TRAVERSE CITY — Springtime means many things in northern Michigan — the end of five months of winter, the return of tourists and the start of grilling season.
Heaps of snow that once sagged like robust bellies over the edges of decks gives way to tables, chairs and grills. And the scent of charcoal smoke and searing meat meander through neighborhoods, carried by warm afternoon breezes.
They’re the smells of summer memories in the making.
But let’s not forget about the less-than-pleasant grilling excursions. The chicken breasts shredded by sticky grill surfaces. The incinerated steaks.
The cooked-on-the-outside and raw-on-the-inside pork chops.
Three local chefs chipped in their best grilling tips to help rescue your next grilling season. To make you a spatula-wielding hero at the first cookout of the year.
Before the burn
Preparation is key when grilling is concerned.
Set your meats on the counter for about 30 minutes before tossing them on a hot grill, said Shawn Burks, a chef and instructor for Northwestern Michigan College’s culinary arts program.
The warmed protein will cook more evenly. It will reduce the chances of turning out a raw-on-the inside piece of meat.
”Don’t be in a hurry,” said Mark Wilson, owner of Maxbauer Specialty Meat Market and an avid outdoor cook. “It needs to be room temperature.”
People often worry about bacteria growth on meats, but shouldn’t be concerned about letting it rest at room temperature for a few minutes immediately before cooking, Wilson said.
The meat can be seasoned while it waits — another important pre-grill step. Traditional wisdom called for adding salt to cuts like steaks just before they hit the grill, but recently chefs have begun to change, Burks said.
"It’s ok to salt stuff and let it sit for a half hour or longer,” he said. “It allows the salt to really disolve and penetrate the meat. For me that’s really important. It makes a really flavorful steak.”