Grilling Tips From the Grill Masters

July is high season for grilling, and the Fourth of July in particular is just as much about grilling as it is about gawking at fireworks, and in some cases smuggling them across state lines. Ah independence. While fireworks can and should be intimidating, grilling doesn't have to be, and grill-privvy chefs are here to share a few of their tricks and tips.

Lee Ann Whippen, chef/partner at Chicago q, has famously vied in barbecue competitions, which makes her an ideal sensei to turn to for grilling advice. For starters, Whippen says never to use flavored charcoal, as it gives food a chemical taste, and to avoid lighter fluid in favor of starter sticks or a charcoal chimney. For essential tools, she suggests an instant read thermometer to gauge measurements quickly without interfering with the grill temperature. A small cast iron pot comes in handy for heating up sauces directly on the grill. To imbue your meat with smoke, Whippen says to soak wood chips in water for half an hour, then drain them and wrap them in foil. Poke holes in the foil to allow smoke to escape, then place it directly on the coals to flavor your meat as it cookes overtop. If you're saucing your meat, hold off until the final 20 minutes of grilling, as some sugar-laden sauces can burn before the inside of the meat is done. If fish fits your fancy, only use oily fish like salmon, and blacken it in a cast iron skillet on the grill. You can even grill dessert! As long as you don't try to grill cake. Whippen suggests using ripe seasonal fruits cut lengthwise or crosswise, grilling them slowly so the sugars caramelize and sweeten.

Lee Ann Whippen
(Lee Ann Whippen tears into some meat. Photo: Blast Marketing & PR)

Another meat mastermind is Rob Levitt of The Butcher & Larder. When it comes to home grilling, he's a fan of indirect heat, establishing a bed of hardwood charcoal on one half of the grill and a log or two of fruitwood on top. This allows him to cook sausages, chicken, or a small roast on the half without the fire underneath, and steaks and such on the smokin' hot side. Before you start, he reminds to let the meat come to room temperature before grilling to enable even cooking.

Troy Graves of Red Door has a few tenants he practices when grilling. Firstly, he prefers brining over marinating and high heat over the lower and slower kind. He says to use charcoal or wood only, and ultimately just to have fun with it, developing your own spice blends and herb seasonings.

Big Jones' Paul Fehribach feels steaks should just get a quick marinade in Worcestershire and lemon for abut 15 to 20 minutes. He's another purporter of the super hot grill, opting for cherry hardwood over charcoal. Once you've marinated, rub the meat with salt, pepper, and in a surprising twist, fresh pork fat. Nothing wrong with that. When cooking, he says that 2/3 of your grilling time should be on the first side of the meat, and 1/3 should be on the second.

Chrissy Camba of Bar Pastoral prefers to skip the marinade entirely, opting to use meats that are innately super flavorful, like rib-eye steak. Whilst readying the grill, she leaves it out to come to room temperature, and waits for the coals to turn 50 shades of ash gray. Then she seasons both sides of the steak liberally with salt and pepper. Don't skimp on the salt. "People are always surprised at the amount of salt and pepper I use," she says. Once you start cooking, the steak should sizzle as soon as it hits the grate, otherwise you need to remove the meat and crank up the heat.