A BBQ Master’s 5 Tips for ‘Grilling’ When You Don’t Have a Grill

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Don’t let your lack of grill stand between you and meat with smoky, charred flavor.

As Memorial Day approaches and smells of charred hot dogs start wafting through residential neighborhoods, people without backyards and proper grills can feel left out. How are you supposed to celebrate summer without crispy sausage? Flame-grilled burgers? Smoky ribs?

Jean-Paul Bourgeois, the executive chef at New York BBQ destination Blue Smoke, knows a thing or two about meat. While firing up the grill seems like the ideal way to cook meat in the summer, Bourgeois has a few workarounds for people who want to achieve that quintessential grilled flavor without using an actual grill. Here are his five tips.

1. Invest in a quality cast-iron skillet.

While a cast-iron skillet can’t replicate the smokiness of a grill, it can offer some serious depth of flavor. Bourgeois uses the Lodge Griddle, which is flat on one side and has grill ridges on the other; it’s ideal for steak, hot dogs and sausages.

“Hopefully you use your cast-iron enough to where it’s really seasoned,” he says. “It will give you great marks and great caramelization, but more importantly, that seasoning will offer flavor that’s comparable to that of a charcoal grill. What smoke gives you is depth, and a well-seasoned cast-iron griddle or pan can give you that as well.”

Another benefit of cast-iron pans? Once they’re hot, they stay hot, so your food will cook evenly.

2. Choose meats that work well on a grill pan.

Sausages or any meat in casing works perfectly fine on a pan because the smoke of a grill wouldn’t have penetrated the meat, anyway—plus, you can easily achieve grill marks. His favorite thing to cook on a cast-iron pan, however, is burgers.

“If I have thinner burgers, like 4-ounce patties, I can smash them down on a cast-iron,” Bourgeois says. “Inside is the best way to cook those ‘smash’ burgers. Anything less than 5 ounces is best cooked in the pan, while if you’re cooking an 8-ounce burger, you’re only going to want to do that on the grill.”

3. Use ingredients that are already smoky.

To recreate the grilled taste, stock up on seasoning that’s already smoky to lend that flavor to your meat. Bourgeois uses chipotle Tabasco in marinades, or he’ll mix it with honey to use it as a finishing glaze.

He’s been using smoked cumin and Spanish smoked paprika, too, both of which you can find at any spice retailer or Amazon.

“If you’re going to make a homestyle burger, mix caramelized onions, salt, pimento and Worcestershire sauce,” he says. “Those types of ingredients and seasonings are going to lend a smokiness that you might not get. If you can’t create the smoke yourself, make sure you get ingredients that are well-smoked.”

4. Take it easy on the liquid smoke.

“As a barbecue guy, I could never tell somebody that liquid smoke is the way to go,” Bourgeois says. “It’s probably in your favorite barbecue sauce, though. If you want to make your own barbecue sauce, liquid smoke is a good option, but it will never be a substitute for applying smoke on meat.”

5. Don’t overlook the Crock-Pot.

Meats that are excellent when smoked—like brisket and pork shoulder—are also pretty phenomenal when thrown into the slow-cooker, though the effect is different.

“With brisket, if you don’t have a smoker, cooking them in the oven creates too much fat, which can then get in your oven and smoke up the house,” he says. “Same with pork butts. If I’m not going to smoke it, I’m going to put it in a Crock-Pot and let it cook overnight or while I’m at work.”

Baby back ribs, chicken and spare ribs, however, work perfectly well in the oven—and can be just as delicious as their grilled brethren if you season them accordingly.

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