The season of grilling is upon us! Summer essentially mandates cooking outdoors, but sometimes the stick of a bad grill can ruin a good cook-out. Getting great grill marks on your food is the sign of a grill master, but sometimes that can be difficult to attain, even as the most seasoned griller. Enter, the magic of a Food Stylist: trained to make food look pretty and most accurately reflect the recipe to readers. Making sear marks and grilling food for photo shoots is actually a little more involved than you might think, but with these styling tips, you can fool everyone into believing your master status!
I remember one specific shoot we were working on—grilled okra on a skewer—and since the okra were cut into different sizes, it made more sense to grill them individually instead of actually on the skewer to get great marks. After they were grilled, they were threaded onto skewers for the photo. It just made more sense to have consistent marks over staying true to the procedure. I developed these next few tips from that experience in grilling okra and have tested them against many types of vegetables and proteins, even citrus! It's all about high temperature, proper oiling, and sometimes, all it takes is a little styling.
Achieve High TemperaturesWhether it be on a grill pan on the stove or an outdoor standing grill, it is important to keep your grill grates super hot, but not to the point of scorching. You want to make sure you achieve the balance of cooking your food while it makes marks, which can be a daunting task. This is especially true when a grill can achieve higher temperatures, even if your stove is locked in on a specific level. A fire under a grill can also fluctuate, so it is important to listen to the way your grill is operating. If you are finding marks before your food is completely cooked, gently turn down your stove or move your food away from the direct heat source. Gradual changes in heat are more reliable than cutting off heat all together. Grilling takes time and patience, master!
Essential OilingI have found that the best way to oil up grill grates is to first make sure they are clean. Before you turn on the grill, make sure that you have scrubbed as many remnants from your last grilling session as much as possible. Don't stress— oftentimes when you get your grill hot, it is easier to scrape away any grime. I have used kosher salt on my cast iron grill pan before, heated it up for about 20 minutes, and then used a thick-bristled brush to get rid of any buildup.
After you have a clean grill (as much as it can be cleaned), oil the grates with a brush or a simple paper towel. Dip clean paper towels into canola oil and wipe the grill until evenly coated. If your grill is too hot at this point, grab the towel with a pair of long tongs and apply. I would rather use canola oil over olive or coconut oil simply due to the expense. When you grill food, it doesn't absorb much fat from the oiling. It is to simply prevent your food from sticking. Grilling is perfectly suited for the lowly canola oil, so don't be afraid!
Press to SuccessGrilling proteins such as beef or chicken can be a challenge due to their uneven surfaces. I chose a flank steak to demonstrate- if you can tell in the photo below, the markings are more pronounced near the right side where the meat is thicker. In order to prevent this from cooking the rest of the flank, I placed a medium sheet pan directly on top of the meat and a few heavy objects on top to weigh it down. This allowed the surface to brown while the actual meat cooked, avoiding the boring lighter brown surface you might get in a simple sear. Sometimes vegetables need a little help, too, even if their surfaces are fairly even. Pressing the food into the grill will help create marks, just make sure you've properly oiled the grates.
Great GrillsWorking out of an apartment, I am subjected to using the supremely underrated grill pan. Luckily, I have the same pan we use in the studio—the delightful Lodge Pro Reversible Grill/Griddle. The grates have enough height to create excellent markings, and the cast iron can get super hot to cook food quickly and evenly. My apartment's smoke detector doesn't really appreciate my indoor cook-outs, so if I were to opt for outside grilling, I would choose a charcoal grill over gas. You can build your fire this way, creating heat zones in order to better control the way your food cooks.
Do you have any tips I may have missed? Comment below with your ideas. We'd love to share them. Onwards and upwards to great grilling!