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Labor Day weekend is a great excuse to have one final cookout before the weather chills and we all head indoors for the season. We all love those lazy afternoons around the grill, cocktail in hand as we prepare perfectly seared burgers and steaks.
Smoked or grilled meats are a hallmark of a summertime dinner party, but when trying to make your own Labor Day celebration extra special, there’s a lot to consider.
Not everything can be grilled in advance without compromising quality, but quite a few things can. “Steak can be grilled a couple of hours before serving,” said lifelong butcher Ray Rastelli, Jr., founder of Rastelli’s.
Just make sure to keep that steak tightly wrapped in foil, then unwrap and slice just before serving. Chicken on the bone, such as drumsticks, are another thing that can be cooked in advance, and save time for you to be able to play host once the guests arrive.
Temperature vs. time
Your meat will only taste their best, and be safe to eat, if it reaches the right internal temperature. Use a digital thermometer to ensure your food is cooked to the right temperature. “This provides consistent results ensuring a juicy protein every time,” said Danielle Bennett, Traeger Ambassador and Pitmaster & CEO of Diva Q BBQ.
Prepping is often about marinating, so be sure to pre-marinate all your meats so they are ready to hit the grill when you are ready. “I love making marinated flank steak and chicken tacos for Labor Day parties,” said Bennett.
Know your proteins
Learn your proteins and get to know your butcher. “Ribeye steaks have lots of great marbling and don’t need to marinate overnight,” said Bennett. All you need is to pack a flavorful BBQ rub. Leaner cuts like flank steak require a marinade to help break down the fibers and help tenderize the meat. “Inexpensive cuts of meat like pulled pork can be made the day before and reheated in a crockpot,” said Bennett. Ask your butcher for help in selecting the right cut to fit your budget.
Serve lots of veggies
If you are spending the day grilling outside make sure to include lots of veggies. “Not only do they taste great on the grill, they also provide important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber that will keep your guests feeling their best,” said Serena Poon, a celebrity chef and nutritionist. Poon’s favorite veggies for the grill include portobello mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini and squash.
Make sure to help your guests hydrate. “Dehydration can really put a damper on a Labor Day celebration,” said Poon, who advises keeping a water pitcher with citrus infused water on hand for guests and make sure to provide non-alcoholic options such as natural flavored, unsweetened sparkling water.
Accept your guests’ needs
Everyone has a different comfort level with parties right now. “Help your guests feel comfortable by embracing their needs around distancing and socializing,” said Poon.
Stock up on your goods!
A great BBQ is mostly about what’s on it. Here’s some great ingredients to stock up on in prep for that grill.
Churchill’s Steakhouse Ribeyes: These can be bought in boxes of six and have great marbling and tons of flavor. Steaks are always the star of any grill, and these are as good as steaks get.
Rastelli’s Round Dog: These hot dogs went viral this summer, and for good reason. They are hot dogs that fit in burger buns. This makes it easier to grill, and also easier to serve — you only need one type of bun and the extra surface area means more space for condiments.
Omaha Steaks Butcher’s Burger Bundle: Of course, you need burgers! This is a box with some great grilling options all in one place, from Filet Mignon Burgers to Brisket Burgers, and a whole lot more.
Knob Creek Bourbon Barrel Grilling Planks: The right grilling plank can make a world of difference in your grilling results. Knob Creek Bourbon recently partnered with The Boardsmith to create grilling planks, meaning that your salmon or steak (or even veggies) can have the flavors of bourbon.
Lobster Anywhere Grill-Ready Lobster Tails: These grill-ready lobster tails make lobster — which sometimes feels intimidating – easy and fun because they come pre-butterflied in the shell, frozen and ready to barbecue. As many of us are doing smaller groups of people due to social distancing, this is a perfect opportunity to splurge on really good ingredients.
MingsBings Grill Pack: It’s important to have one vegetarian option for any party or cookout, and Che Ming Tsai’s vegan and gluten-free bings are perfect to throw on the grill. This grill pack contains the original Veggie-Filled Bing, Plant-Based Sausage & Peppers Bing, and the Plant-Based Cheeseburger Bing.
Don’t forget dessert! Lady M’s Slice of the Best cake is a super fun idea because it includes a variety of fan-favorite flavors, so whether someone loves chocolate chocolate or green tea, there’s going to be a slice of cake that will be their perfect sweet ending.
Prepping the fish
Grilling fish may seem intimidating, but it is actually quite easy to do and is all about simplicity. “The key is to start with a fresh fillet of your favorite firm, white fish,” said Brian Landry, Chef/Co-owner of Jack Rose in New Orleans; and Marsh House in Nashville.
From there, it only takes a couple of minutes to prep and another few to grill. “Brush a high-quality olive oil on your fillets and some salt, pepper and lemon. Do not under-salt your fish; the salt will help bring out the flavor,” said Landry. FultonFishMarket.com is a great place to order fresh fish and have it shipped directly to your door.
Step one is to make sure that the grill grates are very well oiled (and clean). “This will prevent the fish from sticking to the grill,” said Landry, who uses canola oil for his grill at home. Set the temperature to medium high to high. “Place the fish on the grill and relax (don’t mess with it). Moving the fish too soon will result in the fish sticking to the grates,” said Landry.
Once the fish has cooked for 2-3 minutes, you will notice it slightly pulls away from the grill and is easier to turn. How many minutes on each side depends on the thickness of the fillet, but it typically requires only a few minutes on each side. “To avoid overcooking, you have to know the subtle signs to look for like moisture collecting on the top of the fish indicating it is ready.,” said Landry, who will prepare a simple vinaigrette to serve alongside a lightly-grilled fillet of fish.
A simple, easy recipe is a Spanish style broken romesco. “Olive oil, sherry vinegar and toasted almonds are the base for this vinaigrette and it will pair beautifully,” said Landry. The texture that the toasted nuts adds to the vinaigrette is a great contrast to the soft, moist flesh of the fish. Add some garlic, piquillo peppers and herbs and warm it up. “Right after you remove the fish from the grill, spoon a generous amount of the vinaigrette over the fish and you’ll immediately feel transported to the coast of Spain.,” said Landry.
While you may not think of sparkling wines initially, they can be a great pick for a barbecue! “Refreshing on warmer days, red, pink and white sparkling wines pair easily with a variety of foods and flavors,” said Richard Vayda, Director of Wine & Beverage Studies at the Institute of Culinary Education.
For lighter meals like barbecued chicken, pork, fish or vegetables, Vayda likes Spanish Cavas. “The brighter fruit and acidity of this wine will pair well with these dishes and any vinegar-based sauces,” he said.
If your menu features heavier barbecue dishes, try a sparkling red like Lambrusco. “To match savory rubs and sauces, opt for dry versions of the wine,” said Vayda. If you’d prefer a little sweetness in your wine to pair with salty food, try an off dry (amabile) wine. If your feast has many different kinds of food, open a few different wines and let your guests find their favorite pairing!
Marinades and brines
While some steaks can come out of the package and go straight on the grill, others are going to need that infusion of flavor. “I cannot speak enough about the importance of a brine especially for grilling meats,” said Chef Isaac Toups, owner of Toups Meatery and author of The New York Times’ “Best Cookbooks” Chasing the Gator – Isaac Toups & the New Cajun Cooking.
Pork chops and chicken in particular need brining before hitting the grill, according to Toups, because they lack the fattiness to withstand a long time on a hot grill without drying out. This is also true for any lean cuts of beef you’re planning on barbecuing.
“When you’re making your own marinade, splurge on a really good soy sauce – it really makes a big difference in the flavor,” said Toups, who likes to use Kikoman Tamari. “It’s darker, milder and more aromatic than regular soy,” he said. He then cuts it with equal parts vinegar (he likes aged sherry vinegar, but you can also use cider vinegar). This marinade adds a bit of saltiness, perfect acidity and umami.
Burgers are a mainstay of any good cookout and a fun and easy way to serve them is to set up a burger bar. Burgers are easy to cook, but dressing them up to everyone’s liking is time consuming. “To make it easier on the chef, set up a burger bar, with all of the cheese and fixings,” suggested Rastelli. Put out a platter of grilled burgers and buns and let your guests dress them up the way they like.
Making the perfect burger is about three important steps:
1. Seasoning: For the perfect burger, throw a little salt and pepper on it just before cooking. “It’ll draw out the natural flavors in the meat and help develop a little crust,” said Rastelli.
2. Cooking: Whether cooking on a grill or stovetop, make sure your heat is high. “Sear the burger for a few minutes on each side to let the crust form,” said Rastelli. Only flip once, and don’t press down. Doing so will squeeze the flavorful juice from the burger. Once the crust is formed, move the burger to lower heat and let it cook to your desired temperature for doneness.
3. Resting: Like all red meat cuts, let your burger rest for a few minutes after removing it from the heat source. “It doesn’t need to rest long, but a few minutes sitting before serving will do wonders for yielding a perfectly juicy burger,” said Rastelli.