Grill Like a Butcher: Simple Tips to Nail Your Summer BBQ
Days are lengthening, plants are budding, and we’re ready to hang up our oven mitts—it’s grilling season again! For many of us, it’s been a while since we’ve cooked on a live fire. To kick things off, we’re collaborating with our friend Kyle Rothschild at Brown Dog Fancy, a line of organic, small-batch mustards and ketchups, so flavorful that you’ll never go back to mass-market condiments. Together, we came up with the following suggestions to make your next grill-out a success.
Make Smart Meat Purchases
Great meals start with great ingredients, and meat is no exception. You’re probably familiar with the many social and environmental issues that plague factory farming, not to mention that these meats are less nutritious and carry a significantly higher risk of foodborne illness. So, it’s more important than ever to source your meat carefully, and purchase from a butcher you trust.
Look for meat that is “pasture-raised,” meaning that the animals grazed on pasture and moved around naturally. For beef, “grass-fed” means the cows grazed entirely on grass, without supplementary grains. This means the meat will be leaner but have a richer and more complex flavor. It will also be higher in healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. You’ll be able to see the difference in the fat, which is more yellow in color, like hay.
Your meats should be hormone and antibiotic free, which indicates that the animals were raised in healthy living conditions and did not need prophylactic drugs. Purchase meat raised locally to minimize your carbon footprint, and to support our regional farmers in the Northeast.
At the butcher counter, be open-minded and explore new cuts. There’s no reason you have to stick with rib-eyes or NY strip steaks. Ranch, flat iron, bavette, tri-tip, and Denver steaks are all fantastic alternatives to the classic steakhouse cuts. Ask your butcher for recommendations, and they’ll come up with something that fits your preferences and price point.
For sausages, look for ones made with natural casings, not synthetic ones. They will be curved and will have a more pronounced snap when you bite into them. You should also ask about the ingredients; the days of not wanting to know how the sausage is made are over. A good butcher will be transparent about the sausage ingredients, and not use fillers like grains.
Finally, be prepared to pay a bit more than you would for conventional meat. You will taste the difference, and the superior flavor will be well-worth it.
Complement with Great Mustards and Ketchups
Did you know that a tablespoon of Heinz ketchup contains 4g of sugar, more than most chocolate chip cookies? After carefully sourcing your meats, don’t ruin them by using subpar condiments! Many mainstream condiments are full of GMO high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavorings, and synthetic colors. Not only are these ingredients nutritionally void, the flavor of your meats will also suffer.
A better alternative is condiments from a local, small-batch producer like Kyle Rothschild at Brown Dog Fancy. Kyle realized that he was carefully procuring sustainable meats and vegetables, but using them with marinades and condiments with unpronounceable ingredients. Out of his tiny Stamford kitchen, he developed a line of mustards and ketchups that are clean, organic, versatile, and easy to use. Instead of refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup, he uses organic, raw wildflower honey. The result? His mustards make amazing barbecue rubs, dippers, and marinades right out of the jar, and his ketchup has an unmatched tomato-y goodness. It literally goes with everything! These are condiments you will be proud to serve your friends and family—ingredients that taste better and are better for you.
Prep Techniques to Make Cooking a Cinch
For the most part, grilling is fairly simple. Like a good restaurant chef though, you can make your grilling party less stressful (and give yourself more time to drink beer), if you prepare your mise en place. Clean your grill grate the day before. Keep your meats and veggies on separate trays. Burger patties can be pre-formed and sausage can be poached ahead of time (see below). If you’ll be traveling to a grill, bring extra utensils wrapped in plastic wrap, so that if something falls on the ground, you won’t have to wash it.
If you’ve ever had a sausage explode while cooking, you’ll know how frustrating it is. Luckily, there’s a simple technique that can help prevent this: poach your sausages before grilling or searing them. Simply put them in a pot with cold water covering them, and gently simmer them until the internal temperature reaches 150 F. Then drain and pat them dry. The sausages can now be grilled, or you can store them in the refrigerator until needed. This will speed the cooking time on the day of your party, and give you more time to mingle.
Grill to Temperature, Not Time
Have you ever sliced open a chicken thigh, only to be disappointed that it’s still pink near the bone? Meats and grills vary widely, so it’s always best to cook to temperature, not time. This is the only way to ensure that your meat is properly cooked inside; don’t let the exterior fool you!
To take the temperature of a piece of meat, insert the tip of the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, and wait until the gauge stops moving to read it. Fleishers recommends and carries instant-read Thermoworks thermometers, which lead the industry in being fast, hardy, and accurate. Here are our guidelines for cooking various types of meat:
Beef (Medium Rare): 120-125 F
Lamb (Medium): 130-135 F
Pork (Medium): 140-145 F
Chicken: 165 F
After you pull the meat off the grill, be sure to let it rest for five minutes or so. The meat will continue cooking from residual carryover heat, and will also have a chance to reabsorb juices so that your meat stays moist. For even better results, rest the meat on a plate with olive oil or melted butter with fresh herbs. The juices will mix with the oil and aromatics, making an instant sauce that can be spooned over the meat.
Don’t Forget the Veggies
Sure, for most barbeque goers, the meat is the star of the show. But with the start of warm weather, we’re equally excited for the arrival of asparagus, English peas, ramps, fava beans, morels, carrots, salad greens, fiddleheads, and more. While we’re grateful to have year-round produce from California and Mexico, the flavor of freshly picked and locally harvested vegetables wins hands-down. And the best way to let these veggies shine is to blanche or steam them quickly, so that they retain their snap, and dress them with a simple mustard vinaigrette. Check out our recipe for Spring Market Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette below, and let it inspire your next trip to the farmers market.
We’re also big fans of potato salad, as a weeknight side dish for sausages and chops, or as a potluck dish for beach trips and barbecues. Below, we’ve included a recipe for Picnic-Perfect Horseradish Mustard Potato Salad, a German-inspired version that is mayo-free and unapologetically flavorful.
- Sweet Italian Sausage with Tomato & Honey Mustard Relish
- Classic Beef & Bacon Burger
- Picnic Perfect Horseradish Mustard Potato Salad
- Spring Market Salad
Brown Dog Fancy condiments can be purchased at many specialty grocers, including Fleishers Craft Butchery locations in Greenwich (160 E. Putnam Ave, Cos Cob) and Westport (580 Riverside Ave). You can also purchase them online at browndogfancy.com. As a token of appreciation for our honey-making pollinators, a portion of each sale supports the Xerces Society, an environmental non-profit which supports bees.