Guidelines for greater grilling

Grilled Steak Fajitas JOE KELLER

Grilled Steak Fajitas JOE KELLER

Summer celebrations are in full swing, with grilling high on everyone’s list of “easy” dinners to pull off. But are they really easy?

Tucker Shaw, editor of “Cook’s Country” and America’s Test Kitchen, says grilling has always been popular with his readers, but sometimes the readers’ go-to dishes can be a nightmare on the grill. “Boneless skinless chicken breasts often turn into a dry disappointing dinner. That’s one of those problems our readers have asked us to solve.”

How to grill juicy, delicious chicken? How to prepare a whole dinner on the grill so there’s not lots of running back and forth to the kitchen? How to do the best job of grilling corn on the cob? Those are the kinds of questions America’s Test Kitchen looks into. Answering those questions and developing recipes can take weeks.

Tucker Shaw, editor of “Cook s Country” magazine and America’s Test Kitchen. JOE KELLER

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“We start the process by looking for similar recipes that already exist in the world (new and vintage cookbooks especially) and cooking through those. We assess very critically. We’ll contact outside experts or chefs for some brainstorming. We’ll talk things through with our science editor. Then, through relentless tests, including blind tastings, side-by-side comparisons, and even what we call ‘abuse tests’ in which we purposely screw up the recipe in a specific way to see what might happen, we eventually land on what we think is the clearest, most reliable method.”

And the conversation is two-way, with readers providing insight the test kitchen will use in tweaking its recipes.

“After we’ve done the work to develop a recipe, we’ll send it out to a pool of volunteers to test. Dozens, or sometimes hundreds, of people will make it and report back. If it doesn’t get a good score, we’ll go back to the drawing board and figure things out. And then after we publish we do another round of surveying to see how we did.”

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What equipment are they using to test their recipes? For charcoal grilling, it’s the Weber Performer Deluxe. “It’s that iconic domed shape which is great for air flow options and also has plenty of room to grill pretty much everything. For gas, it’s the Weber Spirit E-310. And then of course when a recipe goes out to survey, people make it on a whole range of equipment from hibachis up to really expensive bespoke outdoor kitchen grills.”

Get better results on the grill with these three recipes from America’s Test Kitchen. “Grilling recipes seem to get especially close scrutiny from readers,” says Shaw. “I think it’s because people are so passionate and knowledgeable about grilling. We often learn about new techniques or ideas from readers, which is pretty exciting.”

Grilled Steak Fajitas JOE KELLER

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Grilled Steak Fajitas

The America’s Test Kitchen folks recommend skirt steak in this recipe, but that’s a cut that can be hard to find in Atlanta grocery stores. It’s definitely available at stores like the Buford Highway Farmers Market, but if you can’t find it, substitute the more widely available flank steak. We found it worked almost as well. ATK recommends cooking the steak to between medium and medium-well so its texture is less chewy and the steak is easier to eat.

Shaw says, “This is an ideal recipe for a backyard supper because it kind of takes care of everyone — if someone wants a fully loaded fajita, awesome. If they’re only up for veggies, great. Meat lovers? Line up. It’s also so colorful and looks great on the plate. We took some cues from Ninfa’s restaurant in Houston, which is the epicenter of the fajita world. Once you’ve tossed the grilled onions and peppers into the mix and set up a little fixin’s bar of cut-up avocado, a few salsas, maybe some sour cream for those who like it, you have a table that looks way more exciting than the amount of work you put into it. Oh, don’t forget the lime wedges. A little hit of lime juice, or in my case a big one, wakes everything up.”

We have one shortcut to suggest. Instead of cooking the vegetables whole and using a disposable foil pan to cook them through, we use a mesh grilling basket to cook our peppers and onions. We slice the vegetables into strips, rub them with oil and sprinkle salt and pepper, and then toss them into the basket. The basket stays on the grill while the steak is cooking and we give the vegetables an occasional stir. When they’re roasted to your liking, move the vegetables to a serving dish and toss them with the remaining marinade and salt and pepper as called for in the recipe. You can find mesh grilling baskets at many hardware and cookware stores.

Husk-Grilled Corn JOE KELLER

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Husk-Grilled Corn

This recipe is genius. It takes all the misery out of prepping and dealing with grilled corn. Cooking the corn in the husk protects the corn while it’s cooking and then when it’s done, the husk and silks pull right off. Using a pair of silicone barbecue gloves makes easy work of pulling off the hot husk and silks.

Rolling the corn in seasoned butter and putting it back on the grill to develop a little char takes the mess out of everyone having to season their own cob. As we said. Genius.

You can season the corn with the simple butter-salt-pepper mixture in the recipe, or make a flavored butter with one of these two ideas from America’s Test Kitchen:

One option: add 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro, 2 teaspoons grated lime zest plus 1 tablespoon juice, and 1 minced small garlic clove.

Second option: add 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

“I will admit that I was never all that picky about grilled corn. I eat it no matter what because when it’s in season it’s so good. But our method for grilling it inside the husk really works to protect the kernels as they cook so they stay pretty juicy. You get that really summery pop when you bite into it. Here’s where it gets crazy. You roll the corn in butter, then return it to the grill for some char. This helps it take on really nice grill color and flavor without drying out the kernels. And then of course you roll it in the butter again because, butter,” says Shaw.

Grilled Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts JOE KELLER

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Grilled Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts may be your go-to easy cut of meat, but they often come off the grill dry and flavorless. The folks at America’s Test Kitchen know that a marinade will make a big difference, and the marinade in this recipe uses ingredients in everyone’s pantry. It’s nothing fancy but it works. Be sure to marinate for at least 30 minutes but no longer than 12 hours.

The grilled chicken then works as an entrée or can be turned into sandwiches, salads or used anywhere you need delicious white-meat chicken. America’s Test Kitchen offers three sauces to serve alongside.

Shaw says, “Here’s the hard part: You have to let it rest for at least five minutes to give all the proteins a chance to relax. Then once you slice it you’ll have tender, juicy meat.”