How to Prep for Grilling Season, According to Mark Bittman

With his new book, How to Grill Everything, Bittman has set you up for summer.

Ribs on the grill
Photo: Christina Holmes

Memorial Day is fast approaching, which means we're in full-on grilling mode. This summer, we're grilling a la plancha ("on the griddle" in Spanish), and perfecting our kebab game with recipes like salmon yakitori (use a double-pronged skewer for the flaky fish), lamb kofta (a metal skewer is best for conducting heat here) and piripiri chicken (a short, wooden skewer is good for cooking and serving). We'll also be taking a page from Mark Bittman's new book — How to Grill Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Flame-Cooked Food which came out this week.

The grilling bible includes recipes for (you guessed it) pretty much everything you could think of, from quick-pickled charred vegetables to tzatziki lamb burgers, and, in typical Bittman fashion, the book also offers variations on every recipe, so readers can customize as they see fit. If you've got guests coming over who don't love seafood, instead of capicola-wrapped scallops—Bittman prefers thinly sliced capicola to bacon because it doesn't require cooking — try bacon-wrapped water chestnuts.

As always, Bittman equips readers with not just recipes but the tools to go their own way, and that doesn't just go for recipes. He's laid out a great checklist for getting all set up for grilling season. Here are some key takeaways:

Buying a Grill

The first decision you have to make when buying a grill is choosing between gas or charcoal (or, you could buy a hybrid, because why choose when you can have both?). Bittman sees the value in both gas and charcoal, so it's really a personal choice. Once you've decided, you need to consider the price, of course, in addition to the total footprint of the grill as well as the cooking surface, the heat output (how hot the grill will get), and the construction, to name a few. You should also consider the material of the grates: "cast iron or stainless steel are best choices," says Bittman. The various bells and whistles can seem daunting, but think about your priorities — is speed and efficiency important to you, or do you plan to spend long hours out back with your grill? Also think about what you'll want to cook most, and go from there.

Stocking Your Pantry

Bittman suggests keeping the following ingredients on hand to be able to whip of sauces, rubs and glazes.

Salt and pepper — "You often need nothing more," he says; oil, mustard (preferably Dijon), mayonnaise, vinegar, ketchup, soy sauce, Sriracha and/or ohter hot sauces, sugar (white and brown), honey, hoisin sauce, fish sauce, paprika (regular and smoked), dried and ground herbs, lemons and limes, garlic, and fresh ginger.

Gathering Your Gear

"You can totally [get creative] when it comes to grill accessories," Bittman says, but he believes in keeping things simple. The tools he uses "over and over again" include a grill cover, a chimney starter (if you're using a charcoal grill), a hinged grate for cooking with indirect heat, and no fewer than three thermometers: A grill thermometer — think of it like an oven thermometer — as well as a grill surface thermometer "to measure the temperature exactly where the food is sitting," and a digital instant-read thermometer for checking if your food is done.

Bittman also suggests buying a perforated grill pan, a cast-iron skillet, skewers (see above — we'll be putting those to good use), a metal spatula, tongs, a basting brush, a barbecue mitt, disposable foil pans, a grill brush and... a headlamp. "Don't laugh," Bittman says. "Even if you think you have good outdoor lighting, inside the grill can be pretty dark sometimes."

For more grilling know-how and of course tons of great recipes, check out How to Grill Everything.

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