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Winning at grilling

From traditional barbecue to rotisserie roasting, grillmaster Matthew Eads has the tips and tricks you’ll need for a delicious summer

Cookbook author, grilling authority, food blogger and founder of online community Grillseeker, Matthew Eads is passionate about anything related to live-fire cooking. Here he shares his ideas on everything from the best equipment, the perfect cuts of meat and fish, which fruits and vegetables are great on the grill, his favourite marinades, charcoals and more.

Tell us a bit about what works best with live fire cooking.

Literally everything works – meat, fish, vegetables – but it is the unexpected that is often a hit. Grapes plus flame, for example, are delicious, and so are grilled bananas and lemons. Ribeye steak is always a winner because it’s a little fattier and tastier. The trick to successful, succulent chicken breasts is pounding them to a uniform thickness before grilling and brining them to seal in moisture.

What’s the best equipment for grilling?

For traditional barbecue, I recommend charcoal over wood at a low temperature – low and slow cooking. My favourite is the Shokunin Kamado grill. Kalamazoo makes a stainless-steel version versus ceramic, and it yields a rich, smoky taste. You can bake or roast with this grill, and it maintains a consistent 225-275 degrees Fahrenheit which is ideal for pork shoulder or brisket. It can also heat to 750 degrees Fahrenheit to make crispy Neapolitan-style pizzas.

Grills aren't the only equipment for outdoor cooking. Pizza ovens and smokers are incredibly popular, and choosing the right tools for your cooking ambitions can help you create delicious restaurant-quality meals right in your own backyard.

The burning question: how to make the best burger?

There are two types of burgers: the diner-style or popular “smash burger,” and the steakhouse – or more gourmet – version. For the diner-style – a thin patty served medium well with cheese, pickles and onions – I like a custom mix of 50 per cent sirloin, 20 per cent chuck and 30 per cent brisket for the right fat ratio. For the steakhouse variety – served medium-medium rare – I like ground short rib. Done right, this burger is crusty on the outside and tender within, with just the right smokiness. Salmon burgers are a delicious option, too; turkey burgers are great when mixed with buttermilk and breadcrumbs to replace the fat; and Portobellos are another red meat substitute and are perfect when grilled with olive oil, salt and a touch of parmesan.

In your opinion, what are the best ‘party foods’?

I like things that can be prepared in advance – kebabs of all kinds (room temperature salmon is a winner), roasted vegetables including corn on the cob, radicchio and zucchini ribbons, and desserts that aren’t too obvious. Grilled peaches with Mascarpone ice cream or grilled angel food cake served with fresh berries are easy surprise hits. Bottom line: I prepare things that can be eaten with your hands and don’t fall apart.

In terms of crowd pleasers, people love smoked baked beans, Detroit-style deep dish pizza with a crispy, buttery crust that’s cooked at 550 degrees Fahrenheit in an countertop pizza oven, and Caribbean jerk chicken that’s cooked in a Kamado or a hybrid grill. The sauce is the secret to the chicken; a mix of green onions, All Spice and Scotch Bonnet peppers grilled over oak create the best flavour.

What are your favourite marinades, spices and prep secrets?

Salmon does really well in a marinade of orange juice and teriyaki; it draws some of the fishiness out. A ribeye or filet mignon doesn’t need much at all because the natural flavour is so good. However, I do like a bourbon marinade for London broil and a lager to marinate the skirt steak for great street style tacos.

Brining is the secret to infusing moisture, and salt, sugar and water do the trick for the juiciest chicken and pork. For grilled vegetables such as eggplant and squash, olive oil, soy sauce or the less salty mirin are all good bets. And salt is key – Morton’s and Diamond Crystal are classic kosher salts for seasoning, while pink Himalayan and Maldon varieties are great finishing salts.

When pairing beverages with barbecue, what do you suggest?

For a rotisserie chicken, the obvious choice would be a buttery Chardonnay, but I also like a Gold Rush cocktail that’s garnished with charred lemon for a whole different flavour profile. The mix of acid from the lemon, with bourbon and chicken fat is incredible. A classic burger is best paired with a crisp clean beer or lager, while a cold Pinot Grigio goes well with grilled summer vegetables.

Any special implements – like spatulas or secret wood chips – that the backyard chef needs?

First and foremost, you’ll need an instant read thermometer. Cutting [meat] loses juices, and you really need to know when meat and chicken are thoroughly cooked through. Second, a charcoal chimney to fire up your charcoal. This starter can be paired with a paraffin wax cube to light more easily, but never use lighter fluid as it leaves a terrible taste. Lastly, wood chunks to add smoky flavour – Cutting Edge make great ones using clean, kiln-dried wood that doesn’t need to be soaked.

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