Whether you’re a sun worshipper or not, everyone is a little happier during the summer. This could be attributed to the warmer weather, significant increase in sunshine, or proclivity to party. But probably it’s the prevalence of grilling.
Nothing announces summer more than the sight and smell of a grill glowing with red-hot embers. One of the most social forms of cooking, grilling greets guests with the sweet scent of meat sizzling over charcoal (or gas, for the more convenient set). The only question you have to ask before firing up the grill on a beautiful summer evening is “what should we grill tonight?”
Of course, you can always go with the standard hot dogs and burgers, both delicious in their own right, but sometimes it’s fun to try something new, something a little different. Here are some of our outside-the-box favorites to try, in increasing order of adventurousness.
Juicy, flavorful, and more inherently chicken-y than America’s favorite cut, the breast, chicken thighs are under-utilized by many and prized by a select few. Chicken thighs possess a greater amount of fat than chicken breasts, and the dark meat offers more flavor, making thighs inherently tastier. Additionally, chicken thighs cook up juicier, both because of their smaller size (a faster cooking time) and increased fattiness.
Although chicken thighs essentially serve as a blank canvas, they’re great in a number of preparations, including as kebobs, grilled with a tangy barbecue sauce, or simply lathered up with salt, pepper, garlic, and olive oil. If you want to light some real fire under your friends’ taste buds though, we suggest this tasty recipe for sambal chicken skewers. We promise, no one will be asking for grilled chicken breasts afterward.
When it comes to grilling, it’s important to remember that simplicity is the key to getting the best flavor. You might be tempted to load up your meats with sauces or spices before tossing them on the grill, but these additions won’t come through as pronounced as you want them to, and they’ll end up mostly muddling the flavor of the meat.
The exception, of course, is using a marinade—almost no cut is better suited to take on a sweet and salty marinade than skirt steak.
Beloved for its juiciness and chewiness, skirt steak is the perfect cut of beef for grilling. The cut, which comes from the cow’s diaphragm, packs a ton of beefy flavor that pairs perfectly with bright sauces and condiments (post-cooking, of course). A nice, oil-slicked chimichurri is one of our favorites. Since it’s a leaner cut of meat, shoot for medium-rare doneness, and make sure to slice it against the grain.
One of the best parts about grilling is that it’s basically an instant party. Call some friends, grab some beer, fire up the Weber, and you have yourself a fantastic afternoon or evening in your backyard, rooftop, or local park. When it comes to feeding a group of friends, though, sometimes it’s best to go big. A grilled leg of lamb is a great way to both impress your guests and keep things simple.
Rustic and full of flavor, a whole leg of lamb is as simple to grill as making a marinade and letting the lamb soak up all of that great seasoning for a few hours prior to show time. Grilling a whole primal cut of an animal can be intimidating, but lamb is pretty straightforward and low maintenance, requiring nothing more than a half hour cook time and one turn halfway through. Lamb might not be the first thing you think of this summer, but this Greek-style leg of lamb recipe will become a staple of your backyard barbecues before you know it. Most often you’ll find boneless leg of lamb, which is good for beginners because it grills faster and more evenly than the bone-in leg.
Ask any chef with a love of seafood what their favorite part of a tuna or salmon is and nine times out of ten they’ll probably say the collar. Much like pig jowl or beef cheek, tuna collar (it’s where the fish’s fin and shoulder meet) provides a delicious balance of flavorful fat and tender meat that partners perfectly with the char provided by the grill. On top of that, collar is often considered a throwaway cut, meaning that your fishmonger is probably selling it at a more reasonable price point than most filets or steaks.
You might see the word “collar” and immediately get fidgety or assume it requires added steps to achieve delicious perfection, but much like any other thick cut of fish, the most important things to keep in mind are seasoning and temperature. The thicker the collar is, the more you’ll need to season it and the longer it will take to cook (use indirect heat—this is not a cut you want to throw on the hotter side of the grill). However, with the right prep and a few key ingredients, grilled tuna collar can be a great addition to your next grill session.
To truly appreciate the versatility of grilling, sometimes you have to leave your comfort zone behind and enter the world of offal. Heart and tongue are both delicious options when it comes to getting creative with your grilled meat selection, but if you’re cooking for a more timid audience, it’s best to start with flavors and textures that are sure to please. Enter sweetbreads.
Don’t let the name fool you—sweetbreads are made up of the thyroid and pancreas of a calf, and have nothing to do with bread. However, when charred to a pleasing crisp on the outside, leaving their insides delicately creamy, sweetbreads are a charming surprise that’ll put smiles on the faces of whomever you’re cooking for. Follow a simple recipe, maybe only explain what they are if asked directly, and you might just turn some heads.
Max Bonem is an eater and home cook who is more than likely hungry at this very moment. He enjoys writing about food and talking to other people about what they’re finding most appetizing at the moment. Holler at him on Twitter at @ChazarBlog.