Admittedly, I’m not a fan of heat — and certainly not the oppressive heat and humidity that descends upon the Northeast during the summer — but when it comes to the fire of a grill, bring it on. The life of a dinner shindig (“parties” necessitate tables and ware) can be as simple as quality charcoal, a few tunes and some great beef and veg. Hell, it doesn’t even need to be beef, but make sure the beer is good. The “One Grill Meal” isn’t a challenging culinary proposition. In fact, outside of skillet cooking it’s about as simple of a trick as they come. And whether your have propane or charcoal it’s a pretty damn simple affair and about as American as it gets.
1 Heat You’ll want a lot of it, and for godssake brush your grate and rub a little oil before you start. The way we do it (and prone to debate): get your charcoal (after you’ve poured out from your chimney starter) or propane fired up. Close the lid until you feel radiating heat from the lid (super hot). This is when we scrub then rub oil on our grates.
2 Meat Hopefully you’ve done 5 minutes of pre-planning here and figured out what you’re going to prepare. People love variety but they love taste more so make your selections simple. Burgers and fresh corn. Seafood and asparagus. Brats and wings. Keep it simple and make it good. Everyone loves marinades and hot sauces. Buy or prepare a few sides (greek salad, red cabbage slaw). Go complex and you defeat the purpose of an O.G.M.
3 Essentials You’ll need a few essentials, but the basics are a durable grill, a pair of steel tongs (crucial), a generous glass or stainless mixing bowl and a platter. Plates if you want them but if your guests number in the 4-5 range, then consider having everyone join you around the fire and serve them directly — fire to mouth, beer in the left, dog in the right. You can ratchet up the presentation with plates and platters, and that’s fine and good, but part of what makes a one grill meal so great is its casualness. Like a chef’s table, but in the kitchen and around the pan.
4 Burgers For burgers: we relied on an old trick with burger patties. A scoop of blue cheese and red pepper flakes stuffed into the patty. Slices of gruyere on the side for those who prefer more cheese. Over high heat, fire your burgers for a few minutes on each side, enough for an excellent char line. 2 minutes after the flip, toss on a slice of cheese and throw the buns on. For toppings we stick with a perfectly ripe tomato, crispy green like Romaine and red onion. For toppings, make an easy ‘special sauce’ concoction: equal parts ketchup, mayo in a ramekin with a handful scallions and chopped onions if you’ve got them handy.
5 Wings Instead of wings go with thighs and call it a day. Wings are great in bulk, but the generous proportion of meat on thighs are the tastier option. Grill thighs (test one for doneness). When done, toss them in the large mixing bowl with your favorite sauce (we like: ) and plate directly to platter or your guests hands. A freshly seasoned chicken thigh right off the grill is practically unbeatable. For a side, consider having small glass ramekins stuffed full of red cabbage slaw with fork or sturdy wood to-go chopsticks. Lots of paper towels or if you’re feeling like host of the month, have a few dish or turkish towels around for your guests. Encourage stuffing towels over belt loops or in back pockets.
The Grill When using a charcoal grill, build up the coals or wood on one side of the grill, with only a small amount on the other. This way you can blast meats on high heat and then let them finish low and slow. The beautiful thing about propane grills is that you can get two or more burners — some even come with sear stations — so you can have dedicated stations for foods that require different levels of heat. With the right tools, that’s like having an oven, stovetop and a grill at your disposal.
Be Gentle Be gentle with your meat. Never push down on or smash a burger on the grill. You’re not Hodor. Just brush them with a bit of oil or butter, put them on the grate, grill for about four minutes, flip, and cook until finished. Bonus: a quarter turn after two minutes on each side will give you cross-hatched grill marks.
Dishes? Pass. Besides properly charred meat, the grill’s biggest contribution is eliminating dish work. That’s something we can all get behind. Cook each course in waves — shrimp and veggies, hanger steaks and burgers, pineapple and peaches — and you’ll have an epic meal with only a grate and some tongs to wipe down at the end of the day.
Mix It Up Get outside your comfort zone by bringing some seafood into the mix. You can grill clams on the half shell or, like we did here, wrap them in tin foil butter, splash of water, salt and pepper, and heat them on the top rack until they open up. Serve with slices of grilled rustic bread. -Jeremy Berger