogurt
2 cups sour cream
2 tablespoons fresh mint (chopped)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh garlic (minced)
1 cup poblano (roasted, peeled, seeded, diced)
2 cucumbers (seeded, shredded, strained)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Split cucumber lengthwise, exposing seeds. Remove seeds. Shred cucumber with skin on. Add remaining ingredients, mix until thoroughly blended.
Cover. Label. Refrigerate. Shelf life 5 days.
When grilling vegetables, I always start with thick cuts of sturdy vegetables like zucchini, squash, and larger asparagus. They each get a healthy dust of our Creole or Southwestern seasoning, then a light coating of oil before going directly over hot coals. My goal is to get some nice char marks on both sides, let that natural smoke flavor penetrate, then pull them from the grill before they get too soft. I like my grilled vegetables to have a little texture left, along with plenty of flavor.
Indulge in a brewski: I love to grab an ice-cold local beer while working the grill. Typically, I keep it on the lighter side when working around the hot fire, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice flavor. Our local area has some amazingly talented brew masters with a variety to choose from. Here are some of my faves:
- Local Buzz by Four Corners
- Adios Pantelones by Rahr
- Martin House Pils
- Panther Island Tailgater
- Wild Acre Tarantula Hawk