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Plus, 4 more tips for super-flavorful meat from grill master Roger Mooking. 

Maria Yagoda
July 12, 2018

With grilling season in full swing, it's easy to feel like you're already in a rut—making the same marinated chicken breasts and burgers you've been grilling since May. We tapped Roger Mooking, celebrity chef and grill master, for tips on how to spice it up, literally and figuratively. Born in Trinidad in Tobago and raised in Canada, the host of Man Fire Food has worked in French, Japanese, and West Indian kitchens, lending him a fluency in a wide range of flavors and techniques. 

Mooking tells Food & Wine says that one of the easiest ways to improve your grilling is to play around with spice rubs and marinades, and he has one secret weapon, in particular: papaya seeds.

"I'll wash papaya seeds and dry them out," Mooking says. "Once they’re nice and dry, they become just like peppercorns—like aromatic, spicy peppercorns. Put them on a paper towel on a tray." Once they're dry, you can grind them and mix with cayenne, sea salt, garlic powder, and just about anything you want for a fragrant spice rub. 

Here, Mooking offers a few other tips for upgrading just about any meat you grill:

Purée fresh aromatics and add them to your marinade. 

"I might purée a little celery or onions and fresh garlic to put into the marinade," says Mooking. "I mix some of those fresh elements with really good olive oil and spices."

Toast your spices before dry-rubbing.

Mooking heats a warm, dry pan, and then gently toasts his spices to intensify their flavor before using them to season his meat. He even toasts pre-made grilling spice mixes. 

"I find toasting spices is helpful to bring the oils alive," he says.

Consider lesser-used spices.

Mooking has recently gotten into using caraway and celery seed in his dry rubs, which he says works well with steak, chicken, lamb, and venison. 

"Used judiciously and sparingly, caraway can be very complementary to a lot of different spices," he says. "There’s this maple spice mix—I'll take that and add a little bit of caraway to it, whole or ground. So when you’re crunching on the steak, like how you would do a steak au poivre, you get a little bit of that texture."

Finish with Maldon salt.

Rather than using loads of salt in your marinade, consider finishing with flaky sea salt as a finishing touch. Mooking adds lots of pepper and spices to his marinade, and then right before grilling, he'll salt the meat very lightly. When the meat comes off the grill, he finishes it with a little more Maldon.

The chef, who recently partnered with McCormick on their Grill Your Best sweepstakes, also likes to get flavor from the coals themselves.

"I'll get the coals glowing hot and blow off the ash, and put the meat directly on the coals," he says. "It feels so fun and primal. If you're making chicken, and it's cut in those little slivers, it cooks in two or three minutes."

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