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Backyard Grilling

Kicking off the backyard barbeque, I mean grill. I mean that thing outside that cooks stuff.

Memorial Day is the unofficial kick-off for summer and the backyard barbecuing season. We often use the terms barbecuing and grilling interchangeably and this misusage of culinary terminology steams me like a clam in a hot tub.

By definition grilling is a dry-heat cooking method over an open grid, over high heat. This means that you need to use tender cuts of meat. Less tender cuts contain connective tissue, which requires moisture and slow cooking to break it down. The use of high heat also indicates that the cooking time will be shorter. Less tender cuts of meat come from worked muscles in animals. Worked muscles contain more connective tissue, but also contain more intramuscular fat (marbling), which means more flavors. Leg and shoulder cuts are less tender than the center of body cuts like loin or rib eyes. These cuts often cost more. Be cautious of stores selling round or shoulder steaks. When cooking over a grill on high heat they tend to have the consistency of shoe leather.

(Barbecuing is low slow cooking over indirect heat with wood chips for smoke, covered to create a moist environment, making it better suited for tougher cuts of meat, i.e. ribs hams briskets etc.)

Another misused bit of culinary terminology is London broil. Most often what is sold under this name is top round steak. While flavorful, this cut is done more harm by high-heat grilling. Let’s get one thing straight, London broil is a cooking method NOT a cut of meat. Originally flank steak was used, but more often than not stores sell 5-6 pound “London broil” steaks. The size makes this a roast not a steak. London broil has as much of a connection to England as Caesar salad has to Italian cuisine. The main keys in preparing this dish are thinly sliced, against-the-grain beef and a light marinade and sauce.

We cannot talk about grilling without mentioning marinades. Marinades serve two functions; they add flavor and tenderize. The second function is the one that is surrounded by myth and legend. People swear that by marinating meat for days it makes it tenderer. This is only partially true. Acids in marinades do break down connective tissue but it only penetrates a little way into the meat. That is why thin, flat cuts like chicken breast and flank steak benefit most from marinating. Marinating thick cuts of meat for long stretches of time yields a mushy exterior and bland interior. Yes, the injecting needles they sell will bring more flavors to the interior of the meat. They will also bring any number of bacteria such as E. coli from the outside of the meat to the inside. If you inject meat with marinades, you need to cook it to 155 degrees internal temperature. It does take time for marinades to work so, if you marinate that chicken breast for an hour before cooking, you are adding flavor, but it is no more tender than an hour ago.

Marinades consist of three basic components – oil, acid and aromatics. The oil serves two functions; it forms a barrier between the meat and air preventing the growth of bacteria, and it adds fat preventing the meat from sticking while grilling. Acids, such as citrus juices and vinegars, are the tenderizing component. They also serve a vital health component. Some studies show that a reaction between creatines in meat and amino acids, caused by high-heat, flame cooking, produce a cancer-causing agent known as heterocyclic amine. Marinating meats for one hour seems to reduce the formation of this compound. More flavorful and healthy, a double plus for marinades. The third component in marinades is aromatics or the flavoring component. This includes herbs, spices, garlic soy, etc. This is where the chef develops his desired flavor profile.

This summer when you get together and grill, enjoy more flavorful foods and healthier ones too. Marinate meats for at least one hour. Try the following recipes for Jamaican Jerked Chicken, Mojo Marinade for flank steak – far better than London broil, and Tandoori Chicken. Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Mojo Marinade for flank steak*

  • ½ Bunch cilantro
  • ½ Bunch parsley
  • 2 Green onions, chopped
  • 1 Jalapeño
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Juice of 2 oranges
  • ¼ Cup white vinegar
  • 6 Cloves garlic, crushed

Marinate for at least one hour before cooking.

*Marinade is sufficient for one flank steak or 4 New York strip steaks

Jamaican Jerked Chicken

  • 1 chicken, split in half
  • 3 bunches scallions, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup chop parsley
  • ¼ cup chop cilantro
  • 4 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 3 Scotch bonnet peppers, chopped, seeds removed
  • 1 chopped red onion
  • 2 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ cup corn oil
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons cracked black pepper

Mix all ingredients in food processor. Pulse in 15 second intervals. Split chicken down back, removing backbone. Rub with kosher salt and fresh lime juice. Place in large plastic bag. Add marinade. Let sit 24 hours. Cook over medium grill 2 hours until chicken is done.

Tandoori Chicken with Roti (Flatbread)

  • 1 chicken, cut in eighths
  • ¼ cup oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoon garlic
  • 2 tablespoon ginger
  • 1 chopped jalapeño
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons coriander
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons tumeric
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • ¼ cup lemon juice

Combine oil and all spices in food processor. Puree until smooth. Rub on chicken. Marinate 8 hours. Grill over hot charcoal. Serve with Roti.


  • 2 cups cream of wheat
  • 2/3 cup warm water
  • 4 teaspoons oil

Mix cream of wheat and water mix to form dough. Add oil. Knead 5-8 minutes. Rest 1 hour. Break into 12 pieces. Roll on floured bowl. Cook on flat griddle turning twice. Press with spoon if necessary.