Whether it’s brisket, burgers, Swiss chard, or even cherries, Chef Michael Symon knows how to grill it. Growing up in the Midwest, he remembers shoveling a path through the snow just so he and his family could grill in the wintertime. Now that’s dedication.
This summer, the Iron Chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author is teaming up with Serious Eats and Bank of America to promote his passion for the grill through social media program #123BBQ. We caught up with Chef Symon to learn his summertime grilling secrets.
CL: What do you love about grilling?
MS: My grandfather spent a lot of time at the grill and so did my dad—grilling together and spending time outside creates camaraderie. It brings people together, as food does naturally, but it’s even more so with grilling.
CL: What do you like to throw on the grill on a weeknight when time is short?
MS: On weekdays, I grill quick stuff like chicken thighs or skirt steak, which cooks up in 3 or 4 minutes. I’ll grab fresh vegetables from the garden, do a quick rub or marinade on the steak or thighs, and then I go from there—it’s always fast and it’s always quick—I get the grill hot and let it rip.
CL: What the difference between grilling and barbecuing?
MS: During the week, I tend to grill, and on the weekends, I barbecue. Grilling is high heat, quick results. Barbecuing is low and slow, taking anywhere from 6 to 18 hours.
CL: How do you approach cooking for a backyard cookout? And more importantly, how do you keep it budget-friendly?
MS: I love barbecuing on weekends or for special occasions because I can cook larger, less expensive cuts of meats, like a 10-pound brisket. Once they're cooking on the grill, I don’t need to work anymore and I can enjoy the party with everyone else.
CL: Grilling is a great way to take advantage of fresh summer produce. What are your tips for grilling vegetables?
MS: First, buy a grill basket. It’s much easier to move the vegetables around the grill that way. I love grilling summer green beans, but to sit there and flip 100 of them…you’ll lose your mind! Throw them into a grill basket and it’s just one flip. Also, don't be afraid to cook your vegetables in a cast iron pan on the grill next to your protein—close the lid to get some of that smoke flavor.
CL: What’s a quick and easy way to take a burger to the next level without adding extra calories, fat, or sodium?
MS: Fermented foods are so good for you, and so to make some really great pickles or sauerkraut adds a lot of flavor. Instead of adding another layer of fat, you're adding something acidic to cut the richness of the burger.
CL: Nothing beats grilled summer peaches, but what other fruits are well-suited for grilling? How do you like to use them?MS: I love grilled cherries—the grill basket works great for those. Grilled honeydew and cantaloupe are also delicious, and with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream they’re even better. For my nephews, I’ll make grilled pizzas with Nutella and some kind of grilled fruit, which is delicious. But in terms of a healthy dessert, I love grilled melon with a little bit of Greek yogurt and some torn mint.
CL: What's your latest grilling obsession?MS: I keep a pretty big garden at home, and right now my greens are going crazy. I'll leave the stem on and cut them big, toss them with a little olive oil and some sea salt, and grill them up quickly—they char, they wilt, and they're great with a protein. It’s so simple—a squeeze of lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt—that’s all you need.
CL: Do you have a grilling recipe you'd like to share with our readers?MS: Grilled Eggplant and Mozzarella, a vegetarian recipe from my #123BBQ summer grilling series. Make sure you don’t rush cooking the eggplant—drizzle it with olive oil and let the salt settle for an hour before you place it on the grill.
If you're BBQ-ing this summer, Chef Symon wants to know what's on the grill! Share your photos using the hashtag #123BBQ.