published Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Grilling pointers from a master

Grilling season is here. Or did it ever go away? Memorial Day was once the traditional startup to meals prepared outdoors. Over the past decade, grilling has become a year-round hobby, even a passion for some.

If you’re looking for some great grilling tips to help you out this weekend and beyond, who better to ask than Kent Whitaker, local champion of the charcoal and master of the flame. Better known as “The Deck Chef,” Whitaker says these are the biggest mistakes a griller can make.

n Mistake No. 1: Trying something new for a crowd before you try it for the spouse or family. You want to make sure that it tastes good. Check the recipe on a small scale, and see if you have the cooking skills. If a recipe is a bomb, you blow it, then the family will forgive you and you can perfect it next time.

n Mistake No. 2: Not having the proper equipment. And make sure the grill is working if it hasn’t been used since last summer. Also, is it big enough for the pot you’ll be using for a Low Country boil? Consider things like that.

n Mistake No. 3: Don’t undercook your burgers. Cooking burgers for a family of five takes less time than a group of 10 to 30.

n Mistake No. 4: Not doing your advance prep work. Do as much prep work as possible. Whatever can be done ahead of time without losing quality should be done. Foods such as sides, slaws, dips and casseroles, as well as prep work such as slicing vegetables, can be done a day ahead.

Now that the mistakes are corrected, here are some of Whitaker’s tips to smooth your way to great grilling.

n Do this: Keep things easy and give them a twist whenever you can. For instance, grilled chicken thighs get boring. Spice them up by marinating them in orange juice, diced peppers and onions. It makes an extra 10 minutes of prep, but suddenly you are serving Grilled Citrus Chicken. Add a quick sauce made with sour cream and barbecue sauce or something to add as a drizzle or sprinkle with shredded pepper Jack cheese, or anything else that comes to mind before serving.

n Do this: Keep things clean. Always wash your hands, buy a bunch of those tubes of clean wipes, put them all over the place. People will use them. Have plenty of trash bags and bug spray. Clean as you go.

n Do this: Keep things safe. Hot food hot, cold food cold. People would rather remember a good time instead of a trip to the ER!

“Have fun,” Whitaker said. “If you go quick and easy, do some prep work, know the dish and the recipe, have everything working and allow yourself enough time, then you can cook, eat and enjoy the company instead of being the live-in caterer working like a dog. It’s your party. Have fun.”

Here’s one of Whitaker’s favorite recipes, and mine, too. Throw a couple on the grill. These chickens will be gobbled up quickly, and the meat makes great leftovers for salads and sandwiches — that is, if there’s any left.

Easy Beer Can Chicken

I have had Beer Can Chicken at tailgate parties in many states, and all of the recipes are so simple. This one offers a bit of citrus flavor with some garlic. And, of course, beer. People are amazed about Beer Can Chicken because they expect it to taste like old beer, but it is full of flavor.

1 (4-pound) whole chicken

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons allspice, divided

1 (12-ounce) can beer

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Thaw chicken in the fridge, and remove the giblets. Make sure to rinse the chicken well inside and out and pat dry. Rub the outside of the chicken with lemon juice. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon allspice and put the remaining allspice inside the chicken. Open your beer and pour out half. Poke a few holes in the top of the can. Three should do it. Pour the garlic powder into the beer can. Put the can into the chicken and use it and the legs to balance the chicken on your grill. I also use a small foil pan even on the grill. (I like to cook using indirect grilling.) Cook until skin is deep brown and internal temperature is 180 degrees in the thigh. Remove the can before serving.

— Recipe from Kent Whitaker

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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