If there’s a food that epitomizes summer more than a grilled burger, name it.
And yet, not one, not two, but three different chefs have told us to tell you to take those burgers off the coals immediately. Instead, put them on a griddle or plancha – a solid surface where you won’t lose any valuable fat or flavor to the flames below.
A couple years ago, Bloomberg Pursuits reported on the Do Not Grill List, which included shish kebabs and flaky fish. But you didn’t listen, did you? Now other cooks have stepped forward to advise on more foods you shouldn’t grill, including items that are popular on restaurant menus, such as grilled lettuce and thick-cut bacon. Not only are those bacon slices a fire hazard, there’s not much chance they’ll cook through before they burn.
Here are more foods you shouldn’t grill in the name of a backyard party – call it the “Do Not Grill List II.” Chef Gray Brooks offers a compromise for those reluctant to give up on grilled burgers entirely: “If you really want that grilled burger smell rolling out of your yard to entice your neighbors, just keep one burger aside for the grill. It’s a worthwhile sacrifice.”
Who says: Bryan Voltaggio, chef and co-owner, Voltaggio Brothers Steak House, Washington, D.C.
Why: “My brother Michael and I put burgers on our restaurant menus, but even at home we keep them off the grill. Instead, we use a plancha or a heavy-duty pan to griddle them. The sear you get from the even cooking surface always gives you a perfectly juicy burger.”
Who else says: Gray Brooks, chef and owner, Littler and Jack Tar & the Colonel’s Daughter, Durham, North Carolina.
Why: “Do not grill burgers. Way too much of the delicious beef fat winds up in the fire. When burgers are seared on a flat top, or in a cast-iron pan, that fat renders out and becomes a cooking medium and helps form a really nice beefy crust. If you really want to cook burgers on the grill – which I totally understand, grilling is one of the coolest things to do in life – put a cast-iron griddle on the grill. You can also grill the onions, which are a great way to still get the smoky grill flavor on the burger.”
Who else says: Tae Strain, chef, Momofuku CCDC, Washington.
Why: “I know it’s the American standby, but the best burgers come from planchas or a cast-iron pan. Perfect burgers are all about the crust but equally the umami rich fat and natural juices. On the grill, you lose that because the fat drips down onto the coals, and you need those juices.”
Who says: Ford Fry, chef and owner, Little Rey, Atlanta.
Why: “You see this everywhere, and it is terrible everywhere! Grilled shrimp, the already peeled kind. (Caveat: Grilling shrimp in its shell is another thing and totally encouraged.) Shrimp flesh is too susceptible to drying out when introduced to a hot grill, whether marinated or not. Shrimp scream to be cooked gently and lovingly bathed in butter. If someone insists on smoky shrimp, cook them gently, off direct heat, then transfer to a bath of emulsified butter to finish cooking.”
Who says: Roberto Deiaco, executive chef, Avena Downtown, New York.
Why: “In spite of the fancy grilled salads you see, don’t grill your lettuces. Many greens such as Boston lettuce, red leaf and green leaf, retain a lot of water, and they just wilt. Also, radicchio gets more bitter on a grill.”
Skinless chicken breasts
Who says: Leonard Botello IV, pitmaster and owner, Truth BBQ, Houston.
Why: “There’s one thing that I don’t grill, and that’s boneless, skinless chicken breast – the texture can turn to rubber, and grilling sucks out all the moisture.”
Sausages and thick-cut bacon
Who says: Jocelyn Guest and Erika Nakamura, co-founders, J&E Smallgoods, New York.
Why: “The last thing you want to do is put a raw, uncooked sausage right on the high heat. The casing will shrink and the meat will expand, resulting in unplanned July Fourth fireworks. If you want to grill them, poach the sausages in water or beer first. And do not grill thick-cut bacon. Bacon is delicious, but setting your house on fire from bacon fat is not. If you want crispy thick-cut bacon, use your broiler or stovetop, or go to Peter Luger.”
Top round and bottom round
Who says: Michael Lomonaco, chef, Porter House Bar & Grill and Hudson Yards Grill, New York.
Why: “Don’t spend any time trying to grill steaks or roasts cut from this hindquarter-round section of beef. They’ll end up tough. These are best oven-roasted with lowered heat; the high heat of the grill is too much for these leaner cuts.”
Who Says: Julian Medina, owner, Latineria Grand Central Terminal, New York.
Why: “You should never throw tortillas on the grill, which makes them hard and stiff. Instead, use a griddle or plancha to warm the tortillas up evenly, and the flat surface helps them retain moisture.”
Pineapples and Peaches
Who says: David Guas, host, “American Grilled,” chef and owner, Bayou Bakery, Arlington, Virginia.
Why: “It’s more trouble than it’s worth to put peaches and pineapples on the grill. Depending on the ripeness, the fruit can disintegrate. The grill also needs to be thoroughly cleaned beforehand so that the fruit doesn’t take on the flavor of whatever meat – or fish! – was cooked before. And then you have to do another major grill cleanup when you’re done.”
(Contact the author at [email protected].)