Summer starts when the grill is smoking, no matter what the
calendar might say
Though the official start of summer is still weeks away, the
season always starts for my family when the weather is warm enough
to fire up the grill.
Summer starts when the grill is smoking, no matter what the calendar might say
Though the official start of summer is still weeks away, the season always starts for my family when the weather is warm enough to fire up the grill.
Growing up, we had the typical black Weber pit that so many people rely on for summertime meals. Since my sister and I have July birthdays – just three days apart – every birthday party as a kid seemed to include hauling the pit to Miller Park in Gilroy for a barbecue.
We’d have hamburgers, hotdogs, corn on the cob and when we were lucky, my grandfather would make a treat that has a name I am not sure how to spell but that was always delicious. It is made with flank steak stuffed with butter, parmesan cheese and bread crumbs marinated in teriyaki sauce.
Outdoor cooking also reminds me of some of the great times I have had with friends. On one rafting trip, the mini-propane pit a friend brought along malfunctioned – proving my point that charcoal is always reliable – as we had to swap our chicken onto someone else’s Weber grill to get it cooked to a temperature safe for eating. One of the fun things about using the grill is finding ways to be creative – as one friend did when he made me a full breakfast of French toast, scrambled eggs and sausage on the same trip.
In South Africa, while I was on safari during a graduate school summer program, our tour guides barbecued for us. In the slow-going culture where lunch breaks take at least two hours, the guys would fire up the grill around 9 p.m. and we impatient Americans would be starving by the time everything was cooked at 11 p.m. after a long day of exploring the wilderness. The meat they seared was unidentifiable to me and included, boerewors, traditional South African sausages. I skipped the meat and stuck to the canned fruit cocktail and garlic bread, but the fun of it came in sitting around the campfire and laughing with friends.
As I’ve watched way too much Food Network and started reading the Food section of several publications, I’ve learned that the options for grilling and barbecuing are limitless. A few years ago I discovered my favorite fajita recipe when visiting some friends in Southern California. And last year, we grilled peaches and nectarines, drizzling them with a bit of crème fraiche and molasses. The faithful stand-by for the barbecue – the burger – has so many options for mixing it up, I can’t count them all. In this occasional column, I invite you to experiment with me as I spend some time cooking in the great outdoors.
3 limes – juiced
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
Half a bunch of green onions, chopped
1 tbsp. red pepper flakes – add more for spicier flavor
4 chicken breasts
Optional – a splash of tequila
Bunch of asparagus
4 portobello mushroom caps, sliced
3 bell peppers, sliced
1 red onion, sliced
Optional – cheddar cheese, sour cream and guacamole to top the
Chop uncooked chicken breast into bite size chunks. Place in a zip lock bag or an airtight container. Add olive oil, lime juice and optional tequila. Mix well. Top with cilantro, green onions and red pepper flakes and toss. Marinate for two hours – best if marinated over night.
Fire up the grill to medium heat – if using a charcoal grill wait until charcoal has ashed over.
Season the vegetables with olive oil, salt, pepper, cumin and chili powder.
There are two options here. If using a grill basket or a wok, toss the meat and veggie mixture in and it’s good to go. Mix from time to time and cook time will be about 20 minutes. If not, use wooden skewers for the chicken and veggies, being sure to soak the skewers well before using them. The chicken cooks in about 10 minutes. Cook veggies to preferred texture.
Warm tortillas for just 30 seconds on the grill, fill with the cooked meat and veggie mixture, and garnish as desired.
Grilled peaches with molasses
4 freestone peaches
Cut the peaches in half, removing the pit. Freestone varieties work best as the pit comes out easily. Grill the peaches for 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove to a tray. Fill the dimple from the pit with crème fraiche and drip with molasses.