Monday, May 5, 2014

Summertime Grilling...Not!

Perfect! Grill marks and all!
As the calendar pages turn towards summer, I am gearing up for the many flavors that come with it. Jersey tomatoes, white corn, fresh peaches and blueberries, bursting from dusty roadside stands and still my heart! I am a proud daughter of the Garden State, so bring it on!

But sadly for me, there is one summer passion that just won't be doable for the first time in my adult life. My condo association does not allow grilling on the balconies of second floor units And while it depresses a little me, I won't let it defeat me. Or stop me!

Now, I know I'm not alone in not being able to light up a grill. Millions of people live in apartments, high rises and condo units and most likely never even think about it. But for me, summer starts by walking out on the deck and placing the first hot dog on the hot grates, slightly toasting the bun over the embers, and adding a little yellow mustard. A 7" piece of heaven. Gone.

The perfect indoor "grill"!
Or is it? If I've learned anything from this past year, it's been to adjust, adapt, and reconfigure. So, I have been sampling ways to re-create that outdoor taste on my indoor gas stove and have come up with two things that almost bring summer home again.

First, a cast iron pan with ridges goes a long way in slightly sizzling the fat away from the meat while searing those "grill" marks needed for the ascetics . Quality cast iron pans are not cheap. But, since I won't be filling propane tanks this year, I'm way ahead of the game. Also, (and this is so important), remember to "season" the pan before using for the first time. It's easy, completely wipe the inside of pan with vegetable oil, than place in 350 degree oven for two hours. That's it! The process makes the frying pan non-stick and it just gets better with use.

Secondly, I have discovered an ingredient that makes any steak or burger taste like it just came off of glowing charcoal briquettes - Williams Sonoma's Hickory Smoked Sea Salt. It is amazing. Flavored sea salts have become increasingly popular among both professional chefs and home cooks, myself included. At first, many believed it had less sodium than table salt, but actually, it does not. Ounce for ounce the sodium content is the same. However, (and this is a big 'however') you usually use less because of the large size, crunchy crystals. It's kind of like butter vs. whipped butter. The fat content in whipped butter is 45% less because it contains more air created by the whipping process. A teaspoon of small granular table salt has more density that a teaspoon of sea salt.

Hickory Smoked Sea Salt
Anyway, back to my mock BBQ lesson. I recently learned from a "steak master", that meat should be taken out of the refrigerator at least 15 to 30 minutes before putting on the grill to ensure perfect searing. As soon as I remove the meat from the fridge, I brush on a small amount of olive oil so the seasonings, such as the smoked sea salt, ground pepper and garlic powder, have something to adhere to. As the steak is slightly warming to room temp, the salt will start to dissolve into the meat, marinating it with it's great hickory smoked flavor. Salt of any kind is natures perfect tenderizer, so you are actually getting to great features with one fabulous ingredient!  

This will take some thought...
So, I will continue my quest to fool my taste buds into believing that a large grill on the deck is supplying my summertime rituals. Hot dogs, sausage with peppers & onions, and chicken will be an easy manipulation. But there is one family favorite I'm just not sure about being able to recreate. I have been told by my sons, that I make "kick-ass" ribs, and I must admit, they were good! I used my own dry rub first and then slow cooked them over wet, smoky hickory chips. I'm sure the smoked sea salt will play a huge part in creating that "open grill" oven flavor. Just not sure about everything else!

It was a brutal winter that lasted too far into spring. May is the unofficial start to summer so find a way to enjoy everyday and all that it has to offer! Make time on the way home from the grocery store to support local farmers and their fabulously fresh produce. Most towns now have Saturday farm markets that make a great weekend outing. Plan a picnic on a grass covered field, or on the shores of a tea-colored, cedar lake. Fry some chicken and enjoy it on a sandy beach next to the spray of the sea. Summer calls for us all to come outside and play! Breath it all in...because in one short exhale, I'll be writing "nothing like the first cool day of autumn!"

Photos by ImageGoggle & Jo Ann Phelps


  1. I'm thinking of getting myself a grill for my Bday Jo! The grill was always HIS job... now it's going to be MINE!

  2. I envy you! I will miss mine! I was always the griller! I have seen some grills on upper decks, but since I'm the new girl I don't want to break any rules (yet ;)!