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'Tis The Season For Land And Sea Grilling

Local purveyors offer traditional fare and novelties for your BBQ.

Technically Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of BBQ season.

I don't know about your household, but the gang at my house never seems so play by that rule. We've been grilling all winter long. But the warmer weather certainly does inspire us to grill more often and to be a little more adventurous.

So, to get your grilling juices flowing, we've visited some local markets to see their top picks for doing barbeque right – and doing right by the barbeque.

Trader Joe's

Gas grills are convenient, but if you are true devotee of charcoal or wood, you can't go wrong with Trader Joe's 100% All Natural Hardwood Briquettes.

In addition to the obvious lack of chemicals and igniting agents used in the more commercial brands of charcoal, these briquettes maintain a consistent temperature for a longer period of time.

I particularly like the fact that they don't give off a lot of ash. I like for the char on my meat to be mostly from the burnt fat, not the black sooty residue from the charcoal.

The 18 lb bag is a mere $6.99. Give them a shot – you won't be disappointed.

Calling All Carnivores!

Are you a T-bone man? A sliced flank steak gal? How 'bout you beef tenderloin buffs?

Well, it's grilling season, so it's time to enjoy!

Master butcher Richard Pinto of Palmer's Market has you covered. One of the few markets to dry-age their beef, Palmer's has one of the most impressive meat departments in town.

"We dry-age certain cuts of beef for 2-4 weeks," Richard explains.

"The process draws the excess water out of the meat, thus enhancing (intensifying) the flavor. It also tenderizes the meat by breaking down the enzymes," he says.

Hint: Lighter colored cuts of meat equals higher water content. Look for the deeper, dark red pieces. They are lower in moisture. And go for Palmer's Prime Dry-aged cuts.

Richard suggests grilling cuts of beef that have some fat marbelization to them.  Not only does the fat melt away in the cooking process, creating pockets in the meat which will make for a more tender and juicy steak, it also evokes tons of flavor. Lower fat cuts of meat such as filet mignon are more subtle in flavor.

For a simple accompaniment, cut a few peppers and onions in half, oil them up, add salt and pepper, and put them on the grill while the meats are cooking. This is a flavorful addition to any cut of meat.

Rule of thumb for the grill:

  • Preheat to a high heat
  • Oil and season the meat. Oiling will assist with the sticking.
  • For an average 1 to 1 ½ inch thick piece of meat: 7-8 minutes on each side for medium rare.
  • Let meat sit for 5 minutes so the juices spread into the meat, not your plate.
  • Good cuts of meat don't need a lot of seasoning.
  • Less tender varieties can use a good wet marinade for 2-5 hours to break down the enzymes and fibers in the meat.

Puttin' on the Fish!

More of a warm weather grilling option, fresh fish on the grill takes on a whole new life – and a whole new flavor.  

But don't be intimidated about cooking fish over a hot flame. Chef Tom Coffey at Darien Seafood suggests starting with the basics.

"Start with fresh fish," Chef Coffey says, "If it's really fresh, you won't even need season it beyond a little salt and pepper. "

Stay away from the more delicate types of fish, such as filet of sole. More dense and oilier types are ideal for grilling. Go with sushi grade tuna if you plan on searing it and keeping it rare on the inside. Swordfish, halibut, and salmon are great too.

Personally, I love to grill monkfish due to its long thick shape (easy turning on the grill), dense meat, and sweet mild flavor. Drizzle with a sauce of Dijon mustard, heavy cream and capers. Delicious!

Try throwing some littleneck clams on the heat and watch them pop open within 1-2 minutes. The clam holds all those wonderful juices in the shell. Top it with a dash of hot sauce or event sweet bbq sauce for some added zest.

Chef Coffey also likes to season soft shell crabs and grill for 3-4 minutes on each side. The soft shells morph into a crispy crust while keeping all the sweet juicy meat intact. Break apart and dip into clarified butter or garlic aioli.

A few tips when grilling fish:

  • Season prior to grilling.
  • Start with a high heat and then clean and oil your grill to prevent sticking.
  • Bring the heat down to medium to grill fish.
  • For thicker pieces of fish, such as swordfish, rotate the fish after two minutes. Cook for another 2 minutes before flipping over to cook another few minutes.
  • Less is best. Unlike meat, fish will become overcooked rather quickly.

It's early in the season. I'll have plenty more grilling and barbeque articles on the way, so stay tuned!

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