Just in time for grilling

Adrienne Freeman/Contributing writer Originally Published April 18, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 17, 2013 at 11:15 a.m.
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Adrienne Freeman

When using charcoal, the briquettes should be gray, ashy and still glowing for just the right temperature. This fire can be for direct or indirect cooking.

The longer days of spring are here, and cooks are looking for tasty replacements for the well-worn menus of winter. In doing so, they can turn to the outdoors for a different approach to preparing almost everything from the kitchen and the bounty of the garden.

The opening day of grill season is completely a matter of taste — or comfort. Some hard-boiled grillmasters will stand covered in snowflakes for the savory perfection of a char-grilled steak, whereas others choose the back porch as refuge from the hot kitchen and a place to enjoy the simple pleasures of family and feast in a spring breeze.

Much has been written about the merits of charcoal versus gas. It is often a matter of convenience — the gas grill satisfies our modern need of instant gratification, but each bite of a charcoal-grilled burger transports us to the simplicity of childhood. Direct and indirect heat methods, on and off the direct flame, are possible in each case.

Some believe that all grilling produces barbecue, but not all barbecue is by grilling. Most purists consider barbecuing to use two time-honored standards — low and slow. The low temperature and long time used to cook the meat allow the collagen tissues to break down, and the food absorbs the smoke and seasoning, yielding a fork-tender, succulent treat. Ribs, pork butt and brisket are excellent cuts for barbecuing.

A more universally familiar method is grilling. Grilling over direct heat is the method of cooking food hot and fast on your grill. Although the usual suspects for grilling are burgers, chicken, steak and seafood, vegetables and even fruit can be grilled. Whole meals can be cooked at once, allowing the chef to serve entrée and vegetables while using the last embers of the coals to caramelize the sugars in freshly picked fruit to be spooned over homemade ice cream for a memorable finish.

One inventive way to manage time, cleanup and actual cooking duties is to use foil packets. If using heavy-duty aluminum foil, remove approximately 10 inches from the roll, fold in half, insert the food between the layers, and tightly crimp the edges on the three open sides. If regular-weight foil is used, double the layers. The packets, which help preserve flavor and moisture, can be cooked in just a few minutes and served directly from the grill.

This whole meal — including dessert — can be prepared in easy-cleanup foil packets and cooked over direct heat. Be careful when opening. It will be hot!

Garlic Shrimp

Ingredients:

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/2 stick softened butter

1/2 cup parsley, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 lemon, juiced

1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Toss all ingredients with the juice of 1 lemon and seasonings. Divide into dinner portions between 2 double-thickness foil packets. Grill over high heat for approximately 8 minutes, turning once with tongs.

Cook’s tip: Any firm fish can be used in this method. Just cut into at least 2-by-2-inch pieces to lessen the chances of the fish breaking up. Be cautious when turning on the grill.

Garden Vegetable Mix

Ingredients:

2 zucchini, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds

2 yellow squash, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds

1 medium sweet (Vidalia) onion, sliced

2 tomatoes, diced

3 garlic cloves, smashed

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

2-3 fresh basil leaves, chopped

Directions:

Prepare double-thickness foil packet, adding all ingredients except basil. Grill over high heat approximately 10 minutes. Top with fresh basil before serving. Can be finished with grated cheese if desired.

Grilled Glazed Peaches

Ingredients:

4 fresh peaches, quartered

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons butter

Dash of cinnamon

Directions:

Prepare double-thickness foil packet. Add all ingredients, and grill over medium-high heat approximately 12 minutes, turning twice with tongs.

Drunken Chicken

This indirect-heat preparation seasons the bird from inside, helps retain moisture and yields a crispy skin. All of the alcohol cooks away, but you can use nonalcoholic beer or even chicken stock if desired.

Ingredients:

1 fryer chicken

2 teaspoons Cavender’s Seasoning or other seasoned salt

1 (12-ounce) can beer

Directions:

Preheat a charcoal grill over high heat. Prepare a gas grill or charcoal grill for indirect cooking. (Preheat gas grill to high heat; then turn one side of the burners off, or prepare charcoal grill until coals are hot, ashy but still glowing on only ONE side of the grill.)

Wash and drain chicken. Pat dry with paper towels. Coat the chicken inside and out with seasoned salt. Open the can of beer. Carefully place the beer can into the rear body cavity of the chicken and set it on the off-heat side of the grill, being careful not to spill the liquid in the can. Cover the grill and cook until chicken is done, approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning the chicken so that all sides get exposure to the heat, approximately twice. The chicken is done when the juice runs clear. (To maintain temperature, keep the grill top closed except when turning the chicken.)

When cooking is complete, remove the chicken into a

baking dish and allow to rest for about 10 minutes. The bird can be sliced while still positioned on the can or removed.

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