Marc Vetri Says To Ditch The Olive Oil, Plus More Grilling Tips From Philly’s Top Chefs

Steak...on the Grill

Burnt chicken. Overcooked steaks. Singed eyebrows. Grilling can be a real pain, and it’s a lot of work. Plus, you know that if Uncle Harry’s rib eye isn’t perfect, he’s going to be kvetching about it until Labor Day. To give you a fighting chance, we checked in with some of the city’s best chefs to find out what to do — and what not to do — to make your cookout killer. Happy 4th!

Chicken Is Not Supposed To Be Black

“When you see super-burnt chicken, this is because there are too many coals on the grill. You want to start off with lower heat, so put your chicken pieces on the cooler part of the grill, and then use the hot spot later to crisp up the skin. Sometimes, if you have a ton of people coming over and want to make sure everyone is taken care of, you can even cook it first inside, in the oven, and then finish it up on the grill, with your sauce.” – Erin O’Shea, Percy Street

Lighter Fluid Is the Antichrist

“When I go to cookouts, it is so off-putting to see people dousing their coals in lighter fluid. These are chemicals. You’re going to be eating off of those coals. Plus, the easy light coals burn way too fast. The easiest way to deal with lighting the grill is a chimney starter. You can have your coals rippin’ hot in 20 or 25 minutes. Just add a little newspaper and you’re there.” — Nick Macri, Southwark

Don’t Forget Your Veggies

“Vegetables are great on the grill. For most, I salt them a little to get some of the water out, maybe 20 minutes before. Then, put them on a screaming hot grill. Others, like beets, onions, and garlic, I put right in the coals wrapped in foil. You can even grill fava beans and peas in the pod. You just put them on a fine grate. Right now, we’re doing a smoked zucchini puree. We sautee slivers without the seeds, then smoke and puree.” — Josh Lawler, The Farm & Fisherman

Don’t Fear the Fish

“I love doing a whole side of sea bass or salmon on a gas grill. Nothing too big, like a swordfish, or you’ll be there for 8 hours. But a nice Chilean sea bass, 3 inches thick, it will feed a family of five, and all you need is some salt, pepper, and olive oil. Soak a cedar plank overnight, line it with limes, and then just put the fish on it with some kosher salt. The whole thing goes on the second tier on medium high. Maybe 25 minutes later, that’s it.” — Romeo DiBona, Old Homestead at the Borgata

Touch Yourself (To See If Your Steak Is Done)

“It’s easy to tell when a piece of meat is cooked to the right temp. Touch your cheek. That’s how it will feel when a steak is right around medium rare. If you have to cook it a little more, touch the tip of your nose. That’s medium. For anything more than that, medium well or well done, it will feel like your chin bone. Whatever you do, don’t poke your meat or cut it to test for doneness, or all the juices will run out.” — Ed Battaglia, Ralic’s Steakhouse

Thighs Trump Breasts

“People seem to always go for the breasts, but boneless, skinless chicken thighs are really excellent for grilling. They’re juicier, and really so much better. They’re also really flavorful and take well to a lot of different seasonings. And they are generally pretty cheap, but you should spend a little extra to get a higher quality chicken, because the thigh is where you can really taste the off-flavor in a chicken, much more than in a breast.” – Aliza Green, author of The Field Guide to Meat

Season. Season. And Then Season Some More

“One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they don’t season their meat. Actually, a lot of home cooks just don’t season anything properly, at all. Most people that cook at home don’t understand that you have to put salt and pepper on everything. Everything. I’ve been to so many backyards. He’s got on an apron. He’s the man for like one day a year. And he unwraps some steaks and just throws them right on the grill. It’s disgusting. How could you do that?” – David Katz, Meme

If You Think It’s Hot Enough, It’s Not Hot Enough

“When I see home grillers cook steaks, the grill is never hot enough. Listen, if you want to cook steaks on a grill, then the grill has got to be extremely hot. Otherwise, cook something else. If it’s not hot enough, the steak will cook all the way through before you develop any good color. Put your hand two inches above the grill. If you can hold it there for more than two seconds, it’s not hot enough. It’s that simple.” – Chris Painter, Starr Restaurants

Ditch the Olive Oil

“I don’t know why, but people love to load their food down with a lot of oil – especially olive oil. But it just burns off, and you get all these flames coming up. And if you’re using a gas grill and you’re getting the flames, well, your food is going to taste like gas. The food doesn’t need any oil. The grate does, and if the grates are really nicely rubbed down with oil, nothing will stick to them. But don’t use olive oil. Go for something with a higher burning temperature, like vegetable or grape seed oil. And then once your food is done, that’s when you hit it with a nice extra virgin.” – Marc Vetri, Vetri + Osteria + Amis

Know Your Equipment

“For me, the trick is to know your grill. Whether you’re using a little drum thing with charcoal or wood, or you have some super duper gas grill at home, there are always hot spots and cooler spots, and if you’re going to be successful, you absolutely have to know where they are. And that means that you have to grill a lot.” – Daniel Stern, R2L + MidAtlantic

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  • Fat Head Carl

    Really great advice everyone….

    Also – sorry, but a gas grill is *never* super duper…if you aren’t using a hardwood charcoal, and a chimney to start…you truly are missing out.

    Do yourself a favor, trash pick a weber kettle, buy it a new grate, and cook your favorite steak over hardwood charcoal, and you will forget that you own a gas grill.

  • Josh A

    Fun article, best thing on nu-Booz.

    Gas grills are good for easy cooking if you don’t have a crowd. Why watse time and charcoal to cook four burgers.

  • Lord Chesterfield

    This piece was fun and cool. Simple stuff but worth repeating. More like this!

  • ML

    David Katz may be right, but he seems like a total prick.

  • Ken

    ““I love doing a whole side of sea bass or salmon on a gas grill. Nothing too big, like a swordfish, or you’ll be there for 8 hours. But a nice Chilean sea bass, 3 inches thick, it will feed a family of five, and all you… ”

    Except for the fact that so-called Chilean Sea Bass is not a Bass…it is a fish that weighs no less than 300 lbs (a baby) when caught. If you put a whole one on the grill, the grill would collapse.

    Striped bass, black bass..whole other story

  • David Katz

    @ML…Thanks for drawing that conclusion from this little piece. I agree it actually sounds pretty aggressive, but you gotta understand that the way these pieces get written is the writer calls you, you answer questions, and in this case (as usual) you say a lot more, but the writer just kind of edits it to get what they want. The writer did piece together an answer from me that sounds like an all out attack on people wanting to grill over the holiday! That wasn’t the nature of my answer at all. I am a nice guy, I pet dogs, I make balloon animals for kids on the street, I carry old ladie’s bags, I play with sidewalk chalk, I skip, I do pilates, I give the homeless money, I collect sea shells, I scrap book, and so much more! Wait a minute…I’m so nice, I sound….uh….hmmmm…..G@*!

  • Victor Fiorillo

    David is absolutely right. I called a bunch of chefs and picked out pieces of what they said to get to ten different tips, since most of them had similar things to say in part. While David is, as he claims, a nice guy, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t do pilates or scrap book. But he did have more to say, and here it is, in full:

    One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they don’t season their meat. Actually, a lot of home cooks just don’t season anything properly, at all. Most people that cook at home don’t understand that you have to put salt and pepper on everything. Everything. I’ve been to so many backyards. He’s got on an apron. He’s the man for like one day a year. And he unwraps some steaks and just throws them right on the grill. It’s disgusting. How could you do that? People also don’t know how to use their grills properly. A lot of charcoal people don’t use chimney starters. It’s the best way to light charcoal. A lot of people are still dousing with lighter fluid. Another common one, people don’t take the time to put in the maintenance work for their grill. There’s shit stuck all over the grates. You’ve got to brush it. You’ve got to oil it… A good thing to do which a lot of people don’t realize, if you’re going to be grilling chicken parts, steak, pork chops, et cetera, stuff like these things, you want to pull them out and let them get to room temperature before you grill them. Gas vs. charcoal. The only argument at all that is factual or holds any water is that a gas grill is easier. It’s more convenient. What a lot of these morons don’t understand, if you have a gas grill that’s $200 works and then you get the $850 one, if the square inches of cooking surface are on the grill are about the same, there’s no point. People spend $1500 with the same space as one that’s $300. One is not cooking food any better. If you brush it, oil it, and maintain it. The same maintenance you would do on an expensive one. The more expensive ones might be a little bit bigger, have stainless steel fittings, a little cabinetry. Doesn’t make it a better grill… Eating food off of charcoal just tastes better, period. Grilling to me is eating off of charcoal and wood. Barbacoa. It came from wood and hardwood charcoal…. People with gas say it’s faster. Yeah, if you’re planning on having dinner, did you not know you were having dinner until ten minutes before? Light the fucking grill 45 minutes ahead of time. Sure, gas is convenient and that’s it. I’ll still be charcoal even when I get a house and yard one day. I’ll even get myself a spit. But I’ll be charcoal and wood.
     

  • NE food boy

    @ David Katz, LMAO!

  • Cherie V

    Three words to some of the best grilling/BBQ period. BIG GREEN EGG.

  • Tony

    David Katz is right. Period. Listen to what he said and you’ll be better off. Fortunately for me, I learned all of that 20 years ago. Now people ask me to barbecue for them. What David says is absolutely correct.

  • Jon Shisler

    @ josh A
    Charcoal for four burgers or two steaks is just as fine and easy as any gas grill. Fire up those coals and when you are done cooking close all the vents to put out the fire to save some coals for next time. You don’t need a ton of coals to cook a few pieces of meat anyway. Only enough to get it to a good temp.