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A Guide To Grilling Beyond 'Dude Food'

I have vivid memories of my mom going out of town one weekend and my dad feeding me fried bologna sandwiches for three nights in a row. He didn't make the sandwiches because I liked them; he made them because he can't cook. He can't get around a kitchen. He doesn't know how to chop an onion. He has no idea how to roast a chicken. But the man can grill.

While Mom would put a meal on the table night after night, my dad would come home on Friday night with steaks or burgers and get the grill going. He favored the glory dishes. He liked walking in through our back door with a platter of chops while the family gathered around him like vultures.

While I love a good steak on the fire, you can now push the limits of your grill to places our dads never knew existed. Personally, I grill year-round. When it's warmer out, I grill three or four times each week. Even in the winter, it's fun to light the grill and watch the snow melt from its immediate area while you wait for it to heat.

I use a gas grill. I know that some people will call it sacrilege, but I proudly stand by my propane tank. Charcoal grilling tastes better, yes. But the ceremony of getting a charcoal grill up and running can take some time. If I'm using propane, I can decide that I want some grilled chicken, light the grill and be cooking in no time.

Elizabeth Karmel is the author of Taming the Flame: Secrets for Hot-and-Quick Grilling and Low-and-Slow BBQ. Her motto is: "If you can eat it, you can grill it." I agree. Why go out and get a nice grill if you're only going to fire it up for special occasions to char burgers, hot dogs and chops?

I asked Karmel for her grilling commandments. "You want to make sure that your grill isn't too hot," she says.

Some people assume that since you're grilling, you just start the fire and put your food on the flame. But it's more delicate than that. Some foods, which cook quickly, can take the heat of putting it directly over a flame. Others, like large cuts of meat or thick-cut vegetables, need indirect heat. This means you put your food on one part of the grill, while the flame burns on the other side. This ensures that you will cook the food all the way through. Otherwise, you could end up with chicken that is charred on the outside while raw inside.

Karmel's second commandment: You must have clean cooking grates. "Dirty cooking grates means that food can stick to the grill," she says.

While I love a good steak on the fire, you can now push the limits of your grill to places our dads never knew existed.

The best way to achieve clean grates is with a serious grill brush. If you don't have one, Karmel has a tip. "Take some heavy-duty aluminum foil and ball it up to the size of a baseball," she says. "When your grill is hot, grab some metal kitchen tongs and put the foil in between them. Then scrub your grill grates with the aluminum."

Finally, Karmel says that every time you grill, you need to heat your grill on high heat to get it ready to go to work. Once you've blasted it on high heat for 15 minutes, drop to your desired temperature and proceed to cook.

As Father's Day approaches, you can still remind Dad that grilling is the ultimate "dude food," but you can take it to the next level by trying things other than cheeseburgers.

Watermelon Salad With Grilled Halloumi

Forget what you think when you hear "grilled cheese," because halloumi is something completely different from buttered bread with a Kraft single in the middle. Halloumi is a very firm cheese that can hold up to intense heat. The salty punch of the cheese truly comes out when it's cooked, so it's best to avoid eating it raw. This simple salad comes together quickly and is a great way to welcome summer. You can find halloumi at many supermarkets and specialty food stores.

/ Peter Ogburn for NPR
Peter Ogburn for NPR

Makes 4 servings

4 1/2 ounces halloumi cheese, sliced into 1-inch-thick chunks

2 pounds seedless watermelon, cut into small chunks

1 small red chili, finely diced

2 tablespoons fresh mint

2 tablespoons fresh basil

Pinch of salt

Pinch of black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat grill to high heat. When hot, place halloumi on the grill. Cook for roughly 3 minutes on each side. It will char and leave nice grill marks. Take the cheese off the grill.

In a large bowl, combine watermelon, chili, mint, basil, salt, pepper, olive oil and halloumi. Toss to combine and serve immediately.

Recipe:Whole Grilled Red Snapper

Sometimes, the simplest things can be the best. Buy a very fresh fish and don't handle it too much. This is a beautiful dish to serve to friends and family. Presented on a big platter, you and your guests can dive right into the fish and eat it family style.

/ Peter Ogburn for NPR
Peter Ogburn for NPR

Makes 4 servings

1 whole red snapper (about 2 1/2 pounds, scaled and cleaned)

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2 lemons, sliced in rounds

Prepare grill on medium heat.

Score the fish with diagonal cuts on both sides of the body. Brush olive oil all over the fish. Season fish with salt and pepper. Be sure to season the inside of the fish's cavity and press salt and pepper into the diagonal cuts. Repeat the process with garlic and lemon.

Place the fish over direct medium heat on the grill and cook for 30 minutes. You do not need to turn the fish.

Test to make sure the flesh is firm and carefully remove from the grill. Do what you can to keep the fish intact. You want to soak up some of the glory of serving a beautiful whole dish on a platter, don't you?

Recipe: Grilled Radicchio And Endive With Lemon-Honey Vinaigrette

Grilling greens and lettuces allows you to taste them in an entirely new way. The outside gets nicely grilled and crisped, while the inside gently wilts. The bitterness of the greens calls for a punchy, slightly sweet vinaigrette that balances the dish.

/ Peter Ogburn for NPR
Peter Ogburn for NPR

Makes 4 servings


1 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste


1/2 cup olive oil

1 head radicchio, cut into quarters

1 head endive, cut in half lengthwise

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, add the honey and lemon juice and whisk in the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set the dressing aside.

Preheat grill to high heat.

While grill is heating, drizzle olive oil over radicchio and endive and liberally season with salt and pepper.

Place the radicchio and endive on the grill, cooking and turning until all sides are nicely browned. When done, remove from the grill and arrange on a platter. Dress with lemon-honey vinaigrette and serve warm.

Recipe: Grilled Green Beans With Fresh Horseradish

For this recipe, you'll need a grill basket or a grill pan. This will allow you to cook smaller food on the grill that would normally slip through the grates. If you don't have one, you could do this with asparagus. I particularly like the fresh horseradish, which is much different from the stuff you get in a jar. When grated over the beans, it reminds me of wasabi peas.

/ Peter Ogburn for NPR
Peter Ogburn for NPR

Makes 4 servings

1 pound green beans, stem ends picked

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

Fresh horseradish root

Heat grill to medium-high heat.

In a medium bowl, dress the green beans with olive oil, then season with plenty of salt and pepper. Place the beans on grill pan over medium-high heat. Cook, occasionally turning, until beans are tender and somewhat blistered.

Remove beans from the grill and put on medium-sized serving dish. Using a hand-held grater, grate the fresh horseradish root over the hot green beans.

Serve immediately.

Recipe: Grilled Peaches With Vanilla Ice Cream And Balsamic Vinegar

Fruits on the grill are remarkable; the high sugar content allows them to caramelize quickly. As far as I'm concerned, every dessert could use more caramel.

/ Peter Ogburn for NPR
Peter Ogburn for NPR

Makes 4 servings

4 ripe medium-size peaches

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 to 2 pints frozen vanilla ice cream

High-quality balsamic vinegar, if desired

Slice peaches in half lengthwise and remove pit. Cut them lengthwise a second time and toss them in a medium bowl with the vanilla extract and brown sugar. Set aside for at least 15 minutes while you preheat the grill to medium-high heat.

Grill skin side down until skin is slightly charred, about 4 minutes. Turn and grill on the other two sides until you get nice grill marks, about 2 minutes on each side. Divide the peaches among four bowls and immediately top with cold vanilla ice cream. If using, lightly drizzle balsamic vinegar on top.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Peter Ogburn
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